Sometime in the near future, Nation-states will cede powers of election to a ‘Google’-type organization called Information that tracks and disseminates information on everything and anything to everyone. We all exist under the political umbrella of micro-democracy, grouped into Centenals (100k people), and the 2nd global election is about to take place.
Into this election whirlwind we meet Ken, working as a agent for Policy1st (a idealistic policy based government) whose emotional and social awareness I would call typical of a dude; who meets Mishima a special agent for Information, who also has ‘narrative’ disorder and sees connections and conspiracies everywhere. Love blooms, Ken and Mishima must learn to trust each other professionally as well as romantically, as a global crisis unfurls surrounding the election.
I really did enjoy Malka Older’s Infomacracy, it isn’t nearly as pedantic as my above description implies, I was just contouring your perspective….I did end up with a lot of questions, which is probably the point of the book. Damn I googled a lot of things for this review….
by Malka Older
Published: Tor.com (June 7, 2016)
Hardcover: 384 pages
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: “The sign on the defunct pachinko proclaims 21st CENTURY, but the style – kanji in neon outlined in individual lightbulbs?”
Oh boy, this book fell behind my bed from the ‘to be read’ pile, and was put back into the ‘read’ pile a while ago (but wasn’t read), only to be uncovered in a spring cleaning. There is a sequel out, which is good cause I am shipping Ken and Mishima. Tons of reviews on this book, it’s a Blade Runner meets etc., it’s so timely with US politics and the debate around Globalization versus Nationalism. These are true, but I have other questions that must be answered, this is gonna get gritty.
First, I have to ask how did this whole thing happen? How did Information get into the position it is? It’s mentioned a couple times about over-burdened Nation-States and some sort of bureaucratic black-mail by officials and nukes and the UN forcing the change over to Centenals and Information? I mean how does this all work? How free is movement between Centenals? I’m a citizen in one Centenal and I want to go to another, do I just walk over and say ‘I live here now!’? If I’m in a poor or less desirable Centenal do my neighbours say I can’t switch into theirs? I don’t really want the details in the novel about this, but I still am a little fuzzy about this new system.
To continue on micro-democracy also, thinking of where I live now, I’m not sure I would gain more ‘democratic’ power with my singular vote every 10 years. I’m Canadian, and I live in a city about the size of a Centenal right now. So today I get to vote for my ward Councillor (neighbourhood) and the City Mayor. Then I get to vote for the Regional Councillor (which is like 5 Centenals), also I get to vote for my Provincial Member of Parliament and my Federal Member of Parliament. Each position I vote for has Local, Regional, Provicial, and National level governing powers and policies that reflect their level of government. I get to vote more often and vote for local issues as well as Provincial and National issues. Futhermore, how do goods and services flow between Centenals? Is it all free trade? Trade has become a huge issue in 2017 with Brexit and the US pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Currency also seems to be absent in this new system, other than it’s digital and universal? Alright, so I live in a very democratic place…and a ton of the world doesn’t have these rights…I guess I can give up some democracy…for the world to get more…ugh.
Okay, enough with the politics, let’s think about everyday life in a micro-democracy. First and foremost – there seems to be a serious amount of texting and driving going on, or augmented visual feeds and driving going on. Also, travel seems way cooler, I want to see what a crow looks like…public transport seems better all around. Looks like some crazy hyper-loop stuff is coming available. I do really like Older’s take on the technology in Infomacracy, she hits it home quite a bit, especially with Ken and later in the crisis and Roz; you can have all the technology you want but it usually comes down to boots on the ground to get sh#t done.
That brings us to the multiple crisis’ in Infomacracy and it raised in my mind a comparison, how do we in respond to large disasters or disasters in general now, compared to in the micro-democratic system? Again, this depends on where you live now, what you and your government do in a crisis and disaster relief. With local crisis management, Ken’s walk in Tokyo highlights the different responses of Centenals from top-down management, to distributed networks. Preparation and contingency planning contrasted against ad hoc centralized aide. Was micro-democracy any different or better at disaster relief? The typical logistical problems of information and resource dissemination seemed to be present, even with better technology. Hoarding in Centenals seemed worse, but then I think of the past year (2017) of hurricane relief in the US and the different levels of response in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. Crisis management and disaster relief are massive topics that Older is an expert within, I’m not sure I caught how micro-democracy responded differently than the many pronged/uncoordinated National and trans-National responses of our times.
Finally I come to the question of redundancy of infrastructure systems. What do you think would happen if the entire internet went down? It seems implausible that we would not have redundant systems? This isn’t a new issue (thinking Y2k) nor have we not had large scale failure in an industrialized area (East Coast blackout, North America 2003). What I am getting at is the crisis in Infomacracy seems together too vast (complete outage) but also too small in terms of consequences. If everything is tied into Information, then what about banking? Trade? Power plants and sewage treatment? It’s like their ‘phones’ went down but much more should have, maybe the attack was more targeted than I read? Also, things seem super dependent on being ‘online’…an airplane should have back-up software in case of internet/link outage?
Finally, we get to Mishima and her narrative disorder tied into the coming signs of war or conflict. First, on ‘narrative’ disorder. I have a couple issues, one is that narrative disorder is an actual problem, but it’s the opposite of Older’s description. Usually onset through developmental disability or PTSD, it is the inability to reconstruct or recollect a story or narrative linearly or sequentially. The symptoms Mashima displays (creating fiction around events, or uncontrolled fantasizing tied with paranoia) are more typical of someone with psychosis. So, if Infomacracy‘s narrative disorder is becoming more evident it seems that more psychotics are being produced in the future. A troubling trend we see recently world wide, not more psychotics per se, but definitely more issues around mental health in general and the post-modern online world. I’m not read up enough to put out any facts, but I tend to have a feeling about rising populations and density tied to mental health in general, and the emergence of extreme mental disorders, but again not enough research.
To put this review to bed and get onto the sequel Null States (Tor, 2017), Older definitely got the back of my neck hairs crawling about ‘signalling’ and ‘dog whistling’ prior to conflict or war. What were the signals being sent and how do they compare to today? The creepiest ideas of the book are on information manipulation…pretty timely eh? Looking at you Facebook and Russian Trolls! To quote an unnamed evil guy from the book, ‘We find that people that hate each other as much as that rarely view the same types of Information.”, first the word ‘information’ is capitalized, so the people have full access to all information but ignore it, second I direct you to a post from Bryan Alexander on access to the internet and voting to make it worse. Infomacracy ends with this topic up front, how can we get more people access to information and participating? Will this change anything? I certainly will find out in the sequel.