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inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #0 of 75: Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 2 Jan 00 00:16
    
Sci-fi authors think about the future, but none think harder than Bruce
Sterling, whose near-future speculative fictions are case studies in
three-dimensional futurism. Bruce's latest novel, _Distraction_, is a
knowing extrapolation from the contemporary convergence of politics, media,
marketing, and science. Bruce is also a thumping great public speaker, a
sometimes journalist, and founder of the Viridian Design movement, which is
a kind of flash environmentalism.  Cyberpunk? Well, that was then. This is
now.

Regarding Viridian Design, Bruce says "...we're green, but there's something
electrical and unnatural about our tinge of green.   We're an art movement
that looks like a mailing list, an ad campaign, a design team, an oppo
research organization, a laboratory, and, perhaps most of all, we resemble a
small feudal theocracy ruled with an iron hand by a Pope-Emperor."

Bruce's interviewer, Jon Lebkowsky (http://www.well.com/~jonl), is a
self-described "fierce generalist" who is currently managing technology
projects for WholePeople.com. An acknowledged authority on virtual
cultures, online community, and net.activism, he is currently writing a
book, "Virtual Bonfire," for MIT Press, and contributes articles about
culture and technology for The Austin _Chronicle_ and other publications.
A longtime denizen of the WELL, he cohosts the Mirrorshades conference on
the WELL with Bruce Sterling and InkWELL.vue co-host Linda Castellani.

Please welcome Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky!
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #1 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 2 Jan 00 20:23
    
Hi, all. Let's cut to the chase: Bruce, you've got a lot of interests and
projects outside your baseline career as an author of fiction. What's the
pattern that connects all your various activities? How do you see yourself
in relation to Viridian Design, Dead Media, cyberactivism, journalism,
public speaking, standup comedy...all that stuff, and fiction, too. Do you
have an overall sense of destiny or purpose, something you want to
accomplish before your hair falls out and you eyes glaze over? (Or your
eyes fall out and your hair glazes over?)
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #2 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:39
    

    Well Jon, I think point-of-view is worth 80  IQ points here.
I decided some time back my core competency was in being
"an artist whose theme is the impact of technology on society."
This is a good definition because it allows me to meddle in a
lot of stuff with a clear conscience.

   But my business card says "Author / Journalist."  Author
because you can be one without being much of anything
in particular.  Journalist because you get to ask lots of
questions and nobody finds that peculiar.

    I don't think my life is really that frenetic.  I know lots of
writers who labor much, much harder than I do, and by
the standards of, say, Silicon Valley start-up cannon-fodder,
I'm a leisured gentleman.

     I also have a kind of governing principle as a futurist.
When I've been studying something that seems rather
speculative and imaginary, and it shows up suddenly on my
doorstep. I take action.  Sometimes I pat it on the back
and offer it a carrot. Sometimes I hit it over the head with a stick.
Lately I'm in stick-whacking mode because the weather is so bad.
People haven't gotten it yet about the Greenhouse thing.
But they will, and if I'm still alive at that point, I'll be involved
in something else entirely.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #3 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:48
    

PS.  I wrote a manifesto today *8-/



Bruce Sterling
bruces@well.com
http://www.well.com/conf/mirrorshades/

IDEOLOGICAL FREEWARE: DISTRIBUTE AT WILL

The Manifesto of January 3, 2000


    In 1914, the lamps went out all over Europe.
Life  during the rest of the twentieth century was
like crouching under a rock.

      But human life is not required to be like the
twentieth century.   That wasn't fate, it was merely
a historical  circumstance.   In this new Belle Epoque,
this delightful era, we are experiencing a prolonged break
in the last century's even tenor of mayhem.  The time has
come to step out of those shadows into a different
cultural reality.

       We  need a sense of revived possibility, of genuine
creative potential, of unfeigned joie de vivre.  We have a
new economy, but we have no new  intelligentsia.  We have
massive flows of information and capital, but we have a
grave scarcity of meaning.  We know what we can buy, but
we don't know what we want.

