The WELL (jonl) Sun 3 Jan 16 06:43
In January 2000 Jon Lebkowsky interviewed Bruce Sterling here in Inkwell about "The Viridian Future," and in 2001 about "The State of the Future." 2002's discussion was called "State of the Whirled," followed in 2003 by a discussion inspired by Bruce's nonfiction book, "Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next 50 Years." In 2004, we had the "Bruce Sterling State of the World Address," and thereafter we called it the "State of the World" conversation. Pundits abound, speaking with real or fabricated authority on a variety of subjects, and as the year turns spewing top ten lists and year-end summaries, and confident but subjective prognostications about the next year or five. If you're bored with that sort of thing, you might find this two-week conversation more fun, interesting, and compelling. Our speakers are not creating keyword-rich listicles to maximize hits and produce conversions... but discussing the "state of the world" based on their perspectives as future-focused mavens immersed in information and contemporary culture. Bruce Sterling's perspectives are especially interesting given his global perspective as someone who travels and reports broadly, and his experiences as an author, speaker, teacher and maker attentive to trends in science, culture, politics, and design. He's known a novelist, journalist and speaker. While acting as Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in 2008, he wrote Shaping Things, one of the first books about the Internet of Things. In 2008 he was the curator of the Share Festival in Turin, on the theme of Italian digital manufacturing. He was one of the original columnists for Make magazine and wrote the cover story for the first issue of WIRED. Bruce Sterling lives in Turin, Belgrade and Austin. http://casajasmina.arduino.cc/team/ Jon Lebkowsky has been making and sharing experiences in digital culture and media for over 25 years. Currently he's part of Polycot Associates, a mission-driven digital development co-operative based in Austin, Texas. He's also President of EFF-Austin, an organization thats been supporting digital freedom in Texas since 1990. He's been an activist, sometimes journalist, and blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and society. http://weblogsky.com
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 3 Jan 16 06:51
This Robert Anton Wilson quote seems relevant as a first post... "The only 'realities' (plural) that we actually experience and can talk meaningfully about are perceived realities, experienced realities, existential realities -- realities involving ourselves as editors -- and they are all relative to the observer, fluctuating, evolving, capable of being magnified and enriched, moving from low resolution to hi-fi, and do not fit together like the pieces of a jig-saw into one single Reality with a capital R. Rather, they cast illumination upon one another by contrast, like the paintings in a large museum, or the different symphonic styles of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler. "Alan Watts may have said it best of all: 'The universe is a giant Rorschach ink-blot.' Science finds one meaning in it in the 18th Century, another in the 19th, a third in the 20th; each artist finds unique meanings on other levels of abstraction; and each man and woman finds different meanings at different hours of the day, depending on the internal and external environments." http://www.rawilson.com/trigger1.html There's also that Vladimir Bartol quote, "Nothing is an absolute reality, all is permitted" - which was boiled down via William Burroughs and "Assassin's Creed" to this: "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." But everything you'll read here is Absolutely True...
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:01
*It's pleasant to be back on the WELL, an institution of unfathomable age in Internet years. *Let's cozy on up with the shiny new brandy decanter (in the shape of a frosted light bulb, commemorating Nikola Tesla), bravely open the window onto the planet's crazy weather, and surmise on what gives for this year!
