Vlidi from Belgrade (bumbaugh) Tue 9 Jan 07 09:40
Vlidi writes, saying: Dear people of well.com , I would like to post some questions to the "State of the World 2007" thread, to my fellow Belgradian Bruce Sterling :-), and I am not a well.com member (even if I could afford the membership, which I can not, most of the credit cards we are being issued here are some "funny cards" and do not work online, or anywhere, for that matter). I hope it is not too much of a hastle. Thanks in advance! And, thanks for this great piece of work, well.com... Best, Vlidi. the questions: Dear Bruce, I am writing this first as your new Belgradian neighbor âand as with everybody else, there is a constant flow of substantial and unexpected changes in my life happening for quite some time - a year ago, reading "State of the World 2006" I couldn't have dreamt of having you addressing the issues from Belgrade, Serbia. So anything IS possible. Not that it matters that much - but ofcourse it does matter up to a certain extent - from which geopolitical aspect one's ones and zeros are pouring into Net, so while you are here, there are a few things I would like to peak your crystal ball at, for some hints on possible futures... The first being (and coming from this perspective) about what we agreed to call "a digital divide". Now, from pretty much un-wired and offline environment as Serbia (today) is, how the tomorrow looks like to you for (on ICT map) a "third world" societies? What do you expect from OneLaptopPerChild project and similar future initiatives, with millions of kids from the cultures and historical and cultural backgrounds most of us don't have a clue about joining the Net for the first time? Will that mean a gradual death of proprietary software (I think they agreed that OLPC laptops will initially run Fedora/Red Hat customized distros)? And will it mean the absolute death of existing traditional copyright legislation, the one being still predominant in the West, at least in the official discourse (I don't think those kids will care much for copyright notices, and I am sure the first thing they will search for and share once online will be media files, any media files)? While there, will this kind of computer education development mean that we will have a generations of new open source programmers worldwide who grew up in open/free environment, awake and on IM/forums/wikis 24/7, so the solution for any problem or need anybody may have with software, firmware and related issues will be minutes away? Will it lead to producing modular hardware "bricks", business surrendering developing, support or even initial purpose of the devices to users and big and small derivative open source ventures? Additionally, what shifts and changes, from the perspective of culture and communication, we can expect as a consequence of transition of India, and especially China, from the biggest manufacturers to the biggest markets (middle class in China is rising at the speed of light)? Capital won't resist the temptation to win the biggest market ever, so how the design and marketing campaigns adjusted to far East markets will backfire and affect the West? Should we better all start to learn our Mandarin (I am slowly considering it already :-)? English is now represented at just around 30% among the languages used on the Net (and I guess India is what's holding English that high), and is gradually shrinking... But, even more important then the language is the culture, high theories, historical influences and everyday practices, that are just not compatible or even recognizable from the background of Western cultural heritage... As the author who made more or less a total switch to e-production (BTW, can you tell more about reasons for leaving the Wired column? I guess that there is more then ecology involved... and does that mean that you will publish just e-books in the future?) can you give us an opinion on issues of "content ownership" and consequently the possible revenue models for authors who, unlike you, still think that they should dedicate 100% of their time to the particular work they are engaged with at the moment, the people who usually call themselves "artists" or "theorists" or "experts/professionals", not really multitasking-inclined? Voluntarism, enthusiasm, activism and other models exploited by cognitive capitalism and "creative industries" approach have the feel of "temporary" and "transitional". What you see trough your crystal ball as the more sustainable solution (fully aware of the constant evolving, shape-shifting and "unstable" attributes of the "new media")? Being involved with emerging local CC and other similar processes and being an author of a kind myself, I am very curious about your views... Complementary question is: if all the archives will be open and all the content produced will be free to use (both as a speech and as a beer), how do you see the possibility of reaching the "tipping point", will there be a day from which no "original" content will be produced, and from that moment on all of the "cultural output" will be a remix, a mash-up, a "derivate work", however distant in the future that day may be? "Adjusting" the existing approaches and ideas to specific imagery or fashion of tomorrow not considered as "art", in this example... Is that scenario even theoretically possible, do you think that there may be a critical mass of "cultural modules" from which all the possible further articulations may be derived upon (additionally complicated with "expected" development of humans&technology in the meantime, except for not-yet-very-likely incidentally pushing some "singularity-authorized access only" button)? Is this a "numbers game", at all? Or you believe that what we call "creativity" and "originality" is so inherent to humanity that it will never be replaced by another "tool" (making this probably the most stupid question you were ever asked)? Another related: why is Net still such a detached, incomprehensible and almost scary place for a lot of people who could accept it, generation and infrastructure-wise? Why people still mostly use the Net as a supplement for what is known already, instead of unleashing all the new possibilities inherent to it? So sorry if all this is not formulated in a more accurate way and with less words, I hope you "feel" what I want to ask :-) And sorry for all the references to your top-level precog powers â I just couldn't resist :-) I would have a million questions more, but wouldn't like to create a congestion or to take too much of your time... It still feels great to hear "reports" about your occasional visits to places like local activist's offices and festivals of SF - I hope you enjoy your time here... All the best, Vlidi, Belgrade. P.S. I just couldn't resist this one, as well â and it would be at least polite to join the predominantly environmental course of this thread â so it is inevitably happening tomorrow or the day after, so we may do something about it or not, but â what comes "after the heating"? Will there be a sudden shift in the very concept of politics, nations, religions, competition, "markets" and alike, as a consequence of that ultimate experience? What society/societies may emerge? Or will "social virus" survive along with it's exhausted host, hibernating until triggered by another possibility to act?
