Brady Lea (brady) Sat 4 Jan 14 20:19
It's time for the 2014 edition of the state of the world conversation with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky. The WELL has hosted this conversation every year since 2000, ranging free through the worlds of technology, design, politics, high and low culture, and fashion. Bruce Sterling is a science fiction author, journalist, design theorist and critic, and public speaker. Since he lives in Europe and travels the world attending conferences and speaking, Bruce brings a high altitude broad perspective to the table. Currently based in Serbia, he spends much of his time on the road, and has a truly global perspective which you see in his novels, nonfiction pieces, and his blog, "Beyond the Beyond." In addition to his novels, Bruce has focused on the cutting edges of digital/hacker culture, climate change, global politics, and contemporary design. He founded the Viridian Design movement, the Dead Media project, and is currently fired up about the new aesthetic, augmented reality, and design fiction. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_sterling> Jon Lebkowsky is a future-focused social polymath and lately skeptical Internet maven. He's been a social commentator, gonzo futurist, media analyst and critic, web consultant/developer, and online activist. He was a cofounder of FringeWare, Inc., an early digital culture company/community, and has worked with and written for bOING bOING, Mondo 2000, Whole Earth, Plutopia Productions, Digital Convergence Initiative, Wireless Future, the Society for Participatory Medicine, EFF and EFF-Austin, the WELL, WorldChanging, SXSW, Social Web Strategies, et al. Lately he's part of a web development cooperative, Polycot Associates, and cofounder (with Amber Case, Tyger AC, and Patrick Lichty) of Reality Augmented Blog: <http://www.realityaugmentedblog.com/> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Lebkowsky>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 5 Jan 14 10:47
1993 was the birth of the mainstream Internet, with the arrival of the Mosaic browser and the first steps toward privatization of the backbone and a move away from the acceptable use policy that prohibited commercial activity. Two decades later, in 2013, the Internet as we knew it, a network of networks, is dead, replaced by a network that has become the de facto platform for delivering media. Media is no longer strictly professional, anyone can produce content of any kind, but the culture of free is dying, and professional content production is finding an audience again, and finding ways to extract payment for access to established professional writers, musicians, videographers, etc. At the same time, anybody anywhere can create content and drop it into a more or less public channel. The volume of information, new and replicated, is exploding. Bruce made a related point last year, as he came up with the concept of "stacks": "In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about 'the Internet,' 'the PC business,' 'telephones,' 'Silicon Valley,' or 'the media,' and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image. " This is pretty well-established theology at this point, but I think we're still in a transition with attendant confusion. These stacks and related businesses are all about media and marketing, and they require massive cycles of content, not so much as product but as fuel for the engines of commerce. So the pipes are full of information, but it's less reliable than ever - we're missing the intermediary vetting within the cycle, everybody's running just to stay in the race. And where media is amplified by a proliferation of content - channels and sources - there's more room for media manipulation, political propaganda and commercial marketing messages are embedded, often indistinguishably, in the signal and the noise. Given all this, and implications that will emerge as we talk over the next couple of weeks, I'd say the current state of the world is *W*T*F*. Bruce, how's life across the pond?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 04:53
Well, it's 2014, and I thank goodness the WELL is still here. I've never been so happy to have an Internet account that doesn't belong to some ultra-rich creep. It'll be hard, this year, not to dwell obsessively on the capering specters of the NSA, Snowden, Wikileaks, Bitcoin 2013 turned out to be the year when the Digital Revolution trended Stalinist. Old-school Digital Bolsheviks scattered hapless in every direction, as Big Data Killer Bot Commissars scoured the darkening landscape, and Trotsky went to ground in Ecuador. An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year opens. I don't know what to compare 2014 to -- except for many other glum post-revolutionary situations, when the zealots succeeded in toppling the status quo, then failed to install a just and decent form of civil order. The world in 2014 is like a globalized Twitter Egypt. What's become of yesterday's august, sturdy, pre-digital institutions? For