Cory Doctorow’s Homeland: Activity over Apathy

Cory Doctorow’s Homeland carries the energy, intensity, and style from its predecessor Little Brother. Like Little Brother, Homeland is filled with fantastical technology that is all around us. Devices like 3-D printers and DIY quadcopters make cameos in this book and the privacy enabling software Tor is back in this sequel. The tech-infused plot is reason enough to like the book, but that’s not why this book is important.

Homeland is a Tor (the publisher, not the software) Teen book, which some adults may shrug off. I’m not sure if the “young-adult” or “teen” moniker automatically requires melodrama, but yes, Homeland does have its share. However, I believe this book is targeted to teens for another reason: they will listen to its message.

Now, adults of various sorts may scoff at that statement and if you do, then you really need to read this book. I believe that teenagers listen just fine to people who treat them like adults and they shut down those who tell them what they should be doing. After all, why shouldn’t they; teens typically aren’t given “real” responsibility by adults. In Paul Graham’s insightful essay, Why Nerds are Unpopular, he makes the following observation on underutilized teenagers in the U.S.:

As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they’re made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.

Now enter Homeland. Homeland continues Little Brother’s dystopian San Francisco, but the message is ultimately hopeful: individuals compose society, therefore individuals can change their society. Adults don’t question why they have to take out their laptop to go through TSA checkpoints, teens and children do.

So when adults try to explain such rules to a teenager, who might not remember 9/11, it doesn’t make sense. Why is 4oz of liquid unsafe but not 3oz? Why can my tablet stay in my bag but not my laptop? These Kafkaesque rules are reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Trying to explain why one has to take shoes off (which is only an American thing, I’m proud to say…) is like the deck of cards trying to explain to Alice why they are painting the white roses red.

Fortunately, as the Internet becomes more dense with users, there are more opportunities to connect to one another. If adults don’t seem to care about social causes around them, young adults pick up the slack and they have the technology to broadcast a message, quickly and loudly. While teenagers may be the target audience, this book should appeal to anyone interested in the intersection of technology, privacy, digital rights and the law.

Also like Little Brother, this book carries powerful afterwards by Jacob Appelbaum and the late Aaron Schwartz. Both are inspirational and Aaron’s is especially personal and heart-felt, which ends with macabre irony, “Let me know if I can help.”

There are plenty of social movements out there like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons or the Pirate Party International, in which one can get involved. But I don’t think Homeland is trying to make everybody into techno-revolutionaries like its protagonist, but rather to inspire people who care do to something besides being idle.  On the technological front, take a free online class by the greatest professors at Coursera or Udacity, learn how to program, or learn how to make cool stuff at a hackerspace.

Or, if you don’t know where to start, read Homeland.

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