Rick Brown (danwest) Sun 8 Jan 06 18:12
Well, The WELL has been here for 20 years. And sometimes Peets and proximity make the rant go down better. As a person who lives in the middle of the firmly non melting-pot-map, We could even go for some yuppie scum; if they brought a starbucks. How far to singularity?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 8 Jan 06 18:20
Ah, I was wondering how long 'til we get to the s-word.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 8 Jan 06 19:38
I suspect that something very peculiar by our standards may happen in the mid-century, but if so, I don't think they'll be describing with a sixty-year-old term like "Singularity." And even if it renders the world unrecognizable by our standards, that doesn't mean the people undergoing it are going to feel all singular. They'll just change their standards. Furthermore, after a "singularity," people will be worrying a lot more about what happens next than about what just happened. If you hit a singularity, that's the beginning of a hairy situation, not the end of it.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 8 Jan 06 21:07
Singularity's a fuzzy term, anyway. Even if you narrow it down to *technological* singularity, it still means different things to different people. Transhumanists assume that we'll no longer be merely human, but posthuman. That's a science fiction trope. of course, but you seem to've got away from writing about anything quite so distant. Do you still think of yourself as a science-fiction writer? Could you write something like Schismatrix again, or more mech/shaper stories?
smorgasbord of pending developments (satyr) Mon 9 Jan 06 07:25
There's so much to choose from in thinking about what's on the verge of happening that could change everything, that identifying even the most important few would be difficult. climate change (possibly runaway climate change) deforestation and desertification rapid loss of biodiversity chemical pollution soil erosion declining oil production aging populations ubiquitous distraction recycling and renewables sustainable land management seamless communications radical access to and correlation of information effective learning technologies improving medical technology augmentation and robotics new economic/political opt-ins All of these and more are headed our way like a giant tsunami.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 07:29
Well, the fuzzy terms are the best ones, and they don't come a lot fuzzier than "science fiction." I do think of myself as a science fiction writer, but I'm a science fiction critic, too, which leads me think of genres in a historical context. BEOWULF is still a compelling work of fantasy, but we no longer have the context in which Beowulf was composed: some bard with a harp comes trudging over a hill and is welcomed by the tribal warriors of the local community in some kind of longhouse. I get a similar frisson when I think of fifty-cent paperback Ace Doubles in a rotating wire rack at the bus station. One of the reasons I found science fiction attractive was that it was the weirdest and least conventional material I could find in Gulf Coast Texas in the middle of the 20th century. With Google at hand, that's just no longer the case. There's some kind of Tom "Flat Earth" Friedman levelling-effect going on with search engines. American science fiction was like a warm subcultural tide-pool, and there are huge icy information currents running through it now. I don't think that my literary approaches are outdated, but the physical and social texture of research, distribution, publishing and consumption have all changed radically.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 07:41
That list satyr just posted explains why I read Worldchanging. There's a vague rocket-fuel whiff of 20th century science-fiction in Worldchanging, but really, just watching those cats trend-tracking is a mind-expanding, sense-of-wonder experience. I used to go hit the stacks at the library to write a sci-fi book, but Worldchanging is like a team of go-getters crammed a library into a giant fusion-powered nanocarbon blender, hit puree, and spouted the results through a firehose. It's going to lead to a new kind of prose, eventually. There are novels waiting to be written that have the ripply, blobjectified, computer-designed aspects of a Frank Gehry building. Literature is having a hard time responding to the realities of interactive electronic prose -- "hypertext" didn't go anywhere useful. I think it's doable, though. I might open a book tomorrow written by some kid I never heard of, and see that it had already been done with great success.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 9 Jan 06 11:00
I think we've talked before about the book, how it'll never go away because it fits some need to hold an object that feeds code to our wetware processes. But I think that the book is changing in that it can always have a web extension where readers can post comments and updates and authors can post errata and second thoughts... and perhaps alternative endings or "author's cuts." Have you thought about writing a novel (or nonfiction work, or nonfiction novel) that has web-based extensions?
nape fest (zorca) Mon 9 Jan 06 11:05
do you think kids growing up in front of monitors will have the same need to physically hold an artifact?
