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Bruce Sterling's Talk at SXSW
March 19, 2007 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Bruce Sterling's talk at SXSW is described on the landing page as a 'rant'. It isn't. What it is is a survey from 10,000 feet at what's happening in culture and technology and on the web, and I reckon it's worth spending the hour of your life it'll take to listen to it. I hope you agree. [mp3, 59 minutes]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken (52 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
(survey of, damn it)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:07 AM on March 19, 2007


a survey of 10,000 feet?
Is that 5000 pairs or 10K left feet? (or 2500 four-legged friends?)
posted by wendell at 1:54 AM on March 19, 2007


and then read this after listening to that
posted by infini at 1:57 AM on March 19, 2007


Thank you, stav!
My fave phrase:
"Spam is like being beaten to death with croutons."
posted by Dizzy at 2:23 AM on March 19, 2007


I wanna be Mr. "Trust Construction".

Not likely.
posted by wendell at 2:37 AM on March 19, 2007


2007 is not the year of video. Video can play in video player. It is the year of flash video. Which only plays in a flash and javascript enabled browser ( I browse with neither enabled) . It pisses me off because I prefer use XBMC to watch my video and by prefer I don't mean a check box on a website. I mean a real preference as in "this is a better way". This is almost as annoying as when half the video torrents and mp3blogs went iPod. Who needs DRM when you can simply be incompatible. It's like the whole world drank Real Player's lemonade except not from Real Player so that makes it okay. Google video provides compatible video downloads and google owns youtube but google doesn't provide compatible video via youtube. Nor does google reader have links to google mail or google calendar. Google is the best app on my desktop but with all the concentration of super smart people they can't provide a few simple hrefs?

It's funny how he points out the need to find out what is good. I used to use mefi for this because the consensus used to be trustworthy. Now I feel like I am walking to into the smoking area of a seventies high school where their english teacher has just taught them the phrase "nihilistic existentialist" is the technical term for high school cool and everything must suck. Everything good now suffers up to 50353 pricks trying to out cool each other. I'm one of the pricks but I don't want to be anymore. I want to hang out with the neat people. Where the hell do I find them? I know they're here and I love their contributions but I am just getting so tired of wading through the "Metafilter: some one liner here". I don't have the time anymore to wade through all the stuff.

Before the first day was up I was tired of reading the letters of SXSW as the blogocirclejerk whipped a cat 5 storm of cross referencing posts about twitter that put my google reader into that fucking uninformative state of 100+ unread torrents (Thanks Google - numbers over 100 scare me - who are you apple?) and made me wonder if they were all investors. Twitter seems aptly named given what it seems to do to people; namely give them a nerdy way to be that annoying girl on the bus saying "I'm on the bus - 5 blocks from your house - no wait it's 4 blocks now". This is the exact opposite of what I want. That so many people like it frightens me a bit. I knew the world was full of twits but now they are organized! Fortunately, I think they are the least likely to hunger for brains when they rise.

I want less but better. Not less functionality and better design (sorry mr. jobs) . I want less information and better functionality. Or rather I want to have to wade through less information because of that better functionality. Now I feel like one of the pricks turning on something cool but I just don't feel like we are scaling well. Popular Favorites is a weak stab at this but unfortunately favorites are also used for bookmarking and the most popular in the last 24 hours is not actually the most popular from the last 24 hours but is the most marked as popular in the last 24 hours. Then there is the My Comments which seems to have as its result the perpetual never ending threads produced by antagonists who must have the last word and never get to.

This isn't what I want. What I want is a whole lot more difficult and complicated and probably not suitable for metafilter at all or even possible anywhere and it would inevitably be pooped on anyway. I want lots of signal providing a steady thumping baseline mixed with some good melodic noise and sometimes a classic riff as an homage to post long gone but please no more fucking cover bands.

I don't need some fixed golden beauty ratio of hip to waste to make mefi beautiful again. What I need is a soft filter and perhaps some mood lighting. Short of that what I'll settle for is a pint. Unfortunately it's only 10am (mind you because of the great metafilter time theft it is 11am so it is one hour closer to reasonable ).

It sounds to me like Bruce Sterling is getting older. Maybe wiser.
posted by srboisvert at 3:35 AM on March 19, 2007 [25 favorites]


Metafilter: I want to hang out with the neat people.


Sorry srboisvert, just had to do it. Agree completely with you and it's funny because the way I look at the way the net evolves is the same way I look at the outside world. I'm getting older and craving what was cool when I was young and cool (well, I'm only 31 but in internet years that probably makes me a gazillion).

Thing is when I go out clubbing I find my inner voice complaining that's it's just not as good anymore, the drugs don't work, the music is crap, the crowd isn't as friendly etc etc etc.