     The twentieth century featured any number of -isms.
They were fatally based on the delusion that philosophy
trumps engineering.   It doesn't.  In a world fully
competent to command its material basis, ideology is
inherently flimsy.   "Technology" in its broad sense:
the ability to transform resources, the speed at which new
possibilities can be opened and exploited, the multiple
and various forms of command-and-control  -- technology,
not ideology, is the twentieth century's lasting legacy.
Technology broke the gridlock of the five-decade Cold War.
It made a new era thinkable.  And, finally, technology
made a new era obvious.

     But too many twentieth-century technologies
are very  like twentieth-century ideologies:  rigid,
monolithic, poisonous and non-sustainable.

      We need clean, supple, healthy means of support for
a crowded world.   We need recyclable technologies,
industries that don't take themselves with that
Stalinesque seriousness that demands the brutal sacrifice
of millions.  In order to make flimsy, supple technologies
thinkable, and then achievable, then finally obvious, we
need an ideology that embraces  its own obsolescence.

      The immediate future won't be a period suitable for
building monuments, establishing thousand-year regimes,
creating new-model citizens, or asserting leaden
certainties about anything whatsoever.   The immediate
future is about picking and choosing among previously
unforeseen technical potentials.

     Our time calls for intelligent fads.  Our time calls
for a self-aware, highly temporary array of broad social
experiments, whose effects are localized, non-lethal and
reversible -- yet transparent, and visible to all parties
who might be persuaded to look.

     The Internet is the natural test-bed for this
fast-moving, fast-vanishing, start-up society.  Because
the  native technology of the coming years is not the 19th
century "machine" or the 20th century "product."   It is
the 21st century "gizmo."

     A gizmo is a device with so  many features and so
many promises that it can never be  mastered within its
own useful lifetime. A gizmo is  flimsy, cheap, colorful,
friendly, intriguing, easily  disposable, and unlikely to
harm the user.   The gizmo's  purpose is not to
efficiently perform some function or  effectively provide
some service.  A gizmo exists to snag  the user's
attention, and to engage the user in a vast
unfolding nexus of interlinked experience.

     The gizmo in its manifold aspects is the beau ideal
for contemporary design and engineering. Because that is
what our culture will be like, at its heart, in its bones,
in its organs.  A gizmo culture.  We will go in so many
directions at once that most of them will never see
fulfillment.  And then they will be gone.

    This is confusing and seems lacking in moral
seriousness -- but only only by the  rigid standards of
the past century, bitterly obsessed  with  ultimate
efficiencies and malignant final solutions.    We need
opportunities now, not efficiencies.   We need inspired
improvisation, not solutions. Technology can no  longer
bind us in a vast tonnage of iron, barbed wire and brick.
We will stop heaving balky machines  uphill.   Instead, we
begin  judging entire techno-complexes as they virtually
unfold,  judging them by standards that are, in some very
basic  sense, aesthetic.

     Henceforth, it is humans and human flesh that lasts
out the years,  not the mechanical infrastructure.   Our
bodies outlast  our machines, and our bodies outlast our
beliefs.  People will outlive this "revolution"  -- if
spared an apocalypse, human individuals will outlive every
"technology" that we are capable of deploying.   Waves of
techno-change will come faster and faster, and with less
and less permanent consequence.  Waves will be arriving
with the somnolent regularity of Waikiki breakers.   This
"revolution" does not replace one social order with
another. It replaces social order with an array of further
possible transformations.

      Since gizmos are easily outmoded and inherently
impermanent, their most graceful form is as  disposable
consumer technology.  We should embrace those  gizmos that
are pleasing, abject, humble, and closest to  the human
body.  We should spurn those that are remote, difficult,
threatening, poisonous and brittle.

     Most of all, we must never, ever again feel awestruck
wonder about any manufactured device. They don't last,
and are not worthy of that form of respect.