Rick Brown (danwest) Mon 9 Jan 06 11:19
When we wanna read in the bath-tub...
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Mon 9 Jan 06 12:05
*blush* And, for the record, that's not rocket-fuel, it's tequila.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 9 Jan 06 12:39
"Franciszek Kropula" (not our correspondent's real name) writes: Dear Bruce, I've just received your telegram: HEY, EUROPEAN VIRIDIANS! I?^?^?M MOVING TO EUROPE THIS MONTH As an Eastern European living in Smaczpuki (Bytowia), I am very excited. Can you provide us with some futuristic predictions regarding the effect that your landing in Belgrade might have upon the region? And what effect migh the region have on you? Do you think, from what you've experienced, that we do see the state of the world, the global issues around us, differently in this part of the world? Do you think your arrival might unleash a green revolution in the Balkans and Eastern Europe? Worldchanging is wonderful, but few have heard about it around here. So will there be any new regional, Viridian efforts on your part?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 9 Jan 06 12:40
And Stefan Jones opines and inquires: Weather troubles offer a place to invest money as well as fear! I bought shares in a bunch of mobile home companies when the Gulf Coast was getting pounded last year. (So did a lot of other cynical opportunists, and they're all down since last fall, but I figure they're a good long-term investment.) Any other ideas for what industries might be in a "Climate Change Shit Hitting the Fan" portfolio? Stefan
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 13:53
Odd you should ask that, Stefan. You know how you replace frail, collapsing levees in the flood insurance biz? With hedge funds! http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_03/b3967071.htm
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 13:55
Dear Bruce, I've just received your telegram: HEY, EUROPEAN VIRIDIANS! I?^?^?M MOVING TO EUROPE THIS MONTH *Dude, with formatting problems like that, no wonder you guys are still using telegrams. *I spent a year in California. Did you see that green revolution I unleashed there? All I can say is that the fine folk of Smaczpuki had better brace themselves.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 15:42
*Other green investments circa 2006: General Electric and Wal-Mart. That's right, I said GENERAL ELECTRIC and WAL-MART. Greener than a gourd. Top Five Green Business "Socially Responsible Investing" stories of 2005: http://www.greenbiz.com/news/news_third.cfm?NewsID=30045
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 9 Jan 06 15:44
do you think kids growing up in front of monitors will have the same need to physically hold an artifact? *In a word, no, and in more words, they probably won't be all that needy about "monitors," either.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Mon 9 Jan 06 16:17
Care to make any predictions about information pollution (spam and advertising)?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 9 Jan 06 16:43
Ha! Looks like Bruce abbreviated his inkwell rants in favor of his blog today... the "Indian Centipede" crawls on! http://wiredblogs.tripod.com/sterling/
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Tue 10 Jan 06 00:35
With respect to bruces, I have to disagree that we're not going to get a world of international terrorists--we've already got one, and there's no good reason to think the situation is going to change. The proliferation of information technologies has made it remarkably easy for local terrorists to link up with like-minded individuals the world over. To a large extent they don't have to meet in real space--they can share vague ideas over the internet and still manage to move forward to a common goal. For that matter, all the intelligence and technology they need is at hand. It's no surprise that the learning curve of Iraqi insurgent IEDs is so steep. Everyone is sharing what they are learning. There's no way to stop it. Fly over any good-size town in Iraq and you'll see that a goodly number of those mudbrick buildings down there are equipped with satellite dishes. In a cultural sense, these guys are learning faster than we are. What's especially interesting is the way in which they manage to hold onto age-old tribal mores while exploiting information age technology. You'd think with more internet access some of these jihadis would be succumbing to the free music downloads and abundant porn instead of learning how to make IEDs out of infrared sensors. But by and large, that doesn't seem to be the case. The lurid reality of blowing up a few US troops is much more compelling. How long before this temperment extends into western nations? We've already got our share of cultural extremophiles, from Christian fundamentalists to PETA. High-tech, low-cost terrorism could be the new extreme sport.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 10 Jan 06 06:56
