Interesting book. Well written. A real page-turner, although the turning slowed down towards the end of the book.
The story takes shape in a likely not too far away future, where people live in ‘clans’ and fill their heads and lives with technology. Everyone is hooked on to the Feed; a tube filled with random molecules that can be reshaped into anything from buildings to food. It extrapolates from our current fab-labs and 3d-printing. Whereas the replicators in Star Trek seemed to be used only for food, the Feed is used for everything. The foundation of Maslows pyramid is all assembled in a microwave-like household appliance that goes beep. A certain level of poverty does no longer exist. However, society will always have a lowest level. By no means has the world become a fair place to live as we mostly learn from the story of Nell.
I especially like the interactions of the characters and their (new to me) surroundings. Technology and society as a whole has evolved but people will be people. New things and new structures mean the same fears and consequences. I like how this possible future has been thought out and is represented. Amidst this other worldly setting the philosophical question remains “How do you teach people to think for themselves?” I am of the ‘after’ generation and I can appreciate how a successful fighting generation might look in horror at the generation ‘after’ because this liberated generation does not even consider the things that they have fought so hard for. It is a given. Even here in our world it is those whom have considered the status quo and disagreed that are successful (the almighty Steve Jobs, Berlusconi, Madonna). But how do you teach someone not to follow? In the Diamond Age the answer is a book; a book that does more than our books are capable of doing and placed by Confucius in the hands of Nell, our very human heroin.
Artificial intelligence seems to have failed at some point, for the only thing that can cope with the deepening levels of mediated interaction in the Diamond Age are other humans. The global interconnectedness allows groups of people, some paid professionals, to virtually assemble at the required moment and disperse into nothing afterwards. This is not a far away future.
Different clans of people are described that have chosen their own application of the human energy liberated by the Feed. One of these clans chooses to turn their backs on technology and instead lives in a world made by hand. I meet their ancestors regularly; they say things like ‘I don’t like any appliances in my house’ and seem proud not to own a computer or cell phone. Other clans focus on religion or other societal structures or on pushing the edge of technological development and applications. Different forms of maintaining a group structure are explored.
Although the Diamond Age loosened its grip on me towards the end, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that likes science fiction or enjoys a well thought out description of a possible societal development.