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Eastern Standard Tribe
by Corey Doctorow

classifications: Science-Fiction / Cyberpunk

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I'd never heard of Corey Doctorow before I saw the book on the shelf at Borders. The inside flap text intrigued me, so I bought it. It's a relatively small book, 200 pages or so, and was a short read - so I was kinda miffed at the hefty price ($23 or so).

But. What a read! Doctorow writes about the internet from a native's perspective - He's the outreach coordinator for the EFF, maintains a personal website and edits a large blog site that I'd never heard of before and still haven't checked out. :)

The book is about Art Berry, who works as a user-interface consultant, which basically means he's the guy that turns the grey hunk of plastic and metal some engineer dreamed up into something useable.

But the really interesting part about the whole deal is that he's using this skill in reverse - as an industrial saboteur. This is where the "tribe" part comes in to play.

As internet geeks, we can all relate to the concept. It basically refers to a social collective made up of people who have common interests. This isn't too far off the current social norm, but in the case of the tribe, this group of people doesn't live all in the same place. The "locations" are based on time zones; GMT +5, GMT +0, etc.

So what you have is this: A coordinated, global group of people who effectively are no longer members of the culture they live in. A ESTer living in LA would dress, talk and most importantly, wake up and go to sleep at the same time as people in Boston. For anyone who's read "Snow Crash", this cultural destruction concept isn't new, and if you're like me it instantly grabs your imagination - mainly because, at least in part, we are participating in it.

Now, just because you live in the Eastern Standard Time Zone doesn't make you a tribalist. But once you become a part of that tribe, you start forwarding that tribe's way of life. For Art, it means feeding British telecom companies design ideas that are only good from a manager's point of view, but in real life turns a normal user experience into living hell.

The style was bit of a shock. It's your standard modern, challenge the accepted rules in ways that don't so much break the rules as carve them into new shapes sort of thinking... But unlike, say, Chuck Palanihuk (I hope that's right - he wrote Fight Club), Corey's version doesn't work quite as well right off the bat. It takes some getting used to.

The story is written from a dual POV, one taking place in the first person and working in real-time, and the other taking place in limited third person and working exclusively in the past.

They intersect somewhere near the end and begin telling the same real-time story, but he keeps up the 1st-person/3rd-person chapter switches right up to the end.

Overall I was pleased with the book, the cool little tricks like the entire chapter consisting of nothing but the text "Vigorous sex ensued" and the fact that he's on the side of the file-sharing, regulations hating geek who only wants to browse the web in peace is distinctly obvious and - of course - very welcome. :) However, it seemed that the plot hit fast-forward near the end, and while this was due in part to the fact that things were speeding up, it felt like he was trying to get the story done with. Like he'd spent all his energy on the meal and didn't have any interest in making a dessert of corresponding quality.

But this is a minor thing, all-in-all. A highly recommended read.

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