Poorly transcribed; excuse the mistakes: 'Several thousand years ago, during an era pretty similar to what we're living in now, all of the literate, rational people were rounded up and hoarded into a system of monastic communities; these are coed monasteries. But they're not allowed to reproduce. The only way to get new people into this new system is by a process called "collecting" - if you're living on the outside and you're one of those kids who's frequently seen curled up into a corner reading a book, you'll be picked up and dropped off at the nearest monastery.
The people on the inside own nothing, except a piece of cloth that they wrap around their body as a garment. They sit around and read and write books and think about philosophy and mathematics and science, and they do other kinds of scholarly activities. The landscape on the outside is - coast to coast, oceans to oceans - walmarts, casinos, big box retail stores. Over the Millenia, dark ages, renaissance, world wars, have come and gone and so on, but it doesn't affect the people in the inside. It turns out that the two cultures have found out to get along pretty happily.
The people on the outside have pretty darn short attention spans. They can't tear themselves away from their cell phone-like devices. The people on the inside look upon them with a certain amount of horror, and simply can't understand how anybody could live that way. If you're interested in these topics, you could do worse than picking up this book as maybe an entry point for thinking about those kinds of issues, and carrying that conversation forward.'
- Neal Stephenson, @ Google on September 12th 2008, Mountain View, CA