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June 26, 2009

[reboot] Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling is doing the wrap-up speech.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He says what’s great about your event is that it matches it’s name. What’s wrong with it is (he says) that it’s the eleventh reboot. “When are you going to have a stable system?” We’re rebooting the reboots.

He s says he’s not into the action vs. words thing because he’s a novelist. He also promises to tell us what the next decade looks like culturally. He begins with an anecdote about the chief designer at Fiat who talked about the Fiat since the 500, a very popular car. The designer told an audience that it succeeded because it’s a 50-yr old design. Bruce asked from the audience: Since the new Fiat 500 is a big success, what’s the future for it? Are you going to release the car that came after the F500. (There was such a car.) No, he said. They were looking at post-consumer alterations of the F500 and they were going to “professionalize” that; they were going to move the F500 into “emergent demographic groups.” “I thought this was a really clever idea” and that this is going to happen a lot, a “scary paradigm of the future.” It’s very hard to construe that as progress, he says. We’ve known since the 12th century what progress is: Master nature, more security, better health, etc. What we’re going to get: No money, scarcity, financial collapse, low-intensity global warfare, and a climate crisis. We’re deliberately moving backwards. Gen Xers in charge when people are “afraid of the sky.”

He says he heard a guy [missed the name] that “future” is an old paradigm. Bruce agrees with him. A mythos of the future, the belief in the future, just won’t be the same. We’re moving into a-temporality. Steam punk + metaphysics. Gibson is working on a book called “Zero History.” But Bruce isn’t ready to talk about this yet. Instead, he wants to talk about what it’ll feel like to live through the next ten years. It won’t be progress or conservativism. We get “transition to nowhere.” No big boom bubbles. Bad weather. Global emergent change.

Divide the future into four quadrants.

1. Crisis capitalism for aging baby boomers. They’re not major actors but they have all the votes. They’ll be more attached to crotchety fantasies.

2. BRICs. Emergent countries emerging into nowhere. They’re globalizing but not progressing . Fundamentalists are in charge but they don’t get anything done except ruin things.

Most of the world is in the first two quadrants. Quadrant 3: Reboot in power. Gen Xers running things. Cultural sentiment: “Dark euphoria.” Things are falling apart, everything is possible, but you never realized you would have to dread it so much. You leap into the unknown, you fall toward earth, and then you realize there’s no earth there. a) Top end: Gothic high-tech. You’re Steve Jobs, you build something beautiful but you’re dying of something secret and horrible. Death is waiting, and not a kindly death. Heroic story, but very Gothic. Or, from the political world: Sarkozy. Brilliant. Ethnic. You have no ideology. He’s willing to run against himself, reboot himself. Obama is a gothic high-tech figure. He’s a Chicago machine politician, an ethnic indeterminate politician with a massive fund-raising routine. Sarkozy comes on TV after the Brazilian aircraft crash because he wants to be on TV. These guys are positioning themselves in the narrative rather than building infrastructure. Their cheerleaders, not leaders.

b) The other side of Reboot in power is low-end: Favela chic. You’ve lost everything but you’re wired to the gill and still big on Facebook. Everything you believe as geeks is Favela thinking. This venue is itself a stuffed animal. The unsustainable is the only frontier you are. You’re old in old-new structure, a steam punk appropriation.

Bruce now promises us some practical advice. “I was shamed by Matt’s 100 hour speech. I know what I ought to be studying. I have to go do it now.” So, here’s some practical advice on bright green geek environmentalism. A general principle, painful for a gothic generation like yours: “Stop acting dead.” You’ve been trained that way; it’s the default for your generation. Hair shirt green just changes the polarity of the 20th century. It just inverts it. It’s not really a different way to live.

How do you know if you’re acting dead. The test: The great-grandfather principle. Would your dead great grandfather do a better job of what you’re intending to do. E.g., saving water. Water is indestructible. But your dead great grandfather is saving more water than you. You can’t save more than a dead guy. Save electricity. Move into a smaller apartment. [Amusing bullshit.] You’re going to be dead much longer than you’re alive. So you need to do stuff that you can do better than your dead great grandfather.

How can you do this, he asks. A geek-friendly approach to consumption. For people of your generation, objects are print-outs. They’re frozen social relationships. Think of objects in terms of hours of time and volumes of space. It’s a good design approach. Because if you’re picking these things up — washing it, storing it, curating it — these possessions are really embodied social relationships: made by peole, designed by people, sold by people, etc. Relationships that happen to have material form. You might argue that you ought to buy cheap things or organic. That’s not the way forward. Economizing is not social. If you economize, you’re starving someone else. You need to reasses the objects in your space and time.

The monarch among objects are everyday objects. Whatever is taking up your time most, or closest to your space. E.g., get the best bed you can get. Get a beautiful, well-designed chair. If you haven’t touched it in a year, get rid of it. Women, get real cosmetics.

It’s hard but it’s doable, he says. It’s very hackerly. Make lists. Four categories: Beautiful things, things that have some emotional meaning, your tools and devices, everything else. Bruce then tells us how to tell which is in which. First two: you’re eager to tell someone about its beauty or meaning. Tools: Don’t make do with broken stuff. You’re not experimenting with it if you’re not publishing the results in a falsifiable form.

This is hard to do. It’s the sort of thing you do when a spouse dies or a child leaves your home. It’s tough. It’s not a thing to do on impulse. But you will become much more of what you already are. [Tags: ]