Actually I'm abbreviating my responses because I had to pack. I'm leaving the US today and heading for Italy. I'll be in Europe for quite some time. Connectivity may be patchy -- even though I'm hauling two laptops. It seems that every time we have one of these interviews, it concludes with me packing. Name of the game, I reckon. What bslesins is saying is becoming a common wisdom; when I need a dose of that, I read "Global Guerrillas." http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/ There's a lot of meritorious analysis going on there, and it's very counterintuitive by 20th century standards, and that's a good thing, because this isn't the 20th century. It's not about state-on-state violence any more; it's about the emergent global order versus failed states. The victory condition for global guerrillas is a failed state. And there are lots of global guerrillas and huge scary patches of failed and failing state right nows. And the Disorder and the Order physically interpenetrate; globalization melts the map; there are physical patches of state-failure even inside the most advanced states. However, there is a nascent order inside the failure, too. People who live in conditions of failure can see what justice, law, and order look like. They see that on those satellite dishes, they get news about that every day from the many, many people who flee the Disorder and become new global diasporas. Yugoslavia went to pieces; it's not going to reunite, but the pieces are being subsumed into something better-organized, the EU. Lebanon was a hell-all Iraqi-style mess for 13 solid years; suicide bombers even drove the US troops offshore in a scarified, humiliating retreat. But 'the terrorism as extreme sport thing' died away in Lebanon, not because it was put down with American bayonets, but because, in lurid reality, it was inherently unstable. The terror's not gone completely from Lebanon; there are still carbombs killing leaders there; but, with time and personal experience, the population lost their taste for general mayhem. When your society is run by profiteering warlords, it's a major drag. Even the warlords themselves get tired of the Sword of Damocles. It's just no way to live. It stinks every single day. The Disorder is not self-sufficient; it is the dark shadow of the Order. It can't exist without the Order, it is parasitic. It lacks productive capacity; it can't feed itself and clothe and shelter the populace. If a state truly and utterly fails and it isn't propped up by the ordered states outside, local people become refugees and starve to death, they die of epidemics. A nonstate like Somalia, which also defeated the US, survives only because Somalis, many of them in the US, send money home. So, you can lose an asymmetric engagement with an enraged population if you invade their territory. But they're not going to get it together to re-invade your state in return. Terrorists are not a state, they're not tyrants. They don't have any of the organizational mechanisms needed to run states. They can't accumulate and manage enough resources to put together a functional military. And wherever global guerrillas do try to settle, they soon find they have to pull up stakes and move somewhere else. And, though they're doing really well in Iraq and the borders of Pakistan, electronically linked networks of guerrillas have a hard time surviving in organized states with a functional police force. Having email and a website doesn't make you Zorro. Laptops get captured. Cellphones get tapped. Conspirators get rounded-up. I never heard of an Al Qaeda guy ratting out his pals for reward money, but their gizmos betray them all the time. Not only do they blow themselves up, but they've got a high burn-rate in arrests whenever they settle in any area with an honest cop on the beat. In this conversation, we've been describing a world where (a) warm and fuzzy bohemian networks vanish instantly and (b) evil, demonic terrorist networks thrive hugely and indefinitely, but, dark sentiments aside, there's a logical disconnect there. Those two things can't happen both at once, that's just not possible. Bohemians aren't terrorists, but networks are networks, globalization is globalization. The technosocial forces that shape these historical developments, they're not trying to make things as bad for us as they can: they're impersonal forces. This era too will pass. And when it does, who will sum it up? Try to name a single positive legacy of any kind that Al Qaeda has left to anybody. A building, a bridge, a novel, a piece of music, a movie, a style of clothing, even. If they all blew up tomorrow, who would miss them in the future? Time is not on their side.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 10 Jan 06 07:42
Al Qaeda may pass, but haven't "terrorists" of one stripe or another always been with us?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 10 Jan 06 08:54
(Oops, I think Bruce was replying to echodog, not me.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 10 Jan 06 08:59
(I think you're right!)
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 10 Jan 06 10:31
*Oh I did, did I? <grumble> Well, you're all obviously electronically connected, so it's time to round up the lot of you. Kind of like the Spanish police did this morning.
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