SXSW2006: Bruce Sterling – The State of the World

*Note* Live blogging will miss nuance and won’t be an exact representation of the speaker’s intent.

bruce sterling sxsw 2006

Bruce Sterling isn’t throwing a party this year, but he’s loving the bubble echo of this 2.0 SXSW2006 get together. He says “enjoy it while you can.”

He’s loving flickr and Wikipedia; companies that are completely unlike anything else, opening up their API’s to create platforms, not sites. What a contrast to standard, American business.

Only in America… where dying phone companies lobby the government as if they’re Indian casinos. […] Are people in Washington drinking their own bathwater? The guys in power are so eager to monetize the web, they’re turning America into Banana Republic with rockets.

Get his book: Visionary In Residence

Serbia is absolutely dysfunctional and Sterling has a ringside seat. He’s global, as many more are becoming. His Austin stead collects mail, while he bounces around the world. “National borders are like speed bumps.” America is a state at war. “The dollar is low compared to the Euro, which should be in intensive care.”

Creationism is an intellectual calamity.

al Quada bomb mosques. How many are enough? (we Americans don’t give a fuck about the “near enemy” issue). When the culture war is over—we are within a culture war—one doesn’t get to say “I served on this side.”

We’re on a slider bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable. We’ve got a fire in a theater, but the exit signs are just a bunch of glowing letters in jumble.

Warren Ellis: “The spread of the possible futures and the people on the ground figuring out how to use them.”

Unimaginable does not mean catastrophic, nor does unthinkable.

The word: Spime – In 2004, Sterling did a speech at SIG-GRAPH and spoke of spime. It’s not a word; it’s a tag. It’s a theory object. William Gibson’s cyberspace is a conceptual realization. We’ll never have that, but the word is now passe.

Spime is a speculative imaginary object:

  • An interactive chip, unique identity, It’s got a tag
  • Local precise positioning system
  • A powerful search engine, auto-Googling object
  • Evolved in cradle to cradle recycling
  • 3D virtual models of objects; a product of CAD cams
  • Rapidly prototyped, it’s a fabject — a laser-centered model

If 21st century objects had these qualities, people would interact in unimaginable ways. Spimes begin and end as data. We want to do it to build an internet of things; engage from the moment of invention to the moment of decay. It’ll feel like auto-magical inventory voo doo. I ask, and I’m told. I Google to find my shoes. This concept needs distributive participation.

The semantic wit is turning into the wetlands of language.

A theory object is a platform of development. The 20th century could not write, think in this way. Theory objects can have permalinks, trackbacks, databases, etc. This is why the legacy media is going down, because legacy people don’t get it.

We need to become the change we want to see. Make no decision out of fear. None! (my emphasis).

Globalization needs to be understood culturally. Leaders are culpable, but the people are complicit. A society that lived in a locked closet and fed on their own illusions (Serbia). How different are we? Evil has a face in the world; people who don’t like people who don’t buy into their parochial bullshit.

But time passes with historical perspective.

Sterling closes by quoting Carl Sandburg. Picture 1937, the age of depression, WWII at the door…:

The people, yes

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold again and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds.
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
Is a vast huddle with so many units saying:

“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
And it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself and maybe for others.
I could read and study
And talk things over
And find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”

The people
With the tragic and comic two faced hero and hoodlum
Phantom and gorilla
Twisting to moan with the gargoyle mouth
They buy me and sell me
It’s a game
Sometime I’ll break loose
This old anvil, laughs at many broken hammers
There are men that can’t be bought!
Fire borne or at home with fire
The stars make no noise
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing
Time is a great teacher
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:

Where to? What next?

—–

I didn’t finish my live-blog of Bruce Sterling’s brilliant speech; I couldn’t.

In the midst of his swaying through global references of humanity, ubiquitous concepts and reflective precision, Sterling briefly mentioned the humanity of the Serbian people, how they still gather to listen to poets speak and grown men openly weep within their shared language, as if their hearts were still broken.

I felt that.

When Sterling hit the very first line of Carl Sandburg’s poem, he began to weep; I immediately closed my laptop and felt the words of a man in the midst of a depression tumble out of the mouth of a man in the midst of priviledge.

Bruce passionately pressed on, as each word struck a newly discovered nerve, setting off a choked up throat, a twist in his chair and freshly drawn tears. And I wept with him.

My last words at SXSW2006

Each of us—the creators and collaborators in this 2.0 revolution of media, communication, services—are the new leaders of this world.

Each of us.

The choices we make will shape our world; from the choice to harness our personal voice to the choice of developing real relationships with our fellow human beings to the choice of creating innovative, enabling world of objects in-between…

There is nothing else but choice; don’t think for a moment that there isn’t.

So the next time you come up with a brilliant service idea, try going that extra step to make it just that much more useful for your neighbor… or for that family living on the other side of the tracks… or for that child who was born into a depressed world where jobs were scarce, children were starving and a world war was on the horizon.

Because, you see, we may already live in such a world.

Thank you, Bruce.

UPDATE:

(via down the avenue, Jill Brown, and Sean Harton respectively)