So I don't go clubbing anymore and I don't really take as many drugs and I don't make as many friends.

I want less bbut better
Again, personally I attribute this to maturity. 6 years ago I wanted to learn everything. Now I want to focus on the things that matter to me.

i could be completely mistaken but I think what is going to happen on the web is exactly what happens in real life. The "old fogies" will always complain that it's just not as good as it used to be. They will be unable to pick up the concepts and technolgies of the upcoming generation with as much ease as they picked up the concepts and technologies of their own generation.
posted by twistedonion at 3:49 AM on March 19, 2007


Some good points you've made there, srboisvert. I guess we'll all have to settle for a pint. ;-)

And you mean bass line.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:50 AM on March 19, 2007


So many of the dumb pretentious arguments on this site could be smoothed over with a beer in a cool room, decent seating, and some nibbles.

Although some of the people here I want to nibble might violently disagree.
posted by Wolof at 4:53 AM on March 19, 2007


Wisdom: Entropy kicking your ass.

I want less but better.

Man, that occurs to me about a hundred times a day. I am also reminded the Theodore Sturgeon said: 80% of everything is crud. When there is more of everything, there is more crud, and some of us are cursed to notice its dominance.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:03 AM on March 19, 2007


I like Sturgeon's Law because if you take it literally it suggests the futility of the whole thing. Yeah, 90% of the web is crap — I always heard it quoted as 90% — but Metafilter won't help because 90% of Metafilter is crap and filtering it yourself won't help because 90% of your own bookmarks are crap and in fact 90% of what you like is crap anyway so who cares?
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:15 AM on March 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


There really is a lot more suck around these days. I've only been on the internet for about half my life, but there has certainly been a down turn in good new stuff and a lot more "cover bands" lately.

This whole Web 2.0 noise would really start getting to me if I actually cared that much about the internet community as a whole but frankly I just can't identify with the social network using, SXSW attending, fame whore crowd. If the 21st century means everyone gets to be a pundit I want the old century back. Except with less cyberpunk.
posted by public at 5:20 AM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Theodore Sturgeon also wrote that masterpiece of short storyhood "To the loneliest one"
posted by infini at 5:23 AM on March 19, 2007


twistedonion: try the mushrooms.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2007


srboisvert, I think you're missing it: Twitter *is* one of those things that reduces complexity and overload.

By giving me a constant, lightweight reminder of my friends' presence, I find that I feel sufficiently connected to them that I can cut back on the IMing, e-mailing, and even blog reading that I'd otherwise need to do to harness the same result. That the "content" of the messages is almost entirely phatic is irrelevant.

Aside from the undeniable and highly problematic fact that it introduces social failure modes that never existed before - having to apologize to people for not adding them as a friend, for example - I find that Twitter actually does work to simplify my life.

Of course, your mileage notoriously may vary. But not everything sucks just because it's new.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:56 AM on March 19, 2007


I'd rather spend fifteen minutes reading it. Transcript, please?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:58 AM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm getting older and craving what was cool when I was young and cool... I'm only 31

I apologize if I am misreading you, or perhaps underneath it all, we agree, but this perspective (as well as Sterling's) both fascinates me and bores me to tears at the same time.

I think it's fundamentally because I'm from a specific subset of generation x that has some pretty deep-seatled mistrust of technology, and fails to see anything authentically 'cool' about it. Oh, sure: things may be cool in their application (Metafilter, is perhaps the best example of that in that it attracts multitudes of highly intelligent people - most of whom have something interesting to say - who would otherwise never meet... the 'best of the web' aspect is incidental), but when a "new new thing" hits, like blogs, like online dating, the revolution that was the cameraphone, Blogspot, Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube, the latest Apple Widget, or , etc.... these just seem like channels to get more of the same old shit that was always available to you if you actually spent some time and effort and ventured out into the world. Most of what I've seen is that technology has lowered the barrier to entry for publishing, graphic arts, music production and distribution, people hooking up. Except for that last one, which was going to happen more or less efficiently without the development of the online component, the net result has been more crap, and not even at the 90/10 ratio implied by Sturgeon's Law.

They don't really make life cooler, more fun, or more engaging. Just adds to the pile of shit to sift through to get things that have real quality and ends up costing you a lot of time that could and should be better spend elsewhere.
posted by psmealey at 6:09 AM on March 19, 2007


I'm getting older and craving what was cool when I was young and cool... I'm only 31

I'll be 38 in a few weeks - most of what's flying around right now zooms over my head (and I'm ostensibly a web professional) and I can certainly sense that most of it is crap, but....

