When I first wrote about Aaron Swartz’s unfinished nervous nerd novel, Bubble City, I had just been through chapter 1 and 2. But at the Dallas International Airport, waiting for the London connection on December 22 I had no choice but quickly finish the other 9 chapters posted so far under the pressure of the compelling narrative. Bubble City turned out to be my biggest literature experience of this year and the emphasis is on “literature” here.
The plot in one sentence based on the 11 chapters so far: Jason Barsto (an alternative Swartz) coder of a San Francisco news aggregator startup, called Newsflip (an alternative Reddit) gets hunted down by Google (an alternative Google) because he explores a backdoor in the tricky S-boxes behind the Notated News Analysis (NNA) system of the aggregator code at Newsflip (developed formerly at an alternative Yahoo), by which alternative Google or alternative others can manipulate and dangerously homogenize news recommendations for users.
It is a paranoid parody, a contemporary classic hacker fiction: it is crime and anti-crime, it is love and anti-love, it is real and anti-real but most importantly it is about Google or rather it is the best artistic expression of the emerging Hassliebe to Google so far, that every well informed and networked, responsible alpha geek (like Swartz) feels today. I suspect that even Google employees can feel the same way toward their own company.
Everybody in the tech world has plans with Google and Google has plans with almost everybody.
Think about my case: I still have a Google T-shirt avatar, I pretended to be a Google-employee, I’ve been to the Googleplex this August being in the same crowd like the Google-founders and Mr. Swartz and my Halloween costume was Mr. Evil Google. But unlike Swartz I am not a tech, but a biotech guy, so I am relatively free of direct Google effects on my professional life in the lab, although I am overwhelmed by Google as a science blogger or when I am thinking about the future of biotech or any tech.
Compared to William Gibson, who is just a writer thinking about the implications of technology, Swartz is a coder, a hacker, a technology doer who proved himself a good writer. Aaron Swartz is a mini Sergey Brin with a Gibson influence as a writer and maybe Joyce- or Musil-like literatary capabilities scaled to the 21st century. And that is exactly what we need today.
I wish you All a Happy Paranoid New Year!