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!
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?)
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.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:48
PS. I wrote a manifesto today *8-/ Bruce Sterling firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 00 12:54
Yeah, that one!
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.
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-)
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 00 18:49
Why does a writer decide to start a design movement?
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.
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 email@example.com.
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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