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Tue 9 Jan 07 10:26
I don't think open source represents a new medium of exchange, as such. I think it actually represents a massive shift in the way business is conducted. It's not especially new--old coders would consider this history. But I think it's growing, and likely to undercut a number of our traditional hierarchal systems pretty soon. Hey, I think I'll get me one of those DNA kits...
Jasmina Tesanovic (jasminate) Tue 9 Jan 07 13:01
hi all, from ruritania serbia, from Buce's apartment in Belgrade the globalization of balkanization is underway the transition to nowhere reading all the issues you talk about here having in mind the digital divide, the gender divide inside the digital divide and the importance of being a citizen in the world, even if you are faking it as we do all these years in ruritania serbia i wonder why all these internet games such as warcraft or second life are not used for constructive purposes other than escapism fun virtual virtuosity why can't we use that kind of interface for controlling the elections for example for trials on line for monitoring social issues sex drugs and rock and roll are my biggest joy but there is no better drug than truth and justice jasmina's blog http://blog.b92.net/blog/22
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 9 Jan 07 13:38
Now, from pretty much un-wired and offline environment as Serbia (today) is, how the tomorrow looks like to you for (on ICT map) a "third world" societies? What do you expect from OneLaptopPerChild project and similar future initiatives, with millions of kids from the cultures and historical and cultural backgrounds most of us don't have a clue about joining the Net for the first time? Will that mean a gradual death of proprietary software (I think they agreed that OLPC laptops will initially run Fedora/Red Hat customized distros)? *I don't think Serbia has to worry much about its unwired status when the locals are asking such intensely knowledgeable questions about Fedora/Red Hat customized distros. As I sit here in Belgrade typing this I've got broadband and six different wi-fi signals. Mine's the only wi-fi offering open access, for obvious ideologically-correct cyberpunk reasons, but hey, they're all there and none were here a year ago. I don't believe in the "Third World." Where's the Second One? We've got globalization and balkanization, or the Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/Map_index.htm The problem with Barnett's analysis is that it conflates socialist states with areas in state collapse. Venezuela is of great interest to Barnett obviously, because he's Pentagon, but the only way Venezuela will collapse will be if the US Army kicks it over. In my opinion the areas in collapse are a lot scarier than the leftist states. Changing a regime is a picnic. Restoring civil order is enough to cripple a superpower. These boundaries aren't rigid, either. There are patches of order in the Gap and patches of gap in the Order. The Gap is also the planet's nursery. Eighty-five percent of the planet's young people live there. Serbia is Gap. In fact, Serbia is a kind of world capital of Gap. It's a great place for a futurist, there are a lot of trends set here.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 15:10
<scribbled by jonl Tue 9 Jan 07 20:59>
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 9 Jan 07 15:39
Good to see you, Jasmina. And Vlidi -- originality can't die when you have such novel questions.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 20:59
echodog: I said 'different' medium of exchange, not 'new.' Nothing new about it - people have been bartering or donating their skills and work products forever. And it's one thing for Open Source to function alongside a system that creates fabulous wealth for some, quite another for it to supplant that system entirely. I think it's more of a 'both-and' than an 'either-or.' Jamais: in all of our worldchanging work, maybe we should focus most on creating more scenes like Sustainability 2050. We should take that process on the road. Jasmina - a big Texas hello! Why is it that sex, drugs and rock and roll are not used for constructive purposes other than escapism? (Actually, Second Life people will tell you that it's used constructively every day... that it's not a game but an alternate reality.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 10 Jan 07 03:36
