Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

Consider Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother in light of the discussions of digital culture and history of technology in this course.  Use this blog post as a draft for the paper and select at least one short quote from the novel to analyze here.

There are various ways to unpack a selection of fictional text, but first you need to consider what larger question you’d like to analyze in the novel.  No matter what you decide to focus on, whether it’s Marcus and Ange’s relationship, or questions about surveillance tactics or online identity, please be sure to address some aspect of technology or digital culture in your blog post and longer paper.

Here are some ways to approach both the blog post and the paper:

First, this should NOT be a book report where you simply outline the plot!  Focus on a question or problem that the novel depicts and use evidence from the text to discuss it.  This should be evident in the form of a thesis statement in the beginning of your paper.  Your thesis should be a claim that you need to prove using textual evidence.  Second, remember: the novel didn’t just write itself.  Think about why Doctorow makes the choices he makes and write about your insights.  Make some observations: i.e. “Many of the characters seem to have different identities with their family than they do with their friends” or “The teens depicted in this novel use more digital technology to communicate with a peer group that is often anonymous and geographically diverse.”  Then, move into analysis of those observations. What conclusions can you make through your analysis of your initial observations?

Look at the language Doctorow uses to paint his fictional world.  What repeated themes do you discover?  Does he use any neologisms (newly created words) to describe things unique to this moment in technological history?

Describe the characters involved in your selected topic.  What personality traits and other qualities do they have?  What emotions do his characters experience, particularly Marcus?  How are those emotions conveyed?  What are some of the main motivations of these characters?

Think about how Marcus Yallow navigates his world: Why does he believe hacking is a positive thing?  What larger political and social forces loom in the background of Doctorow’s dystopian, near-future San Francisco?  How would you describe the society depicted in the novel?  Why do you think Doctorow included a 9-11 style attack in the background of the story?

How does Marcus use technology?  How do computers, cell phones, X-net, the BART subway stations or emails work in the text?  Think about how these technologies impact the daily lives of Marcus and his friends.  Why is the novel so preoccupied with privacy rights and freedom?

Marcus and Ange’s relationship is not described as it might be in a typical teen novel.  Think about how Doctorow discusses first love.  What makes his approach refreshingly different than other teen romance novels?  Also consider how women are depicted in the novel.  Ange is self-sufficient and smart; to Marcus, her appearance is of secondary importance to her intelligence.  What qualities make Ange stand out as a strong woman?  What makes Marcus a positive feminist male role model for teen men?

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to approach this assignment, and I’m open to other topics as long as they are in some way relevant to the issues of the course.  Also, if you wish to bring in another reading from earlier in the semester to illuminate your discussions, please do, but be sure to focus mainly on analyzing and unpacking the novel itself.

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11 responses to “Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

  1. Reading “Little Brother” by Cory Doctrow opened my eyes to the benefits and the dangers of tecnology. I personally never grasped the idea of tecnology even though I was born into that generation and as technology continues to grow I’m left behind in some sense. The main character of the book, Marcus Yallow understands every aspect of technology and the internet and he exposes the world unto to the dangers it causes for privacy. In the book Homeland Securtiy is depicted as violent government officials who has tampered into the personal lifes of the people living in San Francisco. “We know where you live, we know who your friends are. We know how you operate and how you think” (62). This made me wonder if someone knew my every movement and how much privacy do I really have.
    Marcus Yallow was accused of being a terrorist and was physically and cyberally abused. The internet was a tracking device which watched his every “click” on the computer and Homeland Security were torturing him for information he didn’t know. But since he was so advanced with technology he invented a private internet called “ParanoidLinux.” This internet was totally annonymous and no one could track you down. Seeing how dangerous technology is makes you afraid to use it, and those who are clueless about the dangers are most easily manipulated. I just wonder about the many things I don’t know that could potentially harm me.

  2. Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother can be taken a lot of different ways: it can be an anthem, a rallying cry, as he intended, or it can be a horror story, a piece of propaganda, evidence of a grand scheme of internal terrorism against out country. I prefer to see it as an anthem, but I want to delve deeper into the book, not just address the surface-level issues that Doctorow wrote the book to highlight.

    “No one is supposed to know who I am,” I said. “I can’t put it any more simply. If you know, it’s all over. Once other people know, it’s all over.” (71 in the e-book)

    This quote, spoken by M1k3y (Marcus) to Ange in a moment of pure, zombifying terror, underlines an interesting identity crisis that was not so common a hundred years ago, not even fifty years ago. Sure, there were secret lives, secret identities: spies, adultery, hell, even adult entertainment and gambling – but you had to show something – your face, your voice, your body. In modern times, on the internet, it is possible to build up a whole identity, a whole life, with perfect anonymity – if you’re careful.