    We must engage with technology in a new way, from a
fresh  perspective.   The arts traditionally hold this
critical position.  The arts are in a position today to
inspire a burst of cultural vitality across the board.
The times are very propitious for the arts.  There's a
profound restlessness, there's money loose, there are new
means of display and communication, and the nouveau riche
have nothing to wear and nothing that suits their walls.
It's a golden opportunity for techno-dandyism.

    Artists, don't be afraid of commercialization.  The
sovereign remedy for commercialization is not for artists
to hide  from commerce.  That can't be done any more, and
in any case, hiding never wins and strong artists don't
live in fear.

    Instead, we have a new remedy available.  The
aggressive counter-action to commodity totalitarianism is
to give things away.  Not other people's property -- that
would be, sad to say, "piracy" -- but the products of your
own imagination, your own creative effort.

     This is the time to be thoughtful, be expressive, be
generous.  Be "taken advantage of."   The channels exist
now to give creativity away, at no cost, to millions.
Never mind if you make  large sums of money along the way.
If you successfully seize attention, nothing is more
likely.  In a start-up society, huge sums can fall on
innocent parties, almost by accident.   That cannnot be
helped,  so don't worry about it any more.  Henceforth,
artistic integrity should be  judged, not by one's classic
bohemian seclusion from  satanic mills and the grasping
bourgeoisie, but by what  one creates and gives away.
That is the only scale of noncommercial integrity that
makes any sense now.

    Freedom has to be won, and, more importantly, the
consequences of  freedom have to be lived.  You do not win
freedom of information by filching data from a corporate
warehouse, or begging the authorities to kindly abandon
their monopolies, copyrights and patents.  You have to
create that freedom by a deliberate act of will,  think it
up, assemble it, sacrifice for it, make it free to others
who have a similar will to live that freedom.

      Ivory towers are no longer in order.  We need ivory
networks.  Today, sitting quietly and thinking is  the
world's greatest generator of wealth and prosperity.
Moguls spend their lives sitting in chairs, staring into
screens, and occasionally clicking a mouse. Though we
didn't expect it, we're all on the same net.  We no longer
need feudal shelters to  protect us from the swords and
torches of barbarian ignorance. So show  them words and
images: make it obvious, let them look.  If  they're
interested, fine; if not, go pick another website.

      The structure of human intellectual achievement
should be reformatted,  so that any human being with a
sincere interest can learn as much as possible, as rapidly
as their abilities allow.   The Internet is the greatest
accomplishment of the twentieth century's scientific
community, and the Internet has made a new intelligentsia
possible.

     Like the scientific method, the Internet is a
genuine, workable, verifiable means of intellectual
liberation.  Don't worry if it's not universal. Awareness
can't be doled out like soup, or sold like soap.
Intellectual vitality is an inherently internal, self-
actualizing process.    The net must make this possible
for people, not by blasting flags and gospel at the
masses, but by opening doors for individual minds, who
will then pursue their own interests.

     This can be made to happen.  It is quite near to us
now, the trends favor it.  The consequences of genuine
intellectual  freedom are literally and rightfully
unimaginable.  But  the unimaginable is the right thing to
do.  The  unimaginable is far better than perfection,
because  perfection can never be achieved, and it would
kill us if  it were.  Whereas the "unimaginable" is, at
its root, merely a healthy measure of our own limitations.

     Human beings are imperfect and imperfectable, and
their networks even more so.  We should probably be happy
for the noise and disruption in the channel, since so much
of what we think we know, and love to teach, are mistakes
and lies.   But nevertheless, we can achieve progress
here.  We can remove some modicum of the fatal, choking
constraints that throughout centuries  have bent people
double.

      A human mind in pursuit of self-actualization should
be allowed to go as far and as fast as our means allow.
There is nothing utopian about this program; because
there no timeless justice or perfect stability to be found
in this vision.     This practice will not lead us toward
any dream, any City on a Hill, any phony form of static
bliss.  On the contrary, it will lead us into closer and
closer, into more and more immediate contact, with the
issues that really bedevil us.