"Another related: why is Net still such a detached, incomprehensible and almost scary place for a lot of people who could accept it, generation and infrastructure-wise? Why people still mostly use the Net as a supplement for what is known already, instead of unleashing all the new possibilities inherent to it?" *Those are really good questions. In thinking it over, I have to blame the people. Really: it's people who are detached, incomprehensible and almost scary. Not the machines. In the pre-Web days, the Internet had line commands. You had to grasp UNIX to do most anything useful, but the *content* of the web wasn't scary; it was mostly dry stuff like mailing lists. They were mailing lists about subjects like trying to program in ADA for the Defense Department. They were densely technical, geeky and dull documents full of acronyms and with maybe some pseudo-code, but they weren't, like, *insane.* Medical texts sounded weirder. *Then the barriers to entry crashed, and now you can read bizarre stuff like mash-up filter-dodging spam, which is really a torrent of absolute verbal nonsense. Partisan bloggers live in their own little headspaces. Political activists used to go mix it up with the commons in the street, they wanted to know what "the people" felt about things. The pajamahideen really ARE detached and scary, their blogs are like goldfish bowls where the filter broke. Way too many of 'em are scarily detached, remote-control wonk-geeks and pundit-geeks: they don't care any more about objective political reality than somebody playing WARCRAFT. *People blatantly try to deceive you and rob you in your email, with all kinds of theft, fraud and pr0n pitches... The porn and voyeur scene on the Internet is like nothing in human history. The Internet doesn't just publicize deviant sex behavior; it's got some kind of amazing long-tail generator that spews unheard-of mini-demographic micro-perversions. Kinks that are shared by a group of, I dunno, maybe six people. If you'd never seen the net before and you blundered into that, it would have to be really scary and alienating. The Internet really IS unleashing new possibilities inherent to itself, and sometimes, it truly makes you wonder. Who is the human race? Who did we think we were?
pardon my amygdala (murffy) Wed 10 Jan 07 06:10
>Who did we think we were? Great question. Much easier to answer than "Who do we think we are?" By "easier", I mean exceedingly difficult.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 10 Jan 07 09:12
Imagine Teihard de Chardin, back from the grave, discovering with initial wonder the noosphere did in fact form around the planet. Looking closely, he finds that it's 80% bondage porn and ranting narcissism. I guess that's the real heart of darkness. In Zen Buddhist meditation, there's a phenomenon called makyo, a kind of mental noise that masquerades as signal; a nightmare that will sometimes pretend to be kensho (enlightenment), and derail the practitioner.
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 10 Jan 07 10:04
80% crap would be 10% lower than expectation.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Wed 10 Jan 07 10:16
I think you're being kind, jef.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 10 Jan 07 10:36
(I was trying to be kind.)
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 10 Jan 07 12:17
I was just quoting the law.
'Yanni S.' (bumbaugh) Wed 10 Jan 07 13:02
Yanni writes: Here's a depressing prediction that I just read in Wired, which sort of moves in the opposite direction from "rule by open-source": The net will become distributed among a limited number of proprietary devices (PDA's, media-file players), out of the sheer necessity of not being spammed or infected with a virus; the PC (and, one assumes by extension, open-source) will follow along the slow, sad decline of Citizen's-Band radio. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.01/start.html?pg=15
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 11 Jan 07 07:27
The Core and the Non-Integrating Gap also applies to the Internet. Proprietary Devices would be commercial corporate Core, and the viruses would be state-failure and terror. Open-source is commons. Commons is persistent and beloved, but it's not doing all that great. That may be a "depressing prediction," but it's not a given that we pull through this. It's good to confront such possibilities squarely, instead of just turning up the megaphones and bellowing that we'll cakewalk through Baghdad. The Internet scene is menacing and unhealthy in many obvious ways. Ninety percent of email is spam. We're gonna get the Internet we deserve. If that's depressing, it's because we are depressing. If we are depressing, then we ought to shape up. It's an embarrassment when you see a golden idol reveal its feet of clay. It can be disillusioning. But if you're not illusioned in the first place, the spectacle's not so bad. If you look where the Internet came from, it wasn't that golden a situation. In 1960, the ARPANET was like a cross between Licklider's daffy comp-sci dream of computer-human symbiosis and a Pentagon drill for a post-nuclear holocaust. We don't have a word for an idol of clay that has feet of gold. But you know, they often do. If we can't see a way forward, that doesn't prove there isn't one. Optimism is often blinkered, but pessimism can be a kind of arrogance. We don't know every important factor that determines the shape of tomorrow. We ought to show a little healthy humility before we indulge ourselves in the luxury of utter despair.
