atwoodHeart.pngIt was just over a year ago when I met famed author Margaret Atwood
here in Toronto.
As a former journalist in New York City during the
90s, I’ve literally met red carpet-loads of celebrities ranging from
Oprah to Lou Reed but something was different about Atwood. Sure, like
most Canadians, I knew she was one of our country’s greatest
contributions to the world of literature. Little did I know, however,
she was actually a closet geek.

What piqued my curiosity in the
first place was her invention, The LongPen. As a hardware device, the
concept is simple: a machine that records various biometric aspects of
your signature, particularly pressure-sensitivity, and transmits it to
a receiver anywhere in the world to serve as identity far more
legally-binding than a fax or PDF file.

The deeper I explored
the LongPen concept with Atwood, the more I realized she was no
technology lightweight. If nothing else, her communication device
broached the prospect of three-dimensional teleportation — almost a
literary equivalent to the transporter we all grew up watching on Star

Months later at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio in mid-town
Toronto, we had a long discussion about various technologies including
my latest mobile obsession, the iPhone 3G. She was in the early stages
of planning a world tour for her new novel The Year Of The Flood
and desired to capture/share media along the way, including various
performances based on the beautiful, quirky hymns contained throughout
the book’s narrative. It was during this conversation I first became
distracted by her playful blue eyes and lost my train of thought,
ending my sentence in a series of binary non sequiturs:

“11101001 1110 11110,” I beeped sheepishly.

the hell are you talking about?” was how I thought she would’ve
responded. Instead she nodded in agreement and countered with some
hexadecimal reasoning of her own, 80 percent of which I was unable to
comprehend without the abacus I left at home.

As some young fans
asked for her autograph, I regained my composure and we left shortly
afterward with the only clue of my brief lapse being the fact I forgot
to pay the bill. Heck, I figured, having Atwood in the cafe is at least
10x the cost of two coffees anyway in terms of marketing ROI.

later we met again at her house as the plans for her book tour began to
take shape. By this point she was about to purchase an iPhone 3GS and
was well on her way to becoming a skilled disciple of Apple’s messianic
invention.  Our conversation this time ranged from my despair over the
digitization of human culture (and its eventual erasure through an
inevitable solar flare) to her relative optimism in energy supplies
through new technologies like solar blankets.
We discussed Augmented Reality, “victimless” leather products and green
rabbits that glow in the dark. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy
store where the candy was replaced by Dystopian holographic cyborgs and
the kid was a swarthy 40something sporting a pocket protector and an
unfashionable propeller-head cap.

As the tour approached, Atwood and her team over at O.W. Toad were in full new media stride, having launched this attractive new website, her WordPress blog and her Twitter
account.  Enthused by her humble yet increasingly obvious technical
prowess, I encouraged a few of my high profile fellow nerds (Amber Mac,
Jason Calacanis and kris krug) to retweet her tweets. As Atwood fans
they obliged in a millisecond and her digital reach was set aloft —
soaring from 90 to over 7,000+ followers faster than Glenn Beck could
say ObamaMightBeTheAntiChrist. If nothing else, Twitter
underscored her worldwide name recognition but, more importantly, the
medium displayed her effortless tech savviness. Ironically, Atwood
portrayed herself as helpless in a lovely comic strip she drew for me
(to be published soon on my own blog) and yet she’s anything but. As
someone who has worked in the high tech biz since the days of DOS 2.1,
I have never seen anyone grasp social media as quickly as this timeless
Zoomer has.

Of course none of this should come as a surprise
— her novels are rife with interesting, futuristic depictions of
technology. Some of it simply couldn’t be made up without a good grasp
of what is possible from a software/hardware/biotech/transhumanist
point of view. As such, nerds everywhere should heart Ms. Atwood for
being much more than a famous Canadian author. Indeed she has subtly
slipped tech literacy into the minds of millions of readers worldwide
in the classic Canadian way: humbly, accurately and with a good dose of

For more proof, dial into her house party webcast Friday Sep 25th @ 6 PM on my Zoomers.ca profile page
(delivered live via my iPhone). It’ll be a celebration of geekdom for
the various nerds who helped with cyber side of her novel. — MG