Eastern Standard Tribe is a novel written by Cory Doctorow in 2004. It was released both on Doctorow's website under a Creative Commons license and in print form by TOR Books.

The novel follows the protagonist, Art Berry, through two different plots, one of them concerning his life in London and one concerning his involuntary commitment to a mental institution. Though at the beginning of the novel it is hard to tell what the connection is between the two plots (or, for that matter, that they are narrated by the same person), by the middle of the novel the reader can understand what has happened to Art, and Doctorow begins to focus on what occurs after the conclusion of the asylum plot.

Eastern Standard Tribe's core premise is the change that occurs in society as a result of technology (cyberpunk), a common theme in all of Doctorow's works. Humanity is increasingly divided not into nations but into tribes, groups of people who are awake on the same sleep schedule. Accordingly, the tribes are designated by the root time zone upon which they are based, though Doctorow implies that not all tribes are named so conveniently. One of the consequences of embracing the tribe lifestyle is that those who choose not to live in or near the time zone to which they correlate themselves are afflicted with various sleep disorders. In order to keep up somewhat with the local community, they are forced to get substantially less sleep than they should, causing them to develop caffeine addictions and suffer symptoms of severe sleep deprivation.

Plot

Art Berry is an agent from the Eastern Standard Tribe who has infiltrated the GMT-0 Tribe and is working sabotage on that tribe's business efforts. Due to his sleep deprivation, he hits a woman while driving through London, conspires with her to commit insurance fraud on the accident, and then begins dating her. At the same time, he and his boss are working on a music sharing application that they plan to sell for the Eastern Standard Tribe, earning a neat commission.

However, his boss, Fede, decides to double-cross the Eastern Standard Tribe and sell the technology himself. He meets Linda, the woman who Art hit and is still dating, and works with her to sell it to the Pacific Standard Tribe, of which she is a member. Art, upon discovering this treachery, flies into a rage and attacks Fede, who has him committed to a psychiatric ward on a trumped-up diagnosis of acute paranoia. While in the asylum, Art works to prove his innocence and is eventually let go. The novel closes with Art going into business with a doctor from the asylum selling ergonomic medical technology as Linda and Fede are on the run for scamming their investors.

Reactions

The novel is noteworthy for its treatment of two ideas: the dissolution of traditional national loyalties and the problem of the paranoid man. First, Doctorow describes the ultimate meaninglessness of the nation in a world infused with cyberspace. Loyalties become connections not between one's neighbors and family, but between people who share interests and are online at the same time. Eastern Standard Tribe also shows the real breakdown of loyalties that is suffered in this transition, as the members of the tribe are no longer connected to each other by anything more than their own mutual desires to remain connected. Fede's disloyalty is emblematic of the breakdown of traditional loyalties in an online world.

Secondly, the problem of the paranoid man is such an intriguing subject that I am astonished that this was the first time I had really seen it discussed in depth. The essential difficulty is that when someone is declared to be paranoid insane, he exhibits behaviors that could be entirely normal if he was in fact justifiably paranoid. Someone who thinks that his boss and his girlfriend are trying to steal from him and then discredit him would likely behave exactly the same as someone who's actually being stolen from and discredited.

At any rate, the take-away from this book is that how you think/wish the world works is becoming a thing of the past. It also throws in a liberal helping of the future is awesome, just for good measure.

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