     Before many more decades pass, the human race will
begin to obtain what it really wants.  Then we will find
ourselves confronted, in our bedrooms, streets, and
breakfast tables, with real-world avatars of those
Faustian visions of power and ability that have previously
existed only in myth.  Our  aspirations will become
consequences.  That's when our *real* trouble starts.

       However, that is not a contemporary problem.  The
problems we face today are not those somber, long-term
problems.   On the contrary, we very clearly exist in a
highly fortunate time with very minor problems.

     The so-called human condition won't survive the
next hundred years.  That fate is written on the forehead
of the 21st century in letters of fire.  That fate can be
wisely shaped, or somewhat postponed, or brutally
annihilated, but it cannot be denied.   It is coming
because we want it.  It's not an alien imposition; it is
borne  from the inchoate depths of our own desires.
But we're not beyond the limits of humanity, suffering
that, exulting in that.  We're just going there, visibly
moving closer to it.  Once we get there, we'll find no
rest there.  The appetite of divine discontent always
grows by the feeding.

       This dire knowledge makes today's scene seem quite
playful and delightful by faux-retrospect.  Our worst
problems, which may seem so large, diffuse, and morbid,
are mere teenage angst compared to the conundrums we're
busily preparing for some other generation.

       Sober assessment of the contemporary scene makes it
crystal-clear that a carnival atmosphere is in order.  We
exist in a highly disposable civilization that is hell-
bent on outmoding itself.  The pace of change is melting
former physical restraints into a maelstrom of
reformattable virtualities.  That's here, it's real,
it is truly our situation.   We should live as
if we know this is true.  This is where our own sincerity
and authenticity are to be found:  in the strong
conviction that the contemporary is temporary.

     We need to live in these conditions in good faith.
We need to re-imagine life and make the new implications
clear.  It's a murky situation, but we must  not flinch
from it; we must drench all of it in light.  Because  this
is our home.  We have no other.  Our children live  here.
The mushroom clouds of the twentieth century have  parted.
We find ourselves on a  beach, with wave after  frothy
wave of transformation.   We have means, motive,  and
opportunity.  Spread the light.

     Henceforth, it will make more and more sense to
base our deepest convictions around a hands-on
confrontation with the consequences of technology.
That's where the action is.  On January 3, 2000, that's
what it's about.  The deepest resources of human
creativity have a vital role there.  It's where
inspiration is most needed, it's the place to make a
difference.    Come  out.  Stand up.  Shine.

    Turn the lamps on all over the world.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #4 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:54
    
You've been waxing Viridian to a community of correspondents for many
months now, but today you've unveiled the promised manifesto -- is it
consistent with your thinking a year ago, or has your sense of the
Viridian scope changed?
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #5 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:54
    
Yeah, that one!
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #6 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 13:03
    

   That's not really a "Viridian Manifesto" -- I regard that one
as just an across-the-board manifesto. Viridian stuff has a
deliverable.  We're really interested in tackling Greenhouse
problems.  But if every creative spirit on Earth did nothing
but fret about carbon dioxide, life would get pretty monotonous.

   I've written my share of manifestos.  I've never written one
that wasn't, in some sense, a pep-talk to myself.  But a working
manifesto needs some personal meaning that strikes a resonant
chord. I can't be the only guy on earth who's looking for
a deep, philosophical excuse to kick up his heels right now.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #7 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 00 13:33
    
Yeah, but if you're compelling enough, you're in danger of becoming a
LEADER. Are you ready to be another Oscar Valparaiso??? *8-)
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #8 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 15:16
    

I just learned the interesting and obscure fact that
Microsoft Outlook blows up a message if it contains
the word "begin" at the beginning of a line, followed
by two spaces.