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:09
Every year on the WELL I decry the climate crisis. It's always worse, and I always know it's gonna get worse, and it infallibly does. In 2015 the weather was exceptionally sinister. It's getting worse faster. Already this year, Britain's drowning, the US Midwest is drowning, the North Pole thawed out in December, and New York City didn't freeze in December at all, an unheard-of development that ought to scare even Wall Street. California has lost millions of fine old trees to the drought; these organic monuments won't be coming back within a human lifetime. The Anthropocene has scarred the Californian landscape. An international climate agreement showed up during 2015, because anyone who thinks they can run a country in these conditions should properly be gravely alarmed. However, since the Westphalian nation-state system was itself a major cause of global warming ("Never mind my national exhaust pipes, I'll make money with them while they empty over there in your 'globe'"), the political agreement can't make much difference. It buoys the self-esteem of the political class and its commentariat without actually cleaning the sky of two centuries of accumulated poisons. Despite the accelerating mayhem, nobody will have any particular change-of-heart on the subject this year. Those of us who know about it have known as long as the oil companies did -- since the early 1970s. Those who cashed in by denying climate change will be drowning and parching just like the rest of us, but they're never gonna admit their culpability; they'll just shrug and cite Scripture. They've done something truly awful, but even if these dismal malefactors were all promptly hanged Nuremberg style, in a show-trial haze of worldwide moral condemnation, it wouldn't change the course of events much.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:10
The 2030s are swimming into view: it will be a decade of sudden, regional calamities and mass migrations. The poor will of course suffer more (they always do), but the rich will fear it more. Nations will build national walls (many nations are doing ithatnow -- it's the new vogue, even kindly Brazil likes to do it) but national walls can't, and don't address, a global problem that is made of wind and air. These physical barriers will suffer the "Fukushima effect:" the dikes you built to resist the tsunami only hold those catastrophic waters in, once the almighty wave comes over the top. Also, the industrial complex you are trying to protect from natural disaster becomes the source of a secondary, artificial disaster.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:15
"Globalization" is over for 2016. We have entered an era of Internet Counter-Revolution. The events of 1989 feel almost as distant as those of 1789. The globalizing, flat-world, small-pieces-loosely-joined Internet is behind us, it's history. The elite geek Internet could not resist those repeated tsunamis of incoming users. It turned out that normal people like the "social" in social media a lot better than they ever liked the raw potential of media technology. In Russia and China in 2016, digital media is an arm of the state. Internet has zero revolutionary potential within those societies, but all kinds of potential for exported cyberwar. The Chinese police spy and firewall model, much scoffed at in the 1990s, is now the dominant paradigm. The Chinese have prospered with their authoritarian approach, while those who bought into borderless friction-free data have been immiserated by the ultra-rich.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:15
<scribbled by jonl Wed 6 Jan 16 18:03>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:18
In the USA it's an older American story: the apparent freedom of Henry Ford's personal flivver has briskly yielded to the new Detroit Big Five of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and, in last place, Microsoft. In 2016, everything that looks like digital innovation, "big data," "the cloud," the "Internet of Things," are actually promotional slogans that play into the hands of the GAFAM "Big Five." Anybody who lacks broadband and a mobile OS is in deadly peril, especially the digital old-school likes of IBM, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and the hapless TV networks, whose median viewer age is now in the 60s. The GAFAM Big Five, the "Stacks," will turn their wrath on the victims closest to them, well before they complete their lunge for control of cars and thermostats. However, their destiny is obvious. The rebels of the 1990s are America's new mega-conglomerates. Google is "Alphabet," Apple pruned the "computer" from its name, Amazon is the Washington Post. In 2016, that's how it is, and in 2017, 189, 19, much more so. So the not-evil guys are the new evil guys, but don't be scared by this. It's quite like watching the 1960s Space Age crumble from giant-leaps-for-mankind to launching low-orbit gizmos for profit. It's comprehensible, it can be dealt with. Sure, it's tragic if your head was in the noosphere, but if you have any historical awareness of previous industrial revolutions, this is really easy to understand. It's already in your pocket and purse, it's written on every screen you look at It could scarcely be more obvious. Yes, Internet Counterrevolution is coming, much of it is here already, and it's properly considered a big deal, but it's not permanent. This too shall pass.