    My name, Cait, comes from one such online identity. I’ve gone through several in my lifetime: the earliest one I remember is Shelly, when I was about nine – but I do remember changing my name to that, so there must have been one before it. After Shelly came Kara, who lasted for several years and several games, then Rachel, who vanished fast, and finally, Cait. Cait was more myself than the other girls, other names, had ever been, and eventually, I realized she wasn’t a character: she was the person I wanted to be, and I spent many therapeutic hours making friends as Cait. — I’m getting off track.

    The point is, with the help of online anonymity, anyone can become who they want to be. Marcus said he wasn’t smart, wasn’t an A-student, and didn’t really feel like a leader, but with a name change and a cause, he became a powerful force in the world, politically and socially, much mor powerful than he could ever have been if he approached the whole situation as the barely-matured 17 year old he felt that he was. But, in the end of the novel, he discovers he was no where near as hidden as he thought he was. His arch-enemy Charles knew who he was from the beginning, and there were many DHS infiltrators in his “web of trust”.

    Online anonymity might be a false sense of security, a safety blanket dotted with holes and tears.

  3. As Little Brother begins, the quote that really struck me was on the first page when Marcus begins telling his story. “I’m a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco’s sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world.” (Pg 1) The quote jumped out at me due to the quote strongly setting the tone for the novel. In others’ opinions, it made Marcus seem to be a little egotistic, but the quote made me think about the technologies today, and it made me question at the moment if some camera was pointed at me, and throughout the novel, i kept asking the same question. I was surely confident that Homeland Security was protecting me, and i could count on them to NOT think i am a terrorist, but who knows? The digital culture in modern day has certainly begun to surprise me, and others, in several ways. Our world is constantly seeming smaller and smaller by the day because of all the technology to ‘track’ where people are, even if we don’t intend to.
    I also think our world is beginning to be shaped by the technology due to our dependence upon it. In the novel, Marcus and his friends could not find any activity to do that didn’t involve some sort of technology. I mean, had they heard of taking a jog, or playing old fashioned kickball? But it isn’t just Marcus and his friends that use too much technology, but kids today don’t seem to enjoy a playground as much. Also, the novel made the government seem too dependent on technology, and made technology more important than work by mouth. They’d believe what some kid said on the X-net, but not what someone told them personally which is bogus.

  4. Teenagers today often use the internet as a means of escaping the trials of everyday life. When Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother first begins Marcus Yallow claims that he is “one of the most surveilled people in the world.” because of the prison-like nature of the high school he attends (Doctorow 9). He uses technology to escape from school, play alternate reality games and chat with his friends in class. Marcus’s online identity W1n5t0n serves as a friend and helps to provide him with the privacy that he lacks.
    When San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides that security is more important than freedom. When Marcus discovers the bug in his beloved laptop, he knows the security he has endured has been taken to an entirely new level: “There were eyes out there, eyes and ears, and they were watching me. Surveilling me. The surveillance I faced at school had followed me home, but this time, it wasn’t just the Board of Education looking over my shoulder: the Department of Homeland Security had joined them.” (84) Marcus knows that he has to abandon his online identity as W1n5t0n at a time when he needs it most.
    Marcus creates M1k3y and the X-net because he needs an outlet to escape the DHS’s extensive surveillance. As the novel progresses, Marcus is forced to retreat more into his online identity as M1k3y because his real life is oppressed by the government. He uses the X-net to protest the violation of his rights and privacy because he is not allowed to carry out these actions in public.
    M1k3y provided the cover and security that Marcus needed to have the courage to fight back against the DHS. When Marcus is ready to come forward with his story, he realizes he can no longer live two separate lives and he takes ownership of the revolutionary work that he inspired as M1k3y.

  5. Metal detectors, security cameras, alarm systems, all things that my high school would have loved to have. If it hadn’t been for the fact that there was no budget, they probably would have been able to persuade the school board that these things were necessary. In the novel Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Chavez High has the money for such security measures and more. The main character Marcus Yallow describes their various technologies used for keeping track of the students and it turns out that these range from gait recognition cameras to SchoolBooks which track their online movements.
    It becomes obvious early in the novel that the use of technology for keeping tabs on people will prove to be an object of controversy later on. In fact the first chapter opens with, “I’m a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco’s sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world.” (P. 9) Doctorow chooses to use his opening line not to introduce his main character, but rather to tell the reader that high school seniors in San Francisco are being monitored more than the average person. This brings the issue of privacy up early in the novel and questions just how much monitoring can be allowed before it goes too far.
    In Marcus’s opinion, the security at Chavez High has crossed a line that invades his personal comfort zone. In answer to this he finds different ways to thwart “the man” and get around the security measures. He takes great care in describing his approaches to getting around the school’s technology, and some of it is surprisingly easy. For instance, in order to fool the gait recognition cameras a person simply puts gravel in their shoes to change their walk and pass unnoticed.