  Whis is this of relevance?  Because the "Manifesto
of Jan 3, 2000" has one.  Hey Bill, thanks for the boost
to the free flow of information!

bruces
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #9 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 15:17
    

  I don't think I'm in much danger of becoming a leader.
I don't have any spoils to divvy up among my followers.
I'm in considerable danger of becoming a pundit, but
I'm pretty well used to that; it's nowhere near so dangerous
as it looks.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #10 of 75: Gail Ann Williams (gail) Mon 3 Jan 00 16:51
    

Thank you for that reminder.  Yes; the current challenges are temporary.

I just took a few minutes to look at some of the artifacts of the Viridian
movement so far.  The font design competition for example.  Great stuff.

http://www.well.com/conf/mirrorshades/viridian/contest2.html

It's amazing how much of a design movement you summoned in a short year's
time.  That's a fine kind of leadership, or whatever you want to call it.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #11 of 75: John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Mon 3 Jan 00 17:16
    
Bruce...

Do you think, as I do, that an invention is *only half invented* if
its use harms the environment, or if it's health damaging? Shouldn't
long term right-relationship with humanity and the biosphere be an
implicit, even a priori requirement-of-function of any invention? In
the past, we can forgive 'em. But we've got no excuses. Should it be a
new taboo "to only half-invent" in this sense?

Still--what's the cut off? Where's the line? How do we decide when
enough testing is enough, enough environmental impact is enough?

Yes it's a golden age--but what do you think of all the silicon valley
companies, and computer manufacturers, who are doing egregious damage
in the third world in the process of their manufacturing? Chip
manufacture in South America, for American companies, is quite dirty,
has  caused birth defects and cancer down river, and it's such a hotbed
of those effects that it's not even controversial as to the cause and
effect of the diseases...Yet it goes on...

Finally--do you think that we may become a society so saturated with
media-- with uncannily effective, brilliantly seductive entertainment
 (effective without being artistically powerful)-- that we (or too
many of us) are in danger of living life by proxy? Of living life at
one or two removes from essential involvement?
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #12 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 22:05
    


Topic  61 [inkwell.vue]:  Bruce Sterling:  A Viridian Future
#11 of 11: John Shirley (johnp-shirley)      Mon Jan  3 '00 (17:16)    25
lines

 Bruce...

 Do you think, as I do, that an invention is *only half invented* if  its
use harms the environment, or if it's health damaging?

*You mean like our novels?  I'm told they kill lots of trees.

 Shouldn't  long term right-relationship with humanity and the biosphere be
an  implicit, even a priori requirement-of-function of any invention?

*I guess I shoulda thought of that before I plugged this computer into that
big grid with all those nuclear and coal plants.  Now you've got me feeling
all guilty.

In  the past, we can forgive 'em. But we've got no excuses. Should it be a
new taboo "to only half-invent" in this sense?

*Y'know, it's not the inventing that does it.  If somebody had told Henry
Ford that his machine was gonna ruin the atmosphere after decades of
sustained use by millions of people, he probably would have shrugged and
invented something else.  Quite likely something equally innocent-looking,
whose long-term effects were even worse.

*I don't think fossil fuels, for instance, are inherently evil.  But a
hundred years of fossil fuel use is just too damn long.  It's the sustained
abuse that's getting us in trouble, not the bad design of Ford's original
prototypes. The Tin Lizzie would never pass EPA emission standards now,
admittedly, but it wasn't something one could legitimately ask of Henry
Ford.

*Let me put it this way. It's not that you should never crack the cap off
the liquor bottle. But when you start having blackouts, when you wake up
numbed, you've got to realize that a substance that was once very life-
enhancing has become a poison to you.  It's no use taking an axe to the
distillery at that point.  We need to make up our minds to walk away from
bad tech as we see it go bad for us.  We can't project our own anxieties
onto the mystical figure of the all-powerful, technically educated inventor.
 This guy doesn't have any more grasp of the fate of his device than we do.

 Still--what's the cut off? Where's the line? How do we decide when enough
testing is enough, enough environmental impact is enough?

*I don't think these things can be decided a priori.  We have to  learn to
watch a lot better than we do.  I think of it as being like gardening.
There isn't a final solution for weeds.  Well, there's pavement; but that's
not a garden.  Nothing new can grow there.

