<i>Killing Time</i> Probes Techno Quandries

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CBS
These days news can be reported across the world in a blink of an eye. But what happens when it is distorted? That's the question raised by sci-fi thriller Killing Time by Caleb Carr.

CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson spoke with the best-selling author, who also wrote The Alienist.


While some might know Carr's work from his historical fiction, this book is a bit different.

Carr would describe Killing Time as a futuristic book, not a technobook. "It's not necessarily science fiction because the emphasis is not on science. It's much more about the social and political implications of what's going on with information technology."

And there are lots of twists and turns in the complicated plot.

"It's a quick read," Carr suggests, adding there's plenty of fun gimmickry. "It's an adventure story. Mostly I would describe it as a warning book about the possible effects of information technology."

"We now have the most pervasive and powerful information delivery systems ever in existence. And they're completely at this point...unregulated in ways that we would never think of unregulating television or even books," Carr adds, noting that there's absolutely no way to verify whether material is true.

Carr's book "takes place 25 years into the future and assumes that all of this lack of regulation has gone on," he says.

He worries that this process has already started, he says. "You see it in the stock market, obviously. There's a lot of manipulation going on by everybody from 15-year-old boys to the mafia," Carr says, citing research from the Web whose source people don't know but that they accept as true.

While the Internet has changed the way people work and can be used for good, the author also notes in his first chapter the greatest truth of this age is that information is not knowledge.

"Assimilating information, bits of information in the mind is not the same as constructing those pieces of information into organized systems of knowledge," he says.

"(People) become like human computers. They're loaded up with information but don't know what it means or how to assemble it together into analytical thought. And that can be a dangerous thing," he adds.

Time magazine staff approached Carr to start this project after a series of millennial issues about the future. "They wanted to have a piece of fiction to illustrate what life might be like in general and then tell a little story for fun along with all of their sort of nonfiction articles," Carr says.

Just under the first half of the book was published in Time; the rest of it nobody has seen before. Some was published in the magazine before he had finished the book, in traditional 19th century serial fashion. "I had no idea where it was going as I was writing it," Carr confides.