jonl as a user (jonl) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:38
User jonl reporting for (shared) duty, with this quote from a Rhizome interview with Tung-Hui Hu (http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/dec/16/interview-tung-hui-hu/): "The user is a deeply synthetic creation, right? The identity of the user is actually very odd if you look at it historically, because it really means a way of dividing up a shared resource. Youre all sharing the same computer and yet you think of this as private. The journalist Steven Levy says, 'its actually like making love to someone knowing that theyre making love to many other people.' How we think of this now as a model for individuality is very bizarreperhaps a matter of forty years of indoctrination. Every user has become a freelance laborer, every user is out for themselves, everyone can affiliate themselves with whatever company. "This sounds great in theory, but the very end of the book takes up this idea of the 'human as a service'a technologists phrase, not mine. It means that we should all 'Uberize' ourselvesnot just to drive cars, but to let every moment of our day be monetized by an app. The gruesome literalization of the 'human as a service' is the captcha workers who are asked to prove that theyre human over and over again, every ten seconds. If all we need is to get proof of humanity, then we can make that a service and we can outsource it to Bangladesh and have that done for us for two dollars per thousand captchas. Its confusion between what is really an economic idea of accounting for how much time we are using, which is called the user, and the idea of the personal."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 4 Jan 16 05:56
I had a dream... Sheriff Andy is dead, Mayberry's been bulldozed and replaced with mixed use developments, condos rising high into the carbon-saturated air, hopefully not too fragile to resist the increasingly turbulent "weather events" driven by climate change. The sheriff's posse is still there, gathering petitions and electing officials, stubbornly resisting the obvious transformations and the science behind them, even burning the texts. Clever politicians, seeing an angry mob forming in the streets, soapbox emotional rhetoric, accumulate votes and power, ultimately cycling money and resources into their own coffers, hoping to build future-proofed bunkers...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 4 Jan 16 15:27
<scribbled by jonl Tue 5 Jan 16 03:35>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 5 Jan 16 05:37
Internet Counterevolution doesn't mean a return to the status quo ante of the world before the Internet. Globalization goes on, it just loses its glamour; where there was spreading prosperity there is offshored exploitation, where there was free-moving discussion there are cyberwar trolls, where there was your happy face in a Facebook there's in instant police dossier that you foolishly built yourself, where nobody knew you were a dog you are now branded-and-sorted Stack livestock, and so on. Twenty-teens globalization looks less like jet-set free-spending yuppie tourism and more like hordes of illegal Syrians arriving via Facebook support groups. The wanderers are mostly Moslems, because the effect of the digital "Arab Spring" on their somnolent societies was catastrophic. It's amazing how badly that harmed them, and they show no sign of getting over it; on the contrary. But refugee life is for anybody, now. Rich or poor, they can all be fleeing, at a moment's notice, if they get a sudden deluge of Greenhouse rain. People everywhere are afraid of immigrants now because they see their own face in that mirror.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 5 Jan 16 05:41
I had a chat at a New Years Party here in Belgrade with a young female stranger. Naturally she wanted to know what an American was doing in town, and I said, as I often do, that Serbian society has pioneered a lot of situations that spread elsewhere. Today's religious wars, economic sanctions, breaking of economic sanctions, financial collapse, ultra rich moguls robbing the middle class, major air powers blowing the daylights out of an unfriendly regime with allegedly precise bombs: daily life in Serbia 1999 is something most everybody understands now. It's the "Globalization of Balkanization." But weren't there any POSITIVE aspects of Serbian cultural exports? she demanded. That question caught me flat-footed, because as a futurist I just don't do "positive" and "negative". I actively avoid that kind of value judgment. Wishful thinking and fearful thinking gets in the way of an objective understanding of change-drivers. Change occurs from pent-up energies: it's like asking if a battery's voltage is "good" or "bad." All potential change has positive or negative potential: otherwise it isn't even "potential." But I had to spare my Serbian interlocutor that blandly amoral lecture; because it was one in the morning of Jan 1 02016, and we'd been drinking. So I had to flatter her, and quickly invent some "positive" aspects of the ongoing Serbian cultural imperialism. Thinking fast, I told her that Serbs excel at prospering in other people's countries. Although Serbia the country has a rough reputation, the Serbian emigre communities in dozens of other countries cause scarcely any trouble. They prosper, in fact. Also: given that they're a small, thorny country, Serbia does remarkably well at kissing up to major powers when those powers themselves get thorny. The Serbs actually thrive during cold wars. They know how to cleverly exploit other people's stupid clashes for their own benefit. And, lastly, Serbs are also exceedingly good at dealing with disasters. They complain incessantly in normal daily life, but when ever life gets genuinely hazardous, they scarcely beef at all. Everybody diligently stacks the sandbags, and nobody wrings their hands or slacks off. That's a difficult virtue to acquire, but it is indeed a virtue.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 5 Jan 16 07:52
Speaking of Internet globalization... A few years ago, Charles Wyble of the Free Network Foundation envisioned a fleet of balloons carrying broadband access points, blanketing formerly under- or un-served realms with gigabit connectivity. Great idea, I thought, but what would it take to pull it off? One of the stacks could do it, and Google was up to the inspiration, and in 2013 filed a patent that was a first step on the path to Project Loon: https://www.google.com/loon/ "Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the worlds population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters." "Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where theyre needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. By partnering with Telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum weve enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on Earth." I can remember when, in Austin, it was a big deal to get the local coffee shops to add wifi, via our "Austin Wireless City" project: http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2004-06-11/215435/ I'm quoted in that article, saying "We're at a turning point now, and it's one we predicted, where right now free Wi-Fi has moved from being a value that you could add on to your business to being a necessity that you have to offer in order to remain competitive. Any kind of venue where you want people to hang out now needs to have free Wi-Fi. It's just that simple and it's just that important." That seems quaint. Today access to the Internet is spreading far and wide, along with relatively low cost mobile devices accessing cellular and/or wifi services that are increasingly fast and furious. The connectivity has accelerated beyond our comprehension of its implications. Interesting logistics: how many devices, endpoints, destinations, networks can you add before the scaling issues overwhelm the systems? I'm surprised daily that the thing just works, that it's unusual to lose access to even the most obscure points on the Internet map. This is background to our conversation of the next couple of weeks, for sure...