 Yes it's a golden age--but what do you think of all the silicon valley
companies, and computer manufacturers, who are doing egregious damage in the
third world in the process of their manufacturing?

*My home town's full of chip fabs.    I like 'em a lot better than our
previous major industries, cattle ranches and oil wells.  You wanna see some
life-threatening filth? Hang around oil refineries.

 Chip manufacture in South America, for American companies, is quite dirty,
has  caused birth defects and cancer down river, and it's such a hotbed  of
those effects that it's not even controversial as to the cause and effect of
the diseases...Yet it goes on...

*That's a shame about South America's industrial mess.  I wonder what their
reaction would be if these G-7 multinats decided they were politically
unreliable, and simply pulled up stakes and walked away, like they've done
in Africa.  You think they'd be really clean, green and healthy all of a
sudden?  Me neither.

 Finally--do you think that we may become a society so saturated with
media-- with uncannily effective, brilliantly seductive entertainment
(effective without being artistically powerful)-- that we (or too
 many of us) are in danger of living life by proxy? Of living life at one or
two removes from essential involvement?

*The "life by proxy" thing probably wouldn't be as interesting  as it sounds
to those of us here in 2000 AD who can't quite have it yet.  I'm reckoning
it would be surprisingly bland and tedious, kinda like looping the most
exciting dino action from JURASSIC PARK
about 700 times.

*When it comes to "essential involvement," I've
noticed that there don't seem to be any bathrooms in cyberspace.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #13 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 00 04:45
    
You just haven't been looking!

Bruce said "We need to make up our minds to walk away from bad tech as we
see it go bad for us."  I'd like to discuss how we do that in a capitalist
society (if not world) where successful technologies become industries
deeply rooted in the political and economic infrastructure. A common theme
in cyberpunk sf (and, for that matter, Chandleresque noir): the fat cat
with the loot stops at nothing to protect his position -- but is that
really the problem? Or is it that the tendrils of a particular technology,
like the  infernal combustion engine, reach so deep into the social fabric
that everyone, at all socioeconomic levels, would feel the pain of
withdrawal?
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #14 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 00 07:39
    

  I think the primal lesson of the 90s is that the fat cat
with the loot has decided to put his money into industries
that don't even exist.  Who the hell wants to be "protecting
your position"?  That's for salaried stiffs, that's like
a labor union thing.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #15 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 00 11:16
    
Okay, the question's still there...how do we walk away from 'bad'
technologies, and how do we get consensus that a technology's gone bad?
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #16 of 75: John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Tue 4 Jan 00 12:31
    
I'll just say that it doesn't take Vr to make it possible for people
to live their lives by proxy. Sure, comic fans and dreamy eyed romance
fans have been doing it, for decades, longer, but it's a matter of
degree. Videogames/computer games are getting *perniciously efficient*
at snagging attention and absorbing cognitive energy, for example. 
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #17 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 00 13:53
    

Topic  61 [inkwell.vue]:  Bruce Sterling:  A Viridian Future
#15 of 16: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl)      Tue Jan  4 '00 (11:16)     2 lines

 Okay, the question's still there...how do we walk away from 'bad'
 technologies, and how do we get consensus that a technology's gone bad?

Well, those are good solid questions, and they shouldn't be dodged with
quips.  The reassuring part is that it does in fact somehow happen: the
ground is littered with many dead technologies.  They're not killed by
getting public consensus.  We don't vote to adapt them, and we don't vote to
abandon them.  It's all very murky and lefthanded.

Since these seem to be more or less unconscious processes, I'm betting that
people who are aware of the mechanisms can both grease up the wheels and
stick in spanners.

A while ago, I started collecting answers to that question: effective ways
that people turn away from technologies.  My thinking looks like this:

We say a loud yes to some kinds of technology, especially computer
technology, but many promising and practical technologies never find a
foothold.  What about  abortion pills, or the Wankel rotary engine, or pre-
fabricated housing?  There's technological lock-in, there's "natural
monopolies," patent wars, rights management, buyouts of competitors,
government subsidies....  And then there are military technologies, which
exist more or less outside of market forces and have very peculiar dynamics.