I love it - I LOVE what's happening right now - I can't even figure a lot of it out, but if the increased noise makes finding that signal tougher, well, that's the challenge we face. Because for me, the pre-internet phase ran through college and the first few years of working life, and I look back with nostalgia on those dark, analog days for.....hmmm, nothing.

And I realize there was a lot of amazing stuff during Web 1.0 or whatever we called it, before all the unwashed arrived, but it was always so tied into that annoying elitist "I'm hanging out with Lance Arthur and Alex Massie" blather. And Lance and Alex were then (and probably still are) perfectly fine people in my eyes, but if you seriously had to name drop web geeks, I mean c'mon.

Most of what I've seen is that technology has lowered the barrier to entry for publishing, graphic arts, music production and distribution, people hooking up.

Isn't it awesome? Isn't that the whole frickin' point? The great stuff is out there. Find it, or make it. It's better than complaining about it.
posted by jalexei at 6:51 AM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


i'm waiting for the web to work locally ... that's what i think is missing these days

and yes, a transcript is better then listening to 59 minutes of someone talking ... bandwidth might be cheap, but time isn't
posted by pyramid termite at 7:03 AM on March 19, 2007


twistedonion: try the mushrooms.

Love them... but I think I'll look like even more of a middle aged slacker to the young loved up clubbers on a Saturday night!

I think the point I was trying to make is that everyone goes through this stage. We move on but some get upset at that and move the focus onto how the new movements/cultures/trends just aren't as cool as when we were part of the new movements/cultures/trends

They don't really make life cooler, more fun, or more engaging. Just adds to the pile of shit to sift through to get things that have real quality and ends up costing you a lot of time that could and should be better spend elsewhere.

Absolutely. But in the pile of shit there's always a few gems that are worth the effort searching for... and this is where social networks are important. When I was getting into music I used my peer group to find new styles of music I knew I would probably like. They were a "filter" so to speak. These myspaces and bebos. they provide the same service. Filtering the shit to the right shit lovers. you, like myself, probably just haven't found the right shit filter yet.
posted by twistedonion at 7:15 AM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to have dinner with Bruce. I've got a non-sexual man crush.
posted by edjo at 7:22 AM on March 19, 2007


I'll listen to this when I get home, work is going to be busy today. I'd imagine, like many of Bruce Sterling's talks, he comes off sounding like he has a good, ten thousand foot perspective on things. He's one of those neat people that srboisvert mentioned, in that he can write about Croatian arms dealers or talk on the effect of good design on sustainability and sound like he has a take on the future because he's made some connections between several present situations.

What I've really started to wonder is how much you can really see from ten thousand feet. Maybe you can see your own neighborhood, the urban technologists, and a few of the neighboring design and political communities. Enough to make statements that work for those people and motivate them to collaborate and build. If anything, Sterling and company are more cultural analysts than sociologists or technologists, but I usually fail to notice that because we live in the same metaphorical neighborhood.

When I go home, open my RSS reader (look, I'm already a minority among internet users at this point), and read a dozen blog entries on how Twitter has reached a tipping point in popularity, I nod and agree. All of my software developer coworkers in their mid-20s are also using it. The people who have blogs I read use it. But then I realize that for every person I know who has his mom twittering, I have a dozen friends who are off the grid. They might use myspace/facebook/self-blog, but most of them haven't even heard of Twitter. So how did the popularity probably spread so quickly at SXSW? Word of mouth, probably.
posted by mikeh at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2007


"Spam is like being beaten to death with croutons."

Hate to break it to you Dizzy, but Sterling doesn't say that. He uses that phrase "beaten to death with croutons" and later he talks about Spam but he doesn't use the former as a definition of the latter.
posted by dobbs at 7:31 AM on March 19, 2007


I'll listen to this, Stavros. Thanks for linking to it. Does anyone know if there's a podcast of Will Wright's SXSW keynote?
posted by Dave Faris at 7:47 AM on March 19, 2007


So how did the popularity probably spread so quickly at SXSW? Word of mouth, probably.

It was the thing to do at SXSW this year, to the point that it started to annoy me.

"I see you're Twittering on your cell."
"No, I'm MAKING A PHONE CALL."

etc. etc. etc.

I'm starting to see the value in Twitter, but I have no friends, honestly (something SXSW hammered home to me and my long-dormant high school depressive insecurities numerous times). I have no "friend cloud" that would be interested in what I'm doing/thinking right now.

Does anyone know if there's a podcast of Will Wright's SXSW keynote?