Administrivia (jonl) Tue 5 Jan 16 07:56
(This asynchronous conversation will continue for two weeks, so check back every day or two if you find it interesting.) (Only members of the WELL can post directly to the conversation, but others can send questions or comments to inkwell at well.com, and our hosts can post them here.)
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 08:05
GOPOD, I've missed this ...rational conversation at last...sail on boys, while I gather my thoughts. This day has been all too much at once. You be peace, I'll be quiet (What About Bob)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 5 Jan 16 09:55
Adding the public short link for sharing this discussion: http://tinyurl.com/SOTW2016
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 10:13
Slippage, Ok, I'll try one...I'm thinking that the only real question about the impact of climate change and what we can institute now, is whether or not we will be living above or below ground by 2050? Thoughts on that guys? Any optimists left among us?
bill braasch (bbraasch) Tue 5 Jan 16 10:15
Facebook's Free Basic service was shut down in Egypt and India. This cloud thing is controversial because 1) it usurps the powers that be? or 2) it data mines the serfs? or 3) both? or 4) neither?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 10:46
Re: #1 nearly choked on my coffee Jon. After those beautiful quotes: <But everything you'll read here is Absolutely True> Shameful self promotion, but I just blogged on perceptions and realities a few days ago (http://tcnewcomb.com/2015/12/31/reality-reality-reality/ So, what's going on in your noosphere re: climate change and the Stacks? Can you speak to Bruce's spot-on summation of where we're at? What are some possible bright futures?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 10:59
carefully worded that last sentence after reading Bruce's comment in <12>: "I just don't do "positive" and "negative". I actively avoid that kind of value judgment. Wishful thinking and fearful thinking gets in the way of an objective understanding of change-drivers." That is going to be posted on my monitor Bruce, right next to Margaret Mead's "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" Thanks for capturing that trap so well.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 11:54
<scribbled by tcn Tue 5 Jan 16 13:16>
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 12:31
<scribbled by tcn Tue 5 Jan 16 12:31>
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 13:13
<scribbled by tcn Tue 5 Jan 16 13:13>
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 5 Jan 16 13:14
Sorry for the scribbles, algorithmically handicapped
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 5 Jan 16 14:50
Ted asked me to weigh in on climate change and the stacks. Oddly, there are still climate skeptics, and they're entrenched. But they don't know anything, and the best minds ignore them now and struggle with the very real issues of mitigation, and more likely adaptation, and the impact fragile economies and complex global logistics. We haven't done enough because it's so hard to do what we really should about what we can control. Someone on Facebook argued that, because climate changed before humans could have an impact, that climate change must not be anthropogenic. Weird logic, there. "Fire existed before humans walked the earth, therefore humans don't set fires." The issue's politicized and part of the arsenal of gut-level appeals that stir the mob into a voting frenzy. Personally, I think we've already made the catastrophe; at this point it's just a matter of time. However we humans have a way of thinking our way out of wicked dilemmas, so there's always hope. More so, if we can save science from the Republican party, and save the Republican party from its dangerous slide into darkness. But that's another subject for another day. Re the stacks, I'm wanting to read Robin Chase's book, "Peers Inc," about an emerging collaborative economy leveraging Internet platforms including those spinning out of "the stacks." I'm also interested in recent conversations about "platform co-operativism," where you would have platform-based commercial entities (think Uber, Lyft, AirBnb) that are organized as co-operatives. Having recently turned my own company into a worker-owned co-op, I'm looking to help others that want to take the same path toward a more just, fair, and democratic workplace. Maybe "democratic" isn't the best word, it's a loaded term. Maybe "participatory." (I find myself thinking and arguing that "democracy" describes a system that can't work, but I'm attentive to the Churchill comment... "is the worst form of government, except for all the others.") A lot of power concentrated in those "stacks," let's be glad they're benign, and hope they remain so.
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