 Are there  practical, durable, meaningful and intelligent ways to say no to
a technology?

*"Practical" -- cut the revenue stream.  Taking away the money has got to be
the swiftest road to techno-death.  If there's enough revenue flowing, as in
the cocaine trade, then nothing will stop it.  But how to cut those funds?
Somehow make it unattractive to investment,  too expensive and exorbitant
to run.  Harsh taxation.  Import duties, exorbitant materials costs.  Remove
subsidies for transport and waste treatment.    Subsidize competing
industries.  Remove patent protection by declaring basic patents
inoperative.   Require ugly packaging.  Remove advertising opportunities.

"Durable" -- I don't think anything's durable in today's technosocial
environment, except maybe nuclear waste.  I'm figuring that no permanent
solutions are feasible; the weeds of bad technology return every spring,
while previously tolerable forms of tech become acutely dysfunctional.  Back
when there was such a thing as "durable" I would have listed "industry
standards" and "government regulation"  as a durable bedrock for tech
policy.   But in a global boom, it's "what industry" and "what government."

"Meaningful" --  Boycotts.  Sue and body-picket.  Hatemail campaigns
directed against employees and their families.  Vilification campaigns.
Demonize the industry as "Big Whatever-It-Is."  Form victims' alliances.
Whisper-campaigns about health threats and their panic-inducing menace to
the tender flesh of children.  Arson attacks, monkeywrenching.  Never In My
BackYard (where the backyard is everywhere).   Work-to-rules strikes and
endless harassing lawsuits.  Recruit zealots to nurture alternative
technologies without regard to profit.  "Demon Rum,"  "Frankenstein Food."

"Intelligent": attack the industry's R&D underpinnings.  Slow the rate of
improvement relative to other industries, thereby encouraging swifter
obsolescence.  Stop granting degrees in the field. Remove R&D credits, stop
subsidizing students and universities that pursue the practice.  Remove
investment credits.  See that best and brightest are re-routed to other
fields.  Stop building specialized lab equipment.  Criminalize the knowledge
(bomb building, etc).

I'm not saying I approve of all these tactics; I'm just listing them, and
would be quite interested in hearing of more.

So what is an effective no-sayer to do?  Probably pose as a yes-sayer to
something else, as when anti-abortion groups are self-defined as "pro-life."
 It's probably unprecedently easy to render whole lines of technology
obsolescent right now, but it probably isn't possible to get public credit
for effectively saying "no."   We don't have a Global Technology Czar who's
in a position to enforce capital punishment on lines of technological
development.  I don't think that nay-saying  Czarism would work.   For one
thing, in practice, I'm unsure there *is* such a thing as a "line of
technological development."  It's a scholar's shorthand rather than a
pragmatic reality; a fork is technology to Henry Petroski, but etiquette to
your Mom.  If you go out to search-and-destroy "a technology,"  you discover
a blurry range of highly diversified enterprises who see themselves as
producing, promoting and selling particular products and services.  Their
technological identities switch depending on who is doing the naming.  It
might have been easy to kill the transistor in 1949, but try going out today
to round up and remove that "transistor technology."  The very concept no
longer makes sense.

So puffing and deflating technologies is by no means a simple matter, but
there are people today who are very eagerly working to this end.  I give the
Global Climate Coalition a lot of credit for their Machiavellian skills in
making anti-Greenhouse action politically impossible.  They've manipulated
the US Senate through well-heeled lobbying, and managed to cast a
straightforward issue about choking on fumes as a matter of national
sovereignty.

The GCC wouldn't be working that hard, however, if they didn't know that a
change in attitude could result in their sponsors having their financial
throats cut.   Someday Big Oil will probably be in the same dank corner as
Big Tobacco.  It's no longer about the inalienable right of tobacco farmers
to raise any crop they please; suddenly it's all about my kids getting lung
cancer when they're in a public place with some vile, unspeakable smoker.