Eventually. SXSW are being slackers about putting up podcasts... again. I found his talk to be as engaging as the Spore demo.
posted by dw at 7:52 AM on March 19, 2007


If someone could link it here when it surfaces, please link it here. I'd appreciate it.
posted by Dave Faris at 7:55 AM on March 19, 2007


At the risk of inducing eponysterica, I love the idea of IMing and emailing and twittering. Having watched, in various milieux (ex-spousal resentment, nations going to war) what can happen when people aren't talking to one another enough, I'm only too willing to see what sorts of unintended consequences, good and bad, result from twittering. Ennui, I can certainly live with.
posted by pax digita at 8:00 AM on March 19, 2007


Thanks for completely shattering my world, dobbs.
posted by Dizzy at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2007


I'll be 38 in a few weeks

Hey, same here, April 1969 buddy!

I guess I'm one of many who've come to similar conclusions as srboisvert. I've gotten so used to speed-reading my favorite sites (meta-sites, all of them: Fark, Digg, /., etc.) for the rare gem that interests me that I don't even think about how bad the web is getting or where the cool kids are any more. I have my circle of friends, and I've identified the kind of things that I like, so I'm satisfied with what it's giving me, at the moment.

I hesitate to say that some day the signal to noise ratio will fall to the dark side, as I don't want to be defeatest, but I'm certain it's a possibility.
posted by thanotopsis at 8:36 AM on March 19, 2007


45 here. Back in HS, starting to dink with the first TRS-80 in the county, I wished computers were networked with public libraries and each other to share information and ideas. But I never heard the word "Internet" until 1992 or so.
posted by pax digita at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2007


My favorite quote so far (on DeviantArt): "Folk art is for hicks."
posted by ao4047 at 9:53 AM on March 19, 2007


srvoisbert: Everything good now suffers up to 50353 pricks trying to out cool each other. I'm one of the pricks but I don't want to be anymore. I want to hang out with the neat people. Where the hell do I find them? I know they're here and I love their contributions but I am just getting so tired of wading through the "Metafilter: some one liner here". I don't have the time anymore to wade through all the stuff.

----

Heh.

1) for not wanting to be one of the "pricks" you sure made a long post about it :P

2) I agree with your general idea. I think it's similar to Jared Lanier's thoughts:
The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?
3) I got sick of this utopianism a while back. I used to be one of them. Granted, there are still great nuggets of wisdom, and it's a shame there's so much noise. One reason I love Livejournal is it allows me to connect with people who do share similar views and can provide unique perspectives... (granted I don't tread into my opponent's territory, but I try to find people with enough variance within a general domain so I'm not merely listening to an echo chamber) I wonder how much of that comes down to design? I mean, in theory LJ is like Myspace, but smarter by maybe 10% (??? I'd personally say a lot more, but I know a lot of folks hate LJ for the same stereotyped reasons I hate Myspace). LJ seems to have not only better design in terms of templates, but community forging aspects. Filters, lists, communities, etc... Just my opinion.

Can AI help us filter the "wisdom of the crowds"? I have no clue. In the old days I'd say "yes". Now? I'm not so sure. At the same time, I admit, I'm guilty of "Metafilter: One liner here", but that's part of a culture. There are many unique things that sort of arise as part of a culture. Sometimes they're fun or funny, other times, they're just a waste of space. Will we see more balkanization of our online "communities"? Who knows.
posted by symbioid at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2007


Was that poem at the end just his way of seeing if people were still paying attention?
posted by Dave Faris at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2007


Meatbomb: "twistedonion: try the mushrooms."

Well I did just this weekend, and they WERE week. But... it wasn't even an 1/8 oz, so...

But I was smiling and laughing a lot, so that's better than nothing, no? :P

I mean... Don't do drugs.
posted by symbioid at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2007


I haven't found a podcast of Will Wright's talk, but here's the talk on YouTube (7 parts total), and a partial transcript at Wonderland.

I want to lock Will Wright in the spare bedroom and hobble him.
posted by Addlepated at 10:36 AM on March 19, 2007


Previously (aka 2006) for anyone interested in what he talked about last year.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2007


If I jumped from my roof, would my grammer improve?

nice stuff stavs.
posted by clavdivs at 11:29 AM on March 19, 2007


How did people at SXSW hear about Twitter? Well, aside from word of mouth, there were dedicated monitors in the major traffic areas of the conference displaying Twitter updates in real time. That's how I heard about Twitter.
posted by zippy at 2:31 PM on March 19, 2007


Am I the only person who thinks Bruce Sterling is overrated?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2007


By whom? As what?
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:04 PM on March 19, 2007


Very interesting, thanks for posting.

I think SXSW killed Twitter, or something did; I haven't been able to access the site all day.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:09 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Visionary in residence"? Was he given that title, or did he pick it himself?
posted by boo_radley at 4:07 PM on March 19, 2007


He was nominated "Visionary in Residence" at the Art Center College of Design