Q+A with Cory Doctorow

“Cory Doctorow” Portrait by Johnathan Worth licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0.

Cory Doctorow is a YA science fiction novelist and a vocal advocate for online rights. In the past, he has worked with EFF, a “non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards, and treaties.” I’m a huge supporter of the work EFF has done and continues to do. You can check their website out here. He has also made an appearance on Reply All, one of my favorite tech podcasts, where he vocalized his concerns about the unsettling actions of the W3C and their work to create a standard for web video that “controls users’ browsers, so that we can only watch the videos under rules they set.” You can listen to that here. Because of all this work, I thought he would be the perfect person to talk to about internet activism.

What advice can you give to teenagers interested in advocating for online rights and internet policies, and how do you recommend more become involved in this area?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has started a campus activist network, the Electronic Frontiers Alliance; my colleague Shahid Buttar (shahid@eff.org) organizes it and you can reach out to him about founding a local chapter.

Beyond that: there are numerous online rights organizations (EFF, Creative Commons, Free Software Foundation, Fight for the Future, the Harry Potter Alliance, etc) that put out regular calls for contributions in many forms:

* Calls and emails to lawmakers

* Memes and embeds to post to social media

* Help with fundraisers and testimonial campaigns

How did you learn so much about these issues? Do you recommend reading a lot of books and articles or doing more hands-on tasks to learn about these areas like research, coding, etc?

I got a computer very early on, in 1977 — a terminal connected to a phone-based “acoustic coupler” — at a time when computers were pretty primitive and simple. I was lucky to grow up with computers and to be able to absorb successive waves of technology and change as they arrived.

Today, computers are pretty abstract and it can be difficult to get ahold of them.

I recommend two books by Bunnie Huang: HACKING THE X-BOX (which is a free download) and THE HARDWARE HACKER; both are brilliant primers on the “hacker’s mindset” — how people approach deconstructing, remixing, improving and tweaking technology.

The videos from Adafruit and the articles on Hackaday, Evil Mad Scientist Labs and Make are a great source of inspiration.

There are SO MANY coding resources — StackExchange and Kahn Academy, etc. Find one that works for you. Programming is a skill, languages are just special instances of it. Master programming in whatever language/environment makes sense to you and branch out.

The world of information security publications is just great: 2600 Magazine, PoC or GTFO, and other hacker zines are fantastic. Check out the videos from Defcon and HOPE and CCC!


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