instance: why does the United States even have a Congress, in 2014? Is it habit? The Congress doesn't do anything now. Everybody despises them. They despise themselves even more than the public does. Of course it's easy and traditional for the American public to curse the Congress, but they've never been this low in their own self-esteem. Is it any wonder that the NSA took a page from Google, and started throwing money in the direction of anything that even LOOKED like it might be surveillance? The NSA interpreted privacy as damage and routed around it. Why not give that a try? The NSA has no effective civilian oversight. Whoever does? Suppose the entire US Congress came to your house in a body, to you, as a citizen, and they told you, well, anything at all -- in their collective wisdom -- something minor maybe, say they recommended a roach insecticide, for instance. Would you take that act at face value? Would you listen to the Congress with the respect due legally elected officials, and do what they said? "Hey," you might say, "the US Congress is the legitimate, elective legislative body of a superpower; so they can't be that bad! I'd better buy that aerosol can and spritz it around some!" Would you do that? Really? Wouldn't you pull an NSA, and pretend to do it, and then lie to them, lying as minimally as you could? After all, the NSA has got a job to do just like the rest of us, while the Congress has spent entire years now trying to drown itself in a bathtub. Half the US population thinks the the US Congress is trying to murder them with health care. I guess that Congress Log is better than a malignly active Congress Stork -- at least they're not impeaching anybody now -- but it's weird to see a legislative body with so little self-confidence or sense of its own credibility. They really seem disrupted, irrelevant, in a hapless Gothic decline, as if the Congress is eager to be unplugged and then replaced by some Silicon Valley solutionist lobbyist market-for-votes.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 04:57
Before we start geeking out majorly on 2014's many scandalous cyber-issues here -- and me especially, because, well, gee whiz -- let's have a brief review of the changes seen between the last WELL State of the World, and this new one for 2014. Last year, I started by listing some more-or-random interest groups who seemed to me to likely to have a rather good time in 2013. I figured these interest-groups looked perky and energetic, and maybe they would prosper, or at least be fun to watch. How'd they do? ---> "#1. The 3d printer guys. Just so interesting! Gotta love them!" *Well, the 3D crowd did have a pretty good time of it in 2013. Then their little hobby markets started saturating, and also some cruel patent-trolling broke out. They're still doing okay, but the buzz of 2014 has moved to "wearables." Whatever that is. "Wearables" means all kinds of stuff. A 3DPrinter is a genuine, kind-of functional machine, but a "wearable" is pretty vaporware, almost as vague as "nanotechnology." *When wearables arrive, I hope they're Italian. If you've gotta wear the damn things all the time, they ought to at least look elegant. ----> "#2. Koreans. 2012 was all about K-pop and Samsung." *Samsung, a true industrial titan now. Tremendous year in 2013. If I was a K-pop guy, though, I'd be seriously upset about the North Korean regime ruthlessly machine-gunning members of their own ruling family. I'm hard-put to imagine that ending well. Kinda puts a pall on the disco party there. ---> "#3. Indians. Bollywood has long been a hobbyhorse of mine " *Man, did they ever cash in with Indian cinema in 2013. Just maharaja heaps of glittering rupees. Unheard-of. I dunno what they're gonna do with all that wealth. I don't think they know, either. They've never had that much money in the "filmi" biz. I'll keep watching. ----> "#4 Turks. Sure, Turks are pretty miserable, but just look at the truly awful state of everybody else around them!" *The awfulness around the Turks is still there, but then the Turkish regime had to go buy and money-launder all that Iranian oil. Back to the dark clouds of the Shadow State for dear old Turkey. They've sure got a lot of enemies, but they are their own worst foes. Another great, missed opportunity by a nation with a genius for missing them. ----> "#5. China. Yes, they're very big and powerful everybody around China is keenly resentful of their island-snatching behavior ." *Boy, I'll say. In 2013, the Japanese premier went and stepped on the live wire of Asian politics, twice. Because he went to the local war criminal cemetery, which, for 60 years, has been as bad PR-wise as the Bridge on the River Kwai. *Yet everybody concerned -- Koreans, Taiwanese, Yankees, Vietnamese, whoever -- after this ghastly affront, they were like: "Well, I reckon he had to do that! Better scrape up some live debris from Fukushima, and build some offensive warheads! This is a new China, and we don't like 'em at all. Man up, Japanese guys!" *Maybe it feels good to be aggressively