Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 06 07:05
We're supposed to be talking about the state of the world, and I'm thinking of the bits of news here as the year starts that will have an impact. Here's a few items in no particular order... Abramoff and other political scandals, and the Bush Administration's meltdown Sharon's stroke Pandemic Pandemonium Domestic surveillance in the USA Rebuilding New Orleans Escalating climate change and other natural disasters Digital convergence Peak oil What am I missing? And what kind of stew are we cooking here?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 6 Jan 06 08:05
Well, you're missing Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and the entire continent of South America. Then again, South America is "the continent of the future, and always will be." Who cares what's happening in gigantic Brazil, oil-rich Venezuela and those revolutionary Amerindian cocaine states? It's interesting, though, that we have misplaced the drug war while fighting an oil war. Maybe we'll misplace the oil in ten years while fighting over intellectual property. With the possible exception of "digital convergence," (which I take to mostly mean that Microsoft owns every box and line of code, nothing new happens ever), your list there is entirely grim. The state of the world in 2005 is not entirely grim. One shouldn't underestimate people's resilience, their abilities to patch up and make do. There are places and situations that were well-night hopeless 20 years ago that look pretty good now. India and China are tremendous stories. Even big pieces of Eastern Europe are getting onto the EU carousel. America's being run by corrupt Lysenkoist morons, but, debilitating as that may be for us Yankees, it also means that the remaining 94 percent of the planet has some chance at the limelight. Hey, South Korea could have been full of cloning superstars -- if they could just get over their endemic Asian urge to cook the books. The USA right now is the buried shadow of the Confederate States of America. You can watch GONE WITH THE WIND, and it's the secret textbook of the Bush Administration. The South lost that war for a reason. The South didn't have it in them to be a major power, because they were bold, gallant, devout, crooked, dumb and full of unexamined anxieties. The thing is, though: when a culture is "gone with the wind," it's never utterly and entirely gone. You can't make things go away by distributing them into the wind. It's just... up in the atmosphere. The emissions of the past form a smog. A breathable compost. You can't throw the past away and start over with a Year Zero. There is no "away." Tomorrow is this place, at a different time.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 6 Jan 06 08:14
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Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 6 Jan 06 08:19
>Brad Pitt Not to mention missing white women. What if there's another "runaway bride?" Here's what I'd add to that list: the absolutely unsustainable economic model in the U.S. Borrowing money from China so we can buy stuff from China (and run huge federal deficits) -- it can't go on forever. Will it be a big story in 2006? Maybe. If not, surely soon enough.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 6 Jan 06 10:53
Speaking of off-site readers . . . Mac asks: Where do the stories in "Visionary in Residence" fit in the Sterling canon? Any particular recurring themes? Evan Leatherwood wonders: What about the slow murder of the American middle class, or at least the slow death? I'm thinking of "We See Things Differently" here. Think we're still headed in that direction? Gerald Turner writes to inquire: Greetings Mr Sterling Do you think that the Mars rover discoverd alien artifacts posted daily at my blog are real or rocks? http://marsrelaystation.blogspot.com/
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 06 12:00
Gerald Turner's question reminds me of another item for the list - privatization of space travel. Won't be long before we have entrepreneurs in orbit, beginning with Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 6 Jan 06 13:16
http://marsrelaystation.blogspot.com/ During my stay in Pasadena, I actually met the characters who drive those Mars Rovers inside the Jet Propulsion Lab. I witnessed them at their work. If they'd rolled over any alien artifacts, I'm pretty sure they would have let on about it. They're a remarkably methodical and responsible lot, even if they do eat sugar donuts for breakfast. "What about the slow murder of the American middle class." I'm not nuts about radical income disparities, but do we want to carefully police the boundaries of the class system? If any class has been murdered in my lifetime, it's probably the East Coast Anglo Establishment. I mean the patriarchal, gentlemanly, Ivy-League educated, liberal-Republican upper class. When I was born they pretty much ran the works, and if you met one of 'em now, you'd just laugh in derision. The poor bastards must be more endangered than bison. There is a kind of theme in VISIONARY IN RESIDENCE. It's all about using the approaches of science fiction to do other kinds of writing: design fiction, architecture fiction, fiction for scientists, mainstream fiction about situations that used to be technically impossible in an earlier day... it's making a virtue of the fact that I've been writing fictional stuff that's just radically scattered, truly all over the map. Likely I've been reading too many weblogs. Most of the privatized space-travel efforts seem to be made by ultra-rich cybergeeks. I rather suspect this is more their ditzy attempt to recapture the dreams of lost youth than the nuts-and-bolts construction of a private spaceflight industry. It makes me wonder if the moguls of tomorrow won't try to build themselves cool little cyberspaces. Maybe they'll drop their loose change on personal, souped-up, two-man personal search engines, or private super World of Warcraft personal Xanadus. Because, you know, that's what impressed them when they were nine and ten.
