Improspectives

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Page 187

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Donald Trump just hit page 187.

Allow me to explain. Most contemporary nonfiction books with a dramatic arc run about 350 pages. The first part of the narrative builds up the protagonist, showing his or her path to the pinnacle of their experience. Of course, books about situations where everything goes smoothly don’t sell as well as books with flawed heroes whose fortunes take a turn for the worse. Based on a quick and completely unscientific check of five books in my library, that point appears to come around page 187.

The American media treated Donald Trump as a curiosity and an easy ratings boost until the Republican national convention in July. Now that he has secured the Republican presidential nomination, it’s time for the story to change. Earning the nomination is only the first half of the plot — there’s still another 150 to 200 pages to go.

As Marco Rubio might’ve said four or five times, let’s dispense with the fiction that the media doesn’t know what they’re doing. They know exactly what they’re doing. Up until now, coverage of Donald Trump has focused on the spectacle he creates among his followers. With infrequent (but increasing) exceptions, the media has simply broadcast his statements without significant comment. While there were some challenges from the mainstream media, especially liberal outlets such as MSNBC, most of the conversation surrounding Trump’s utterances reflected disbelief rather than critique.

Now that we are into August, and Trump is officially the nominee, it seems that the media has adopted a new approach. A much more aggressive approach. It’s in the media’s best interest to ensure that Trump remains a viable candidate for as long as possible so they have a race to cover, but they also have a duty to report and interpret the news. Setting aside the laughably inappropriate Fox News motto “We report, you decide”, and MSNBC’s admittedly liberal coverage, it’s now time for news outlets not owned by Rupert Murdoch to satisfy consumer desire by tearing Trump down from the top of the wall he has built. And who knows, maybe the Wall Street Journal will take a stand as well. I don’t expect positive mentions of Hillary Clinton on the Journal’s editorial page, but I don’t anticipate a ringing endorsement of Trump, either.

The trick to tearing down a public figure is to not empty your clip in one burst. There are 99 days until the general election, so media outlets will need to distribute their material over that time. Fortunately, Trump has given them plenty of items work with, helpfully distributing his offensive utterances over categories including, but not limited to: racism, sexism, abuse, ignorance of world affairs, and extreme sensitivity to criticism. The trick is not to find examples of unpresidential behavior, but rather to narrow down the available material into a coherent narrative and avoid saturating audiences with negative coverage.

Research has shown that a political attack ad or piece of adverse news coverage lives in voter memory for about three days. The 24-hour news cycle has changed that consideration a bit, but you don’t want to depress your viewers whenever they switch to your channel. As we work our way from page 188 to 350, we’ll see the media taking occasional breaks from a critical coverage of both candidates. Doing so gives consumers a chance to rest before the next plot point. That’s how accomplished storytellers ply their trade. Rest assured, though, that all respites will be temporary.

Donald Trump’s media strategy was to earn all of the free coverage he wanted. By some estimates, he’s already gotten over $1 billion of media time simply for being outrageous. If he truly believes that there is a no such thing as bad publicity, then the next 99 days should be an absolute joy.

I suspect he’ll change his mind.

Written by curtisfrye

August 1, 2016 at 11:03 am

Review of Infomocracy, by Malka Older

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Title: Infomocracy

Author: Malka Older

Publisher: Tor.com

Copyright: 2016

ISBN13: 978-0-765-38515-4

Length: 384

Price: $24.99

Rating: 98%

I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Tor.com releases Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy on June 7, into the teeth of a U.S. presidential election cycle, which is the best possible time for the book to come out. I’m happy to report that both publisher and author make the most of the opportunity.

World of Infomocracy

Infomocracy envisions a speculative future in the mid-to-late 21st century where most states have joined a world government system based on local rule. Under this system, the countries have been divided into centenals, which are governing units of 100,000 residents. Each centenal may chose the regime by which they wish to be governed, with choices including ideological governments such as Heritage (conservative), Liberty (libertarian), or Policy1st (everyone’s dream party that advocates the “demonstrably best” policies on each issue, for some definitions of “demonstrably best”); corporate governments including Phillip Morris, 888, and Coca-Cola; and a smattering of nationalist and local parties. The government that wins the most centenals gains the Supermajority, which gives it significant influence at the supranational level. Some countries, including likely candidates Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, decided not to join the world government scheme and govern independently.

At the center of Older’s world lies Information, a global service that combines our current internet, the Internet of Things (e.g., this pachinko machine paid out a 28,000 yen jackpot on such and such a date), as well as manipulable visualizations and heads-up displays. I think the combination of a governing scheme akin to that found in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash with an information service more like the one described in Minority Report serves the story’s needs admirably.

Ground Game

The popular aphorism that “all politics is local” describes a world divided into 100,000-person mini-states quite well. Infomocracy follows Ken, an undercover agent of influence for Policy1st, and Mishima, a researcher and sometime security worker for Information. As in William Gibson’s novels such as Pattern Recognition, we receive the barest hints of what the main characters look like, focusing instead on what they know, what they do, and how they react within their milieu.

As the story progresses, we follow Ken and Mishima around the world as they embark on assignments, react to emergencies, and explore their burgeoning relationship. Sometimes their efforts create the desired change, sometimes they get a mixed result, and sometimes everything goes wrong. Those varied outcomes, which highlight the joy and pain that are never far from the tactical-level worker’s mind, are no doubt the product of Older’s work as a humanitarian aid worker in Japan, Darfur, Mali, and other places (including three years as a team leader), as well as her appointment as a Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015. When you consider that experience in tandem with her master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University and Ph.D. work at l’Institut d’Études Politques de Paris, you get a sense of the intellectual firepower she brings to the task.

Events in Infomocracy proceed in a manner that is both familiar and surprising. To paraphrase Chekhov, “If you see a global information network over the fireplace in Act One, it will go off in Act Five.” We don’t quite get to Act Five before the information and communication grid goes down, but fail it does and the hell that was breaking loose accelerates into a maelstrom Ken and Mishima must navigate.

Older brings the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. I didn’t give the book a 100% rating because I thought a few minor elements weren’t handled as well as they might have been, but I don’t feel compelled to write an artificially “balanced” review that makes too much of those quibbles. The book’s too good to spend much time on a few bits that were merely good instead of outstanding.

Conclusion

Infomocracy doesn’t read like a first novel—rather, it reads like the work of an experienced author who can leverage her significant life experience into a compelling narrative. I recommend Malka Older’s Infomocracy enthusiastically and without reservation. I look forward to her next book.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 40 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at http://www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.

Written by curtisfrye

May 31, 2016 at 3:56 pm