Japanese, yet finally out of the bad odor of World War II. Much like their colleagues the moderns Germans, those champions of free expression and stalwart enemies of wiretapping. Coolest guys around when it comes to modern freedom and dignity, Germans. They're kind of amazing. *What the hell, nobody can remain the picture of evil forever. Especially with the Chinese doing their level best to grab the red-hot crown of Sauron there. ----> "#6 Tea Party guys. Acidheads have had more coherent thinking than these Creationist Randite gold-bar-eating pro-coal zillionaire market fundie people." *The Tea Party did okay in 2013. I don't think they lost any votes. They're even a little more measurably Creationist than they were back in January 2013. They think they'll win the Presidency next time, but after four years of their crazy obstinacy, what's left of American governance? If you think of the Tea Party as useful idiots for larger forces that want to destroy the middle class and the nation-state, they're a wonderfully successful group. A thousand times more effective than Occupy, for sure. *The Tea Party gold-bug contingent lost a heap of money this year. The Tea Party preppers are starting to look like a dress-up fantasy subculture of some kind, rather like steampunks. Still, the Tea Party at least gets the satisfaction of being mulish and spiteful, and that's what they like best. ---> "#7 Qataris. The financiers of Al Jazeera, of the Arab Spring, Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc etc." *Their Qatari zillionaire Renaissance went badly bust in Syria. Back to the drawing board. If you can wipe the blood and nerve gas off a drawing board, that is. ----> "#8 Stacks. In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about "the Internet," "the PC business," "telephones," "Silicon Valley," or "the media," and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft." *It turned out the NSA was studying the Stacks better than anybody else. In 2013, kindly, ultra-popular, liberating social media turned into sinister surveillance marketing, almost overnight! And there are plenty more scandalous shoes to drop. If "DropoutJeep" is inside the iPhone, what's inside the Kindle, what's inside the Android? What's inside the PC, even? "NSA Inside." *The Stacks could have rallied and risen to this grave political crisis, but they haven't. They hunkered down, blinked at each other, and muttered into their beer. It's like they all stared straight into the five Portraits of Dorian Gray.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 04:58
Google was going wild in early 2013, they were like android demigods. Now Google is, all of a sudden, presto, Russia. Google is a surveillance secret-police empire with spy binoculars on their faces. Sergey Brin's pet Moonshots are just a lame prestige show. It's sad, really. Larry and Sergei used to be the Not-Evil Guys, they empowered the users and won their instinctive trust. Now, if Snowden entered the boardroom of Google, Larry and Sergei would shriek in falsetto like the Wicked Witches of the West and melt into two puddles of black wax. That doesn't make Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Amazon any better than Google -- Facebook in particular, oh my God -- but it's the first time that these new titans of American industry have really looked genuinely ugly. Just, nasty. Because they're rich and powerful, but they're also narcs. They're creeps and snoops. They're police informants. They were kinda tricked into it -- but everybody knows it, and their unwillingness to face up the stark embarrassment is an act of tacit consent. The Brazilians, Germans, French, Italians, Russians, the Chinese ten times over, everybody, they all know. It takes a while for that kind of damage to the reputation to sink in, but it will. They're not done, or anything -- the Stacks didn't get the witch-hunt pitchfork, like Huawei did -- but they'll never again be the fresh-faced cowboys of the Electronic Frontier. They're cattle barons now, and Silicon Valley stinks of their manure. Gold rushes finish ugly, in California. There's gonna be a way out of this -- before Apple showed up, in the 1950s and 1960s, the US population was terrified of "computers." Computers were considered inhuman, Orwellian instruments of folding, spindling, and mutilation. Computers have always had a dark side of spying and encryption, ever since Alan Turing. Geeks kind of like spooks, actually, since they're both keen on obscure forms of technical power. But now we've got major-league geek spooks, and politicians who roll over for 'em. Not good. I'm guessing that some genius will find the reality-distortion field and turn that around again, but not during 2014. We're in for a year when the Global Village is Spook Country.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 05:00