from FRANK SHANNON (tnf) Fri 6 Jan 06 16:13
Frank Shannon writes: Ok here you went a step too far: Most of the privatized space-travel efforts seem to be made by ultra-rich cybergeeks. I rather suspect this is more their ditzy attempt to recapture the dreams of lost youth than the nuts-and-bolts construction of a private spaceflight industry. It makes me wonder if the moguls of tomorrow won't try to build themselves cool little cyberspaces. Maybe they'll drop their loose change on personal, souped-up, two-man personal search engines, or private super World of Warcraft personal Xanadus. Because, you know, that's what impressed them when they were nine and ten. Burn the heretic! Seriously I wonder if the 63 miles up that the current private spacecraft can go is enough for anything usefull, dont you have to get at least 100 miles up to get a stable orbit. Not to mention angular momentum. But if we don't get into space we are all going to die here which is just depressing.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 6 Jan 06 17:19
Look, Frank, it might be just depressing that we can't die in WORLD OF WARCRAFT heroically fighting orcs, but depression doesn't change the laws of physics. I'm as impressed as anybody that a top-end aviation engineer with a geek's checkbook can burn rubber and nitrous oxide and go 63 miles due up. However, that's not an industry, that's a stunt. I don't think there's ever gonna be a rocket-based tourist industry, any more than there's a hot-air balloon industry for tourist Atlantic crossings. That's not heresy; it's a realistic assessment of industrial development. On the plus side, given a whole lot of nanocarbon fiber, I'm starting to think that a space elevator is physically doable. Personal rockets don't sound nuts though they are, while a space elevator sounds nuts and it isn't; it's just unprecedented. It's not personal, of course. It would take a major state power to build a space elevator. It's fantastic, but it's not delusional. I suspect that the worst problem with a space elevator is that it's hard to build small-scale models and work out the kinks. Of course, when and if a space elevator exists as a real-world working object, like, say, a Hoover dam or a cheeseburger franchise, I kinda doubt it's gonna relieve space-geeks of their unexamined existential depressions. If you think living in an airtight spacecraft is a swell idea, you ought to talk to some Antarctic researchers or nuclear submariners. The technological sublime has got a short shelf life. Once it's off the drawing board and you're living in it, the adventure and the charm fade fast. People born in a spacecraft would likely moan about how they can't die on Earth and be properly buried in a real, authentic, rootsy, earthy graveyard.
nape fest (zorca) Fri 6 Jan 06 18:37
> Personal rockets don't sound nuts though they are. haha. on slashdot the other day, they had a pointer to a finnish guy who is nuts and brilliant. he strapped jet engines to his boots and then jumped off a balloon at 7000 feet while wearing one of those wingsuits that make you look like a flying squirrel. the propane and butane were stored in what looked like hot water bottles stuff into his jump/wingsuit. there's video at: http://www.bird-man.com/?n=windtunnel&nose=6 so there's a lot of renegade tech going on these days. seen any you think portends larger good for us?
from FRANK SHANNON (tnf) Fri 6 Jan 06 19:31
Frank Shannon writes: Thanks for your kind reply Bruce. Of course by us I meant the human race, but beanstalks are a good idea. I think we are going to have to use a lot of rockets as crazy as they are since the only place it makes sense to start serious work on tethers is in space. I guess we could build the thing on the ground and try to get it up by some other means but I'm not sure what.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 06 21:05
Isn't movement into space less about technology or money, and more about will and innovative thinking? And a Mars trip in the next couple of decades would probably be no more daunting than an ocean voyage into the unknown in the 1400s. Not that I see any hurry to colonize space when we have terrestrial issues galore.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 7 Jan 06 09:36
"so there's a lot of renegade tech going on these days. seen any you think portends larger good for us?" *That depends what one means by "renegade" and "larger good." I'm pretty cool about today's tech hippies with solder-guns; I think MAKE magazine has got a lot going for it, it's really brisk and unpredictable. The distributed-knowledge, web-autodidact thing is a happening scene. Alpha geeks can make a dent in the tech scene, and they don't have to sell out to VCs and ask permission first. I don't underestimate this development; I've got an eye on those guys. *Discovery Channel has got almost a franchise on this wack tech stuff; mythbusters, weird people with filthy jobs, huge unlikely gizmos... there's a zillion home-repair shows all of a sudden. It's some kind of popular groundswell. *Open Source is kinda the ultimate version of the do-gooder angle, that techie ethos of "watch me transform the world for the better from my disheveled nonprofit garage". Still, being "renegade" has a pretty short shelf life, too. If "renegade" tech has any economic potential, then it gets noticed and commodified. It's not "renegade" after that, because it's become mainstream tech. If it has no such mainstream potential, then it's not really "renegade," either, because it won't rock the status quo. It's a private hobby, a lab curiosity, and it'll never scale up for a mass market. *Then there's no-kidding criminal "renegade" tech, such as weapons, IED bombs, crack labs, forged money, faked products... There's horrific amounts of this going on