  6. In Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, Marcus Yallow tells the press that “I’m 17 years old. I’m not a straight-A student or anything. Even so, I figured out how to make an Internet that they can’t wiretap. I figured out how to jam their person-tracking technology… I figured this stuff out by looking at the web and by thinking about it. If I can do it, terrorists can do it. They told us they took away our freedom to make us safe. Do you feel safe?” This is very significant because it shows some major aspects of the novel. One major characteristic of the novel is how all the youth react. Marcus creates the XNet, an underground web that made you anonymous; no one could track anything you sent. XNet brought these youth together. They were all fighting for a similar cause; freedom on the internet, freedom from the DHS. Even when Marcus escapes from Masha, two boys willingly help him because they see Marcus as a hero. He is M1k3y, creator of XNet. The amount of influence he has is substantial and he uses it to bring everyone together.
    A second major aspect of the novel is how the DHS handles everything. For instance, if the DHS was so strict and secure and set on stopping all terrorism, how was Marcus able to create an underground web? The DHS started taking away little freedoms to make them safe, but in all actuality, would not even be able to stop another real terrorist attack if it were to happen. These people were power-hungry and they liked being in charge. At one point in the novel, there is a short passage about how the DHS requested a “300 percent budget and personnel increase” from Washington, DC to put a stop to all the “underground chatter and activity”. Even though they were asking for support, they still could not stop M1k3y. They misused their power and tortured people for information. Personally, I would be one who would not feel safe under this type of governing. All in all, the novel is an exciting depiction of the internet, unity, and rebellion.

  7. The book “Little Brother” sheds light on some shocking effects of technology on people. The fact how technology dictates and controls our lives, exposing us to threats of security and privacy contradict the very purpose with which it was invented. Marcus is only a small example of how technology is in the process of objectifying the people of the future generation. “The sense of control” that technology and the internet provide is the main reason for their allurement. The human mind loves being in charge of everything, and science has fulfilled this purpose perfectly, by gifting the humankind with the most dangerous equipment: technology. The addictive behavior of technology is elucidated when Marcus states, “A computer is the complicated machine you’ll ever use. It’s made of billions of micro-miniaturized transistors that can be configured to read any program you can imagine. But when you sit down at the keyboard and write a line of code, those transistors do what you want them to” (119). We don’t have to wait long before technology converts us into automatons, and we surrender the minutest secrets of our lives to serve the purpose of creating a false sense of security.

    Other than serving the purpose of keeping human beings in charge and giving them a false sense of control, technology has become the major threat for human security and right to privacy. The book takes us back to 9/11, compelling us to compare between the similarities between it and the chaos Marcus was trapped in. This shows that technology has the potential of bringing a threat similar to that of terrorism. The main connection between the two is how they scrutinize the actions of people who are not involved, and control their lives, all in the name of security.

    Moreover, the most disturbing reality is that the people and institutions in charge of protecting to right to privacy and freedom of individuals are the ones that are violating them. Some of the references to the Department of Homeland Security mentioned in the book are quite troubling. Their misuse of power is quite prominent in the book. When Marcus states, “…the Department of Homeland Security had set itself up to fail badly. They were trying to spot incredibly rare events-a person is a terrorist-with inaccurate systems” (129), it makes the readers infuriated towards the sense of security they thought they were entitled to. What is the use of letting such institutions survey the minutest details of our lives, if they eventually target most of the wrong people?

  8. The issue I want to focus on in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is the one of online identity and how it has affected today’s youth. Many young people create complete alter-egos online with the misconception that there will be no consequences for what they do as this separate online identity. Doctorow’s main character Marcus Yallow exhibits this feeling early in the novel when he says the following:
    Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity
    I used when I was posting on message boards where I was making my
    contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like
    sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone.
    But he didn’t know this was my handle. (Doctorow 11)
    Unfortunately, this is a fairly common belief. People think their actions online are anonymous, when the opposite is usually true. With all of today’s advanced computer technology it is amazingly simple to find out the real name behind an online handle.
    The reality is that it was much easier to go unnoticed before advances in internet and computer technology. A problem with this is that the people who believe no one can link them to their online identity can start to think they are untouchable in real life. People begin to say and do things under this false identity that they would never have dared to say or do before they thought it possible to hide behind technology. In the novel, Marcus is reckless as long as he thinks no one knows the online person W1n5t0n is him. Not everyone uses online identities as a way to do things they normally would not, but it does happen. In some cases, people even start to interchange their online life with the reality, preferring to exist in their own digital world.