I happen to be in Belgrade again -- I'll be here a few more days -- and things certainly have gone swimmingly for the current Serbian government. I don't know anyone anywhere who expected the "Radikalni" to do so well, once in power. Who would have thought that a political party called "Radicals" would actually be radicals? The Radikalni do genuinely radical things, by local standards. They make people pay taxes. They inspect things. They punish corruption. They negotiate with former enemies, sign treaties and build infrastructure. They feed the living and they bury the dead, and boy do they ever win elections. I've never before been in a Serbia with an actual government running it. I mean, Serbia is basically a small ethnic chunk from a not-very-big failed state of the 1990s. The region didn't much seem to need a national government at all, as far as I could see. But the Radikalni are like some long-postponed 1989 new-broom thing happening. They've become a newfangled national regime. It's like they know how to run a country, even. It's not like the Radikalni are nice 89er hippie liberation guys or anything, but I've never seen Serbia in such a state of public contentment and apparent stability. It's truly startling. This development gives me the conviction that pessimism is public affairs is just a kind of arrogance. It's just flat-out impossible to know what people may be capable of, and even Mr Scrooge, that cramped and miserable man who was one bent, splintered mass of crooked-timber, can wake up one fine Christmas morning, mystically transformed into whatever the hell Mr Scrooge was after that. They may even join the EU, Serbia. And then what? I've always been quite interested in Serbia, but now I'm interested in it for whole sets of new reasons.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 6 Jan 14 05:48
On the ground in the USA, it's surprising how blasé (outside EFFish geekdom) has been the response to NSA surveillance and new maps of the panopticon, slightly revealed by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. It's not that we don't want or even expect privacy. It's more like a state of shock, the reality of growing persistent domestic surveillance is somehow distant an unreal. It's like we're watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the bad acts are bad video, some sort of fiction imposed by deus ex Tom Clancy. We have the same response to the careful dismantling of government and whole sections of the former middle class - it's a film by Frank Capra, or maybe Judd Apatow. A cheesy bit of cinema that will somehow resolve itself, credits will eventually roll, we'll step out of the fantasy and into the light of day, and everything will be fine, just fine. But what we're watching is not cinema, but a maleficent YouTube video gone viral, shot by rabid weasels with an infected Android, looping constantly like Einstein's definition of insanity. We've dozed off watching it, fallen into nested dream states fed by networks of fantasy, no clear way to consciousness. Another way to see it: slammed by a firehose of information, it's hard to know anything, to be other than intellectually numb and detached from any sense of broad existential danger.
Brady Lea (brady) Mon 6 Jan 14 10:10
(A quick hello and thank you to you, Bruce & Jon, for doing this topic again. And welcome, readers!)
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 11:01
*Oh, I don't worry about the alleged slow response. Look what I was saying twelve years ago. Same social problem, just different brand names and bandwidth speeds. http://www.viridiandesign.org/notes/251-300/00283_geeks_and_spooks.html *The NSA is older than the computer business. It's older than I am, even. Espionage is the second-oldest profession.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 6 Jan 14 11:17
//medium.com/@bruces" class="hft-urls">https://medium.com/@bruces *I did some cyber-political writing in 2013. I have the feeling that I should do more of this, but I'm of two minds about it. Political causes I'm keen on don't generally thrive. Why am I dabbling in this? Just because politics are bad? They're always bad someplace. *I'm kind of in the mood to nick on back to Saint Petersburg and interview Pussy Riot -- because, hey, my Slavic punk-rock spouse would dearly love to go -- but is that stunt, even if doable, actually WORTH IT?? Don't Masha and Nadya and the hard-bitten dudes from the "War Group" have enough arty trouble already? It's easy to turn on the hot-water tap with a gesture like that, but, well . *Also, despite my better impulses, I just can't get over feeling sorry for the NSA. I've run into NSA people on a number of occasions. They were always entirely polite and kind to me; I got the impression that they somehow perceived me as one of their own. They are my readers, those high-IQ spook geeks, and well, I can sense this is a tragedy for them. It's worse for them, it's lots worse, than Assange was for the US State Department. And what's next, for heaven's sake? It's not like this process is stopping.
Eric Mankin (stet) Mon 6 Jan 14 11:50
Lot's to do in St. P. besides interview Pussy Riot. And the Baltic states are a quick & fun drive south, full of interesting sociology.