Jamais Cascio (cascio) Thu 11 Jan 07 08:38
"Pessimism is a luxury of good times. In difficult times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence." --Norwegian social scientist Evelin Lindner
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Thu 11 Jan 07 15:10
>But if you're not illusioned in the first place, the spectacle's not so bad.< But where is the room for idealism? Without illusions, the human race would be satisfied with mediocrity. ("To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe,..........."). How about "optimistic pessimism" or "pessimistic optimism"? Great quote from Lindner, BTW.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 11 Jan 07 20:40
But against the palpably sophistical proofs of Leibniz that this is the best of all possible worlds, we may even oppose seriously and honestly the proof that it is the worst of all possible worlds. For possible means not what we may picture in our imagination, but what can actually exist and last. Now this world is arranged as it had to be if it were to be capable of continuing with great difficulty to exist; if it were a little worse, it would be no longer capable of continuing to exist. Consequently, since a worse world could not continue to exist, it is absolutely impossible; and so this world itself is the worst of all possible worlds. ~ Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. 46.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 12 Jan 07 01:31
I'm totally into dreaming impossible dreams. Got no problem with that. It's a business model, even. The problem comes with dreaming impossible dreams, discovering that they don't match the objective state of the actual world, and declaring that the world is therefor mediocre. If the world had been created to match up to our ideals, there would never have been such a thing as, say, quantum physics. That just flat-out wasn't dreamt of in our philosophy. Quarks. What is all THAT about? Is THAT supposed to make this the best of all possible worlds? Strangeness, charm, up, down. As far as we can figure, that's how the world actually *works.* Are we supposed to be optimistic or pessimistic about it? "Wow, man, quarks. I'm so upbeat and affirmative about those!" "No, no, this sorry world has far too many random quantum fluctuations. Schrodinger's cat was doomed from the beginning!" Are quarks mediocre? Should we fight them as an unbeatable foe? Should we hold our breath until they go away? Or celebrate them in the streets? It seems to me that the proper attitude toward phenomena like quarks isn't pragmatism or idealism or pessimism or optimism or any -ism at all, really. It ought to be a sense of engagement. Of wonderment. That's a pretty tepid attitude compared to declaring a bold crusade against quarks, but you learn more that way. As a futurist, I've come to feel that optimism and pessimism are serious intellectual vices. They truly cripple your ability to come to grips with likely courses of development. You can't properly entertain just-upside scenarios or just-downside scenarios. That's like wearing a blinder over one eye. I myself tend to be a rather acerbic, dismissive, Mencken-like figure, but that's just a matter of my personal temperament. That's not the way the world actually functions. Politics doesn't exist in order to give me sardonic chuckles; I mean, yeah, I get a hell of a lot of them, but that's not what politics is actually trying to do. To do serious futurism you need to think historically. The future is a kind of history that hasn't happened yet. If someone asked if you were optimistic or pessimistic about the 19th century, that question would have no meaning. If you wrote a book about the 19th century and you said it was the worst of all possible centuries and that only glum, terrible, and degrading things happened then, you'd be clearly fraudulent. You wouldn't be considered a great historian; it'd be obvious to everybody that you had some kind of bee in your bonnet. When it comes to future events rather than past ones, we should try for an even-tempered historical judgment. It's more important to seek an understanding of the determining factors than it is to hasten to praise or blame. Many of those factors, the driving forces that shape tomorrow, are very, very old. Like, say, the spread of the English language. English was spreading long before we were born and will continue to spread long after we're dead. Even though we're users of English here and obviously moral actors in that process, we can't take that entirely to heart and declare that it's all our own fault or virtue. The spread of English has good aspects and it has bad aspects, but our ability to do anything about that in our frail mortal lifetimes is limited. It's a vast historical process. It doesn't exist to please us or displease us. It's not our friend or our enemy. It was what is was, it is what it is, and it will be whatever it will be.
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Fri 12 Jan 07 06:52
>Even though we're users of English here and obviously moral actors in that process, we can't take that entirely to heart and declare that it's all our own fault or virtue.< It may be that the praise and blame game is testimony to an underlying belief that some form of agency makes the world happen. I think that the question "why?" has such implications, suggestion a "will" behind phenomena. "How?" is a more modest, neutral question that points us to understanding the determining factors and to staying relatively free of placing praise or blame. (We also miss the fun, of course.) In this vein, praise and blame can be seen as evidence of belief in miracles even when it they (praise and blame) are offered by a nominal atheist.