Things change.  They can change faster.   Once upon a time Nuclear Power was
Our Friend Mr Atom.   There may be Senators around who'll give them a
hearing and take their donations, but there's not a Senator alive who'll
open his state as a nuclear fuel dump.  Not any more.  Forget about it.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #18 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 00 13:54
    


Topic  61 [inkwell.vue]:  Bruce Sterling:  A Viridian Future
#16 of 16: John Shirley (johnp-shirley)      Tue Jan  4 '00 (12:31)     5
lines

 I'll just say that it doesn't take Vr to make it possible for people
 to live their lives by proxy. Sure, comic fans and dreamy eyed romance
 fans have been doing it, for decades, longer, but it's a matter of
 degree. Videogames/computer games are getting *perniciously efficient*
 at snagging attention and absorbing cognitive energy, for example.

*John, I am totally with you on this issue.  I'm sick of those kids
devouring those mind-rotting, trashy sci-fi novels, when they could be
making straight-As and preparing for a productive position in
industry.  These dreamy-eyed little ne'er-do-wells -- where do they
get off, with those friggin' rayguns and spaceships?  It's a
menace to the health of society!  This matter ought to be
taken straight to the Supreme Court.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #19 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 00 16:36
    
It's questionable whether they absorb or generate energy, I reckon, but
they do seem to capture attention.

Meanwhile, back at Viridian City... perhaps one reason we can't undermine
the pervasive denial of the greenhouse effect is television, speccifically
television weather reporting. After slagging us with the grimiest tales of
human evil, death, and destruction throughout a newscast, the gods of
media send us the sunny smiling weather jester. 
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #20 of 75: David Chaplin-Loebell (dloebell) Tue 4 Jan 00 17:57
    
I'm fairly sure that there's no equivalence between a technology being
abandoned and a societal consensus that it is "bad."  Abandonment is more
an indication that the technology no longer serves our needs as well as
something cheaper, faster, better, smaller, or shinier.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #21 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 00 18:10
    

   Well David, one can't say there's *no* equivalence. Promotional
wars between competing technologies are frequently based on notions
of health and hazard, like electric lighting versus gas lighting.
Charges flew:  "celan radiant efficient"  "zaps you dead with
invisible forces"  "smutty and poisonous" "cooks food badly"
etc.

   It's true that one doesn't *have* to vilify a technology in
order for it to vanish.  Sometimes just a few percent advantage
in the means of production is enough to polish one off: metal
replaces lacquer, plastic replaces metal, postconsumer plastic
replaces virgin plastic.

    I could go on about obsolescence issues all day.  One of the
best books I've recently read on the subject is "Objects of Desire:
Design and Society Since 1750" by Adrian Forty.  I especially liked
the chapter on "scientifically efficient" office furniture.
But the problem with reading lots of design history is that you
end up with this very nervous feeling about forks and doorknobs.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #22 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 00 18:49
    
Why does a writer decide to start a design movement?
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #23 of 75: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 00 10:38
    

   Well, there's no question that I do a lot of writing,
far more than my share even; but as I was saying earlier,
I'm not a "writer," I'm an artist whose theme is the
impact of technology on society.  When I put down my
pencil and get closer to the machine, I'm actually getting
hands-on with my material.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #24 of 75: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 5 Jan 00 13:22
    

I curious about how fatherhood has influenced your theme of the impact of
technology on society.

Did your vision change in any way after you became a father? 
        
Also, let me address those of you who are not WELL members and may be
reading this interview from out on the Web.  If you have a question or a
comment for Bruce Sterling that you would like to add, send it in e-mail
to inkwell-hosts@well.com.
  
inkwell.vue.61 : Bruce Sterling: A Viridian Future
permalink #25 of 75: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 00 20:01
    
As an artist, then, are you evolving a new personal aesthetic as a result
of the Viridian design project?
                             
  

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