Roland Legrand (roland) Mon 6 Jan 14 12:12
Couldn't there be some cyberpunkish understanding of what the NSA-spooks are doing? We're exponentially increasing the power of individuals and small groups to do great things - we all have extremely powerful computers in our pockets, the ability to tap into worldwide communication networks, we can launch biotech labs at relatively little cost, launch drones, engage in genetic engineering, and I guess soon also run nanotech experiments. While all this can end up in useful or at least fun new products, services and entertainment, it could also be used to commit acts of mass-destruction. So the authorities realize that each and everyone of us could do increasingly horrific things, and so the surveillance of each and everyone of us seems logical. What follows is a depressing competition of individuals, good and bad alike, to escape surveillance using all those wonderful new toys (tor, bitcoin etc) and the state trying to keep up, corrupting the venerable Stacks along the way. Of course it is shocking what Snowden and his friends expose, and how the authorities in Western democracies organize a man hunt to stop the leaks. But then again, at least as depressing is the realization that mass-surveillance could be the logical outcome of our dream of the ever-increasing empowerment of the individual.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Mon 6 Jan 14 12:37
the 'super empowered angry man' with a ghostbusters job.
Gary Gach (ggg) Mon 6 Jan 14 12:45
Welcome back, Bruce. Maybe i the course of the conference we might touch upon chasm (ever widening? ever thus?) within general InfoSphere. For instance, consider chemtrails ... & global warming. At one end of this spectrum, an irrational, if not incomprehensible scenario (what? who? why?) of chemtrails, & at the other end the fairly credible, yet likewise contested phenomenon of climate change. Maybe in the middle we might plunk Fukushima down on the table: 1) a threat to life as we know it on the west coast of North America, of numerous orders of magnitude of danger, not being reported (IE covered up) by mainstream media 2) a magnet for sensationalism, bad data, & absurd conspiracy claims Without a circle of friends -- such as the Well -- trying to get a handle on what's going on may be impossible for any individual who wishes to dis-inter-mediate from official channels -- except for trained researchers, journos, futurists, etc
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 6 Jan 14 14:37
We know too much (broadly) and we don't know enough (detail), and that odd quirk of knowing invites us to speculate - about chemtrails, which may be ordinary contrails but could also be a spew of unknown, potentially sinister origin. Or Fukushima: knowing that radioactive water is flowing from that shattered facility, it's easy enough to believe something like this: http://www.snopes.com/photos/technology/fukushima.asp I tend to think the real threat to life as we know it is life as we know it. Maybe we should find another way of knowing? That's something a circle of friends could consider. Maybe we'll find something new.
Morgan Rowe-Morris (rowemorris) Mon 6 Jan 14 14:45
I don't know that it requires a new way of knowing, but it's clear that we're doing a really horrible job of educating on how to discriminate between good data and bad. In a lot of ways that's the key element of succesful research in the digital age. For an example of someplace to start looking at the issues involved in teaching the skills needed to deal with the issues arising from overwhelming access to unfiltered and often unverifiable data check out the ALA's digital citizenship project. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/iftoolkits/litoolkit/informationliterac y_digitalcitizenship
Eric Mankin (stet) Mon 6 Jan 14 17:13
What does seem to have become complicated in exploding terasets of teradata is provenance. Lots of analyze, better and better tools to analyze it, but it's all ones and zeros without tattoos or fingerprints or backstory. And that's not even assuming someone is trying to mislead. Analysis has always been a huge challenge for even smart analysts. But the provenance issue has previously been clearer. Now, more and more, it's there. I know some people doing big data for science at least are working on providing provenance. http://www.isi.edu/~gil/research/provenance.html But it seems there's a lot to do.
Worried Pig (oink) Mon 6 Jan 14 18:02
As we know, Der Spiegel released some notes taken from the NSA's so-called Catalog of goodies. Here's a link to Jacob Applebaum's speech which explains some of the inter relationships amongst Catalog items, and puts them into context. It's chilling in places. the transcriptors did a good job in that there are two versions of his speech - a written transcript for the skim-readers, and the video version for the full flavour, dark humour etc. (just over an hour) http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/01/jacob-appelbaum-30c3-protect-infect-mil itarization-internet-transcript.html
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 6 Jan 14 20:33
Re. surveillance, here's something from my 2013 top ten culture blasts post (more at http://weblogsky.com/2014/01/01/2013-top-ten-socialpoliticaltechnical-culture- blasts/): "In 2013 our level of trust was low and declining. We especially dont trust governments and corporations with our data because were so increasingly aware of the potential for, if not the fact of, abuse. To some extent concerns are legitimate, and to some extent they emerge from a culture of paranoia that has evolved in the wake of mass media and network technology, which have had several relevant effects: greater awareness of abuses when they happen, feeding into myriad fictional surveillance and pursuit fantasies, and more recently the emergence of a social media panopticon. But the Snowden revelations make paranoia feel pretty rational." Andrew Leonard had a good Salon post on "How to defeat Big Brother" (http://www.salon.com/2013/12/27/how_to_defeat_big_brother/): "Edward Snowden, whether one considers him a traitor or a hero, indisputably put the issue of government spying on the national table, and provoked a conversation that seems likely to have real political consequences. He used the technology available to him to turn the camera back on the watchers. Its a model we should be following in every domain. Lets turn a closer eye on our employers and our content providers and our advertisers."