now. Criminal underground tech has a similar commodification problem. Either you make black money and become the pawn of global organized crime, or you don't make money and nobody pays any attention to you; you're an evil James Bond genius, but only in your own mind. "Isn't movement into space less about technology or money, and more about will and innovative thinking?" *Why do we require rockets for 'will and innovative thinking?' The track record is bad here. Nazi Germany had rockets. And plenty of will. And rather a lot of innovation. The Soviet Union committed huge resources into space travel, to what end? Even Saddam tried to build a space-cannon. Did all their spacey will and innovation get 'em off the hook? *The Iranians have a space effort now. They also clutch their nukes and scream for Israel to be wiped off the map. Are we happier because their noble rocket effort gives Iran so much will and innovative thinking? *There's stuff to do in space that's well worth doing: surveillance sats, GPS, communications and astronomy. The Indian space program specializes in that: real-world space applications intended to directly boost the well-being of the Indian general population. I think you could argue that the Indian space program has paid off and delivered real infrastructural benefits. That's probably because they've resisted the urge to do Buck Rogers space-racing, and glamour space-tourism -- efforts that must depend on raw sense-of-wonder for their funding. *Of course it's 'about technology and money.' If we could hold out breath and levitate into outer space, then it would be about sheer transcendant will and cool, Tsiolkovsky-style visionary ruminations, but that's not how it works. Genuine, planetary-scale spacefaring still requires huge, complex, ungainly technologies employing tens of thousands of specialized employees. Even unmanned spacecraft are more expensive per ounce than solid gold. It's been like that since the days of the V-2, sixty years ago. As Tom Wolfe reported, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers." It's an expensive, bureaucratic, complicated technology, it's not cheap, easy and private. I don't see how we gain much by trying to elide this.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 7 Jan 06 10:54
Two from the interweb: bob anderson writes: Hi Bruce, How much did you connect with the fine art faculty at Art Center? Mike Kelly being one of the stellar artists there. Where do you think the art world is going in this changing world? BTW - I grew up in Pasadena and went to high school across the arroyo from Art Center at John Muir. And this: Dear Bruce: I've recently taken an interest in the idea that "appearance = truth", specifically with the problems of identity and reality created by electronic mediums. I may be young enough to have been in diapers when cyberpunk was taking off, but I still remember a time before news networks were "battling" it out on cable television. In a world where what we see and hear through TV and the Internet is controlled by other people, most of which are constantly trying to argue that their version of the truth is more accurate than their competitors, do you see an end to the constant information warfare that claims new minds everyday? Will corporations eventually control all of our media networks or do you think there will be a strong call for public ownership in some form in the coming years? Thanks, Michael Black English Major, Senior Philosophy Minor University of Louisville firstname.lastname@example.org
from MICHAEL BLACK (tnf) Sat 7 Jan 06 11:47
Michael Black writes: Dear Bruce: I've recently taken an interest in the idea that "appearance = truth", specifically with the problems of identity and reality created by electronic mediums. I may be young enough to have been in diapers when cyberpunk was taking off, but I still remember a time before news networks were "battling" it out on cable television. In a world where what we see and hear through TV and the Internet is controlled by other people, most of which are constantly trying to argue that their version of the truth is more accurate than their competitors, do you see an end to the constant information warfare that claims new minds everyday? Will corporations eventually control all of our media networks or do you think there will be a strong call for public ownership in some form in the coming years? Thanks, Michael Black English Major, Senior Philosophy Minor University of Louisville email@example.com
it was already on fire when I got here! (jet) Sat 7 Jan 06 14:35
wrt China, Korea and ID: This fall I'll start in the ID program at Carnegie Mellon after nearly 20 years as a computer geek of some sort or another. I was told by someone in the department that the freshman class in the ID program is roughly %50 Korean nationals who are only in the US to learn design before going back to their jobs at home. Do you know of anyone that's collecting stats on or tracking the national origin of ID students at schools in the US? I'd love to see the percentages plotted against year for Japan, Korea, China, etc.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 7 Jan 06 15:38
