Oct 01 2006

Killing Time

Published by at 11:34 am under Books,General

by Caleb Carr

I found this book at the SF Library’s big used book sale which ends today. I wasn’t looking for it, but recognized the author’s name as being a previously ‘recommended’ detective story writer. The first chapter was short but effective in pulling me interested into story. Good writing. But it went downhill and in the end this book is no more than an ok “airplane book”. “Killing time” is an appropriate title.

It is an action thriller that is peopled with super smart men and one super smart and ruthless woman who come together in secret to manipulate the world’s information in order to demonstrate how gullible we’ve all become in the digital information age. They can whip up and manufacture the best toys (flying ships, weapons, forgeries, etc.) without any trouble or any apparent external resources. The lead character is a “shrink” and the story is set in the third decade of this century when the world has mostly gone to hell in a hand-basket. Rampant pollution, political corruption, wars over water, trees, and you name it. The super smart group of eccentric geniuses are out to pull of major hoaxes to demonstrate how unreliable the digital information age has become. People can be led to believe anything. In the process they accidentally set off a series of events that leads to a terrorist nuking of Moscow, but that doesn’t deter them. An event which causes the hero shrink to abandon the group. Believability is extremely low and the ending absurdly unjustified and unbelievable.

However, the real world issue that is the starting point for the story, i.e. what information can you trust in a digital age and how can all that digital information be turned into useful knowledge, is an interesting issue and worthy of more serious exploration.

  • What does the general public do with the content of “Docudramas” that admit to fiction in their “small print”, but present a story intended to be seen as true. As far as I know, this genre can trace its lineage back to Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” which was well written and interesting, but not out to intentionally mislead.
  • There have been several high profile cases of reporters for reputable papers creating stories or reporting out of ‘thin air’ and typically this has been done from a PC or e-mail terminal. So easy to fabricate that the temptation is high.
  • The internet makes it relatively easy and fast to spread lies that they can overwhelm real information. Who is going to assess and counteract such deceptions. No one has the time to look at them all critically and some seep into the brain as ‘truth’.
  • And lastly, digital images are so manipulatable that they make a mockery out of “seeing is believing”. Yes, digital manipulation can be detected but it can’t be easily detected by the un-aided eye.
  • So how does the world work when deception, and truth, can be disseminated and manipulated quickly to a large population. So large and dispersed that ‘direct participation’ is usually out of the question. How is this digital information age qualitatively different from the industrial age and what should/can we do about it?

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