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 7 Jan 14 03:40
This year, I happen to be the fiction editor for the 2014 all-science-fiction issue of MIT's "Technology Review." I've already lined up a cluster of my favorite fellow-travellers for the effort, and I'm trying to encourage them to write some science fiction stories that actually *review technology.* Just, like, a literary confrontation with the emergent techno facts-on-the-ground -- and that's getting harder to do, I think. It's not because technology is moving faster, or that we're approaching a Singularity or anything. Mind you, that's an excellent sci-fi idea, "Singularity," it was great of Vernor Vinge to come up with that concept, everybody knows what it is now, the Singularity, even long-haired duck hunters in backwoods Louisiana know what a Singularity is. It's cool and rare when science-fictional thinking becomes genuinely popular. But that's not why it's harder to write science fiction about technology. Technology's not moving all that fast in 2014; tech is simply drifting toward the money, really. It's hard to write fiction about technology because the structure of language is mutating. Also, the demographics for printed fiction have collapsed. So, who is science fiction talking to? Why aren't those readers doing something besides reading science fiction? Writing popular science reportage is harder now, too, in a similar way. Who are you talking to, really? How do you know the nature of your audience, which is viral, on a network? How can you frame difficult, arcane matters in a clear way to these unknown, distant people? And why is this news about science even "reporting" -- why aren't you a blogger, or an activist, or an industry booster; why is this a "science news story," why isn't it an app, or a Kickstarter? Why is this "journalism"? Isn't journalism a weirdly old-fashioned, visibly decaying thing to do nowadays, with businesses that can't support themselves, with methods of production and methods of distribution that are clearly dwindling away? How can it be "news" when everything supporting it is old and rotten? Reading self-conscious contemporary "journalism" is like listening to Woodie Guthrie singing to the Wobblies off the caboose of a train. Then there's that mutation problem, of literary language and the new electronic vernaculars. I consider this a major cultural difficult. For instance, nobody has ever invented a novelistic way to capture SMS messages, which are the way real people basically talk nowadays. We've got dialogue conventions that work on a page, but we don't have any SMS conventions. They're inelegant. The result is that literary language loses vitality. It's out of touch with the digital vernacular of popular speech. Worse yet, that vernacular itself has become de-stabilized, so even if you somehow create a situation were people do geekspeak at each other, they're geekspeaking with the hardware and software of, say, 2009. When, oh my goodness, Snapchat was completely unheard of. So fiction is losing its ability to marinate itself in the tenor of the times, and to create a cultural sensibility, to be the credible witness or social guide to "the way things are now." "The way things are now" are no longer what pages and paragraphs are about. Literary communication is a subset of communication, and communication is in turmoil. Science fiction is a literature about the way things *aren't,* which sounds ideal for the situation in some ways. But science fiction suffers in a society that scorns the authority of science, a society with a weak, irrelevant realm of belles-lettres. It's like being a cutting-edge video artist when people are smashing vacuum-tube TVs with hammers in the streets.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 7 Jan 14 03:41
So I'm doing my best to edit this TECHNOLOGY REVIEW mag, and I'd even like my fiction issue to be quite "state of the world" in approach; no comforting adventure tales about marrying vampires, keen though we are on that mythic prospect, in our modern day. However, I don't have a solution to the problem of the kind of science fiction I'd like to see; if I did, I'd likely be writing it instead of editing it. Maybe somebody else has this figured out better than me. Maybe you're not a science fiction writer at all, maybe you're, like, eighteen or something, so to you this is all stunningly obvious. If so, I'd love to publish your entirely up to date and relevant, clued-in story, or "text," or whatever the fuck it is, and I'll give you a couple of thousand dollars, too. Because I've got an editorial budget; it's the clue that I lack. If people I've never heard refuse to send me what I need, then, well I'll try to persuade some other people I already know to do it. Or to write, well, whatever, For instance, I really wish I could publish a Brian Aldiss story in TECHNOLOGY REVIEW. Anything by him would do, I guess. He's 88 years old now, Brian, but in my opinion he's the greatest science fiction critic ever. There were better critics who wrote about science fiction, but Brian Aldiss is a science fiction practitioner who