There were a lot of Asians at Art Center, but there are a lot of Asians everywhere. I'm not a fine-arts guy by nature; I spent most of my time at Art Center with media design people, the illustration crowd, the occasional product-design and car-design guy, and my own students. I fully appreciated the lecturers who came through from outside the school, too. It's a unique place, and 75 years old. Art Center is a stable strange-attractor; it's like watching the bubbles rise in boiling oatmeal. I miss the place in many ways, but I rather imagine they'll do fine without me, the way they did in those other 74 years. As to where the art world's going, I suspect it's gonna be going into little creative-class urban-entertainment culture centers. In other words, it's gonna end up in "districts for creatives" that have been zoned for that kind of activity. Places like that have existed for a long time, but the process hasn't been spreadsheeted and rationalized. A good example would be Navy Pier in Chicago, a place that likely would be a junkie-infested eyesore if it hadn't been turned into a weird, retrofitted culture-mall. Fourth Street and Sixth Street in downtown Austin have that kind of vibe. Even Las Vegas is brandishing surprising amounts of top-end fine-art at the customers who balk at their slot machines. The art world isn't a profit center -- but places that host the art world become profit centers. I've even seen them try it in Singapore. There's a former police station there, the picture of grimness, that's been turned into a gaudy, rainbowed design boutique. That dungeon is all plastic and skylights now. I really wonder how that's going to work out.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 7 Jan 06 15:43
do you see an end to the constant information warfare that claims new minds everyday? No, I don't see an end to that, but I don't fret about it much. I'm not a metaphysician. If you want to approximate "truth" I think you ought to embrace the scientific method. Formulate a testable hypothesis, experiment, publish, and see if you can get the findings replicated. If you approach "reality" in a humble spirit of inquiry I think that Truth will unveil herself, whereas if you stomp around emitting gospel and drinking your own public-relations bathwater, you're gonna come to grief, sooner or later.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 7 Jan 06 16:02
Truth with a capital T? As in absolute? Isn't truth, like beauty, more of an eye-of-the-beholder thang?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 8 Jan 06 07:05
You know, John, really, I'm just not even going to go there. All I can say is that, thanks to dogged investigation, the human race has learned that there were many important, real-world phenomena going on for 13.7 billion years before there were any human eyes and any human beholders. What's that say about the next 13.7 billion years? Probably that running around trying to define ontological absolutes is a little stupid.
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Sun 8 Jan 06 10:29
Oh, absolutes don't exist beyond the end of Time and 100% Entropy? Death to all fanatics! My mother's patience is infinite, but mine own is not ;-) Anyhow, was the Make Magazine that you refered to http://makezine.com/ ?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 8 Jan 06 11:04
"the human race has learned that there were many important, real-world phenomena going on for 13.7 billion years before there were any human eyes and any human beholders." If you'd rather not go there, that's cool with me, but the existence of phenomena and the accumulation of facts aren't really the same as "truth." We can make decent assumptions about some aspects of reality, but our experience if reality is mediated by perception and cooked in the electrochemical stew that lives in our heads. We're crippled if we worry too much about the "truth" of reality beyond perception, granted, but there's a difference between acknowledgement of phenomena and the suggestion that there's some absolute truth that we can know. I just don't buy it.
Coleman K. Ridge (ckridge) Sun 8 Jan 06 12:24
>As to where the art world's going, I suspect it's gonna be going into little creative-class urban-entertainment culture centers. In other words, it's gonna end up in "districts for creatives" that have been zoned for that kind of activity. Places like that have existed for a long time, but the process hasn't been spreadsheeted and rationalized.< The unrationalized versions of those were bohemias, and what seems to happen nowadays is that young professionals buy up all the space and any free energy gets sold to passive spectators before the artists there can mature and become productive. The neighborhoods get eaten before they get ripe. Maybe rationally designed art incubators can replace bohemias, but bohemias were also one of the few places where unclassified oddity was tolerated. What replaces that? In 19th-century European one could emigrate to the colonies or light out for the Territory. For about five minutes we thought we could head out into space. We could always go into the fringe neighborhoods. But now there does not seem to be even any place one can imagine going. There is no margin left on the page. Everything wraps into everything else. Where do we go now?
nape fest (zorca) Sun 8 Jan 06 12:56
so bruce, it's a new year. for those of us trying to decide where to invest our annual fear quotient, what do you think? bird flu? the weather? world leaders wilding?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 8 Jan 06 15:35
Weather, zorca. Definitely. It's the long-term fear portfolio. Ckridge, I think your answer is that bohemia no longer goes to a "where." Asking for solid bohemian districts that are somehow devoid of yuppie scum -- that's the flipside of the Bush Administration promoting "Homeland Security" in a globalized war-on-terror. "Globalization melts the map." http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/08/ Globalization melts the map for everybody. We're not gonna get a world with international terrorists, multinational business, and local gated communities for hipsters who have beards and bongos. That day is over. The new situation has got advantages as well as deficits. Otherwise I'd be ranting at you in some San Francisco coffee bar, instead of posting on the WELL while packing for Milan.
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