  9. The issue I want to focus on in Cory Doctorow’s novel is the one of online identity and how it has affected today’s youth. Many young people create complete alter-egos online with the misconception that there will be no consequences for what they do as this separate online identity. Doctorow’s main character Marcus Yallow exhibits this feeling early in the novel when he says the following:
    “Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity
    I used when I was posting on message boards where I was making
    my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know,
    like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my
    phone. But he didn’t know this was my handle.”(Doctorow 11).
    Unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence. People think their actions online are anonymous, when the opposite is usually true. With all of today’s advanced computer technology it is amazingly simple to find out the real name behind an online handle.
    The reality is that it was much easier to go unnoticed before advances in internet and computer technology. A problem with this is that the people who believe no one can link them to their online identity can start to think they are untouchable in real life. People begin to say and do things under this false identity that they would never have dared to say or do before they thought it possible to hide behind technology. In the novel, Marcus is reckless as long as he thinks no one knows the online person W1n5t0n is him. Not everyone uses online identities as a way to do things they normally would not, but it does happen. In some cases, people even start to interchange their online life with the reality, preferring to exist in their own digital world.

  10. Cory Doctrow’s Little Brother follows an adolescence caught up in a hyper secure post terrorism world, is a high tech account and reverberation of social revolutions of the past which highlighted the juxtaposition of thought concerning the constitution and its flexibility and its concrete nature. Marcus Yallow, the protagonist of the novel sought the protection of the constitution as a sacred irrefutable cornerstone of American freedom. He also used the constitution as a way to justify his hacking a sabotaging the system as he consistently recites a passage from the constitution, ‘Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it’ (Doctrow 212). Marcus believes that the constitution should be guarded, that personal freedoms should not be abolished even in highly stressful and dangerous times, because then the terrorists win, because then the government becomes the ones inflicting terror(Doctrow 206-212).
    Marcus’s entire thesis is an echo of the counter culture movement of the 1960’s which is mentioned by his teacher Ms.Galvez, the main difference regarding the two is mainly the underground anonymity of the new generation’s revolution. Both revolutions stemmed from the unhappiness of the youth and their distrust of the older generation, for example in the 1960’s the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was coined, and in Marcus’s time “Don’t trust anyone over 25” became popular which was a direct play off of the prior generation’s tag line. Both counter culture’s were both stemming from over controlling governments and a general unhappiness with some major government actions. The 1960’s with Vietnam and he draft and Little Brother with the increased government monitoring after a terrorist attack.

  11. In his novel Little Brother, Cory Doctorow chose to depict a romantic relationship in an interestingly different way than any other romance novel. Part of this could be because his novel is not in the genre of romance novels; it is considered more of a “techie” book, filled with technological concepts and jargon. Regardless, Doctorow turns the table when it comes to a romantic relationship, especially in a young adult fictional book. Most books focus on the sexual side of the relationship and very little on the friendship or partnership aspect. While these steamy incidents occurred at times during the story, Doctorow refrains from making this the focus and does the exact opposite by showing the partnership between Marcus and Ange.

    When Marcus was teaching Barbara Startford, a journalist reporting on Marcus’ side of the security measures in response to the terrorist bombing, he remarks “Teaching people how to use technology is always exciting…. Ange was great, too – we made an excellent team. We’d trade off explaining how it all worked”(267). Ange chose to be by Marcus’ side while he spoke to Barbara about the inner workings of Xnet. Because they had worked side by side throughout the process of overturning the National Homeland Security, she was well informed about the topic.

    This concept of partnership is repeated a few times throughout the text. When Marcus is having the press conference via an Xnet game, he comments that he had Ange’s help in creating his opening statement. Later in the press conference, Marcus remarks “When I got tired, I handed my keyboard to Ange and let her be M1k3y for a while” (238). This surrender of control exhibits his trust in Ange that she could carry on his own persona and reputation and protect it.

    **I also plan to discuss Doctorow’s depiction of two of the major female characters (Ange and Severe Haircut), but for purposes of this blog, I chose to only include a short analysis of the relationship.

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