was able to see that creative milieu from the inside out. He understood it in a sympathetic, intimate, yet clear-eyed and honest way. There were some painful lessons for me in what Aldiss had to say about science fiction; for instance, he once wrote that no science fiction novel has ever been a great novel. I was upset about that when I first read it, as I naturally wanted to object, "Hey, wait a minute, what about this awesome mind-bending space opera that I've already read five times," but Aldiss was right. Science fiction novels aren't great novels, not because the writers are no good, because science fiction novels don't do the right thing to become great novels. If Aldiss wasn't right, then you, the WELL reader, wouldn't be here; you'd be off in a book-lined campus studio listening to a seminar on the "State of World Literature 2014," and you'd be thrilled by it, too, because that would be what culture was about. I can imagine a world where that would be true, but it sure isn't true of this one. Meanwhile, Brian doesn't read a lot of science fiction at the age of 88; he reads Tolstoy. Brian reads Tolstoy *critically,* mind you, but he reads Tolstoy. I totally get it about that. I find it comforting. Maybe it has to be that way. I'm a '77 punk-music type, but I'm typing this while listening to Django Reinhart. I can listen to Django Reinhart for hours, nowadays. I've got big digitized iTune heaps of Monsieur Django, just plonking away on his timeless standards. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/13/brian-aldiss-science-fiction-auth or-review
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 7 Jan 14 07:49
* nobody has ever invented a novelistic way to capture SMS messages That's like saying nobody's invented a novelistic way to capture conversation - I don't think of SMS as special or radically new, just another form of verbal communication. I see it as asynchronous telephony. I've read fiction that effectively incorporates SMS messaging - e.g. Stephen King's _Doctor Sleep_, a recent popular example. Seems to me that there's no dearth of good writing or interesting ideas. I haven't read a lot of science fiction lately, but I hear that the emerging SF authors eschew far future speculations and space opera, and focus more on explorations of consciousness. Maybe you could look for fiction about "consciousness technologies," a term Paco Nathan used, and possibly coined, in the early 90s.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 7 Jan 14 07:51
An aside about content... There's confusion about writing and other forms of media, because with social media public channels have emerged, proliferated, and filled with blobs of content that, pre-Internet, were private or at least contained within smaller circles of friends and acquaintances. Now there's a deluge of media, and our attention is challenged, where do we focus, where do we find quality media? We still have professional writing and other media vetted by editors or similar, maybe we call them content strategists, but the content they oversee and distribute is mixed with (sometimes well done, sometimes not) amateur media, cloaked marketing messages, and the ineluctable cycles of noise. I find that, when I avoid social media (which is not often), my focus improves; I feel less fragmented and "smarter." As someone who has evangelized for the Internet we have today, a proponent of social media and freedom to connect, I'm finding the down side, and others are finding it, too. I think that explains why professional media is finding an audience again, even an audience that's willing to scale a pay wall to get at content that's professionally produced.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 7 Jan 14 08:37
The recognition of a widespread need to/fear of unplugging seems like the biggest cultural/technical change over my lifetime. Thinking about Django Reinhart reminds me that his music was radical and not timeless when it was first played. Earlier, edgy radical artists organized "Societe Anonyme Cooperative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs" -- sounds like something contemporary except for the graveurs -- and now impressionism is accessible, in some contexts cliched and sentimental. For all these shocking punk-rebellion moments, in all those popular forms, the emotional impact of the break from the past soon gets lost, except as a footnote. Art works can become timeless-feeling partly because it's so easy to break history into a couple of simple chunks, roughly "these days," "not so long ago," and the "timeless" past. Shakespeare's major works are great, but reading or staging them requires a lot of footnotes, mostly about the language of the time. I think allowing for footnotes makes great speculative fiction work that could endure and be accessible highly possible. If there is ever consensus on what is great, that is. Maybe -- I hope -- we are just waiting for the great SF work to be written?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 7 Jan 14 08:52
<scribbled by jonl Tue 7 Jan 14 08:53>
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