Gregory Naughton (bumbaugh) Fri 12 Jan 07 07:28
Grogry writes: (Er, Gregory writes:) To go along with the post from Shebar Windstone, I had this idea sometime ago which strikes me as still a good one which would be to in some measure introduce a federal program to produce, handle, and recycle a standardized set of multi-purpose containers. These would accommodate a wide range of conceivable shapes and sizes -- especially for soft-drinks, water bottles, glass jars, etc. It seems that there is a good deal of overlap with most products in the grocery store where the containers could be generalized, categorized and manufactured according to strict specifications. How this would work is that say, you package your applesauce in a glass jar of type B13, so B13 has a set lid and glass jar. Ragu also uses B13 for Spaghetti sauce, etc.. Now that we know everything about B13, its size, measurement, lid-fitting, etc, then instead of having to melt the jars down and re-create them after each usage, we merely need to collect them and powerwash them suckers and then out the door they go, shipped off to whoever the next guy in line is who needs a palette of B13 jars, back through the cycle again. You do this for as long as you can until they become too damaged. It seems that federalizing of something so low-level and so simple, but so essential to daily life would eliminate a good deal of energy waste and reduce landfill size, etc.. How do you get companies to bother to use these jars? A tax credit or incentive probably. They wouldn't be for everybody, but it would make your company look cool if you used them. I think it would work, I just never knew who to tell it to. This bottle deal seems to suggest a larger metaphor for instantiating federal programs to take over some of the trivial aspects of every day existence that aren't critical to expression or vanity but are entirely necessary and do so with an eye to smart design, re-usability and clever frugality. The solution(s) to global warming no doubt consist of lots and lots of small hacks that add up, smarter ways to do the same old thing. the trick is just recognizing what those are. I suppose that this presupposes an intelligent enough electorate? Sincerely, Greg Naughton
Berliner (captward) Fri 12 Jan 07 08:30
Actually, the container thing is in limited use in Germany; when I have empty bottles, I can go to a machine at my supermarket and feed them through one by one and the readout says "Becks .5L" or "Volvic PET" or whatever, not because that was what was in the actual bottles I'm returning, but because that's the form factor, after which I press a button and get a credit receipt out. But it not only does beer and water bottles, but various sizes of yoghurt jars and so on.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 12 Jan 07 11:42
*Wa-ha-ha! Best news I've had this year! Some lamps of mine have shown up here in Belgrade customs! The lamps I designed are actually physically existing and for sale! People are buying them! http://www.annalena.fr *If I can get them out of the hands of the puzzled shippers, I'll actually own some copies of my own designer lamp! *This is a stereotypical story of design, ladies and gentlemen... even though these lamps are made of the CHEAPEST AND HUMBLEST INDUSTRIAL MATERIALS POSSIBLE, literal plastic cable clamps... http://www.cableclamp.com/ ...because they are hand-assembled in a tony Parisian atelier and sold through galleries, they are pricy art objets that will set you back a cool USD1,500! I wouldn't dream of buying such a thing. But, you know, people do. *I don't think they plan to make many. It's too onerous. If, for some strange reason, you really need one, better move fast. PS, yes, it is a fluorescent lamp with green credentials... PPS. They come with French, not US wiring... PPPS there may be a little trouble at Customs... This is a fine high-note in which to cruise out of this State of The World discussion. I gotta pack. I'm heading for San Francisco.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 12 Jan 07 12:11
There's a very real economic issue here - reusability has impact on churn that puts bread on somebody's table. Similar issue with fossil fuels - if we could go 100% solar/electric tomorrow and eliminate our need for gasoline, we would trash a whole economy built around petroleum. A significant weakness within the environmental community is its failure to acknowledge and address the economic impact of proposed solutions. On the other hand, we suspect that there are significant business opportunities related to sustainability and energy efficiency. So I would say that, if Greg was going to write a proposal to "introduce a federal program to produce, handle, and recycle a standardized set of multi-purpose containers," he would want to show the impact on exisiting business and, to extent it's a negative impact, how to mitigate the down side, no? And perhaps demonstrate any related opportunities for new business. *** Slippage, as we say on the WELL (i.e. Bruce posted while I was writing the abover response). Bruce, I recall fiddling with those clamps at your house in Austin some time ago - I never could make 'em into anything cohesive. Congratulations! Hopefully one of our hosts can summarize this discussion and figure out what we said about the state of the world. The news ain't great: more war, in fact a military *surge* that might accidentally leak into Iran, while old-fashioned Marxists are attacking the U.S. in Greece (!!!)... and bitter cold and ice are on the way, despite global warming. Martin Luther King's birthday is Monday, and I just heard a news story about a scrap of paper he carried with him, where he'd written a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, and this is probably a good quote to wrap things up: "...in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth, truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists."
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