A couple of Sundays ago, Hubby and I went to hear Cory Doctorow speak. Cory is a prolific writer who writes at the intersection of technology and policy, excoriating corporations that harm society and the politicians who play to corporations at the expense of the majority of us. He keeps a link blog called Pluralistic (https://pluralistic.net) and has written both fiction and nonfiction related to tech and policy. Over the course of the pandemic, he wrote nine books, which he is releasing in rapid succession. I’ve purchased three of them.
I follow Cory on Mastodon and it was there that I saw his announcement that he was appearing at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. (If you are over X – formerly known as Twitter – I suggest giving Mastodon a try. It’s a hopping place to hang out.)
Prior to Cory’s talk, he was sitting on the edge of the small stage in back of the bookstore, chatting casually with a few people in the front row. Then he gave his talk, which covered many of the topics he’s been covering recently on his blog. He coined the term “enshittification,” which is the process where a big tech or social media company creates a great platform for users, then once users are hooked, the company goes on to hook businesses for their advertising dollars or other income. Once the businesses are hooked, the company destroys the platform for users and businesses, sucking out every amount of value for its shareholders.
It was interesting to see him in-person because his quick-thinking, straightforward speaking style mimics his rapid-fire writing style.
Prior to his talk, I purchased his newest book, “The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation,” with the intent to have it autographed. I got in line to wait for him to sign my book. Others were having their books personalized, but I didn’t want mine personalized because eventually I’ll give it away and, honestly, who will care that I owned it?
By watching carefully, it appears that Cory signs his first name for autographs he personalizes and his last name for those he doesn’t. When I got to the front of the line and indicated I didn’t want it personalized, Cory joked that I would sell it on eBay. I am not a fast thinker when it comes to jokey remarks, so I had no comeback to that. In fact, I didn’t know what to say at all. I didn’t even manage to say that I enjoyed and appreciated his writing.
When I mulled this all over later, I realized that getting autographs from well-known authors is weird. It’s a transaction of appreciation, but it’s very surface level. There’s no time for anything else when there is a line of people waiting and the author has other places to be. There’s no time to have a conversation about the ideas presented in their writing.
Yes, the author talk is for that, but it’s not a conversation; it’s a presentation with time for a handful of questions. Which is why I appreciated overhearing Cory’s conversation with the folks in the front row prior to the talk — it was actually a give-and-take conversation.
In a very modest way, I have been on the signing side of author autographs, having written and co-written a couple of books on local history. From that perspective, while I was happy to provide an autograph if someone wanted it, I never presumed anyone would want my signature in a book. This, too, feels weird. I’m not important. I wanted whatever history I was presenting to be the focal point, not me.
Maybe I’m overthinking this and should either forego autographs in the future and let the work speak for itself, or just appreciate the fleeting transaction for what it is … proof that I met a favorite author. (Although it’s only proof for me because I didn’t get it personalized – ha!)
Have you ever gotten an autograph from a favorite author, performer, or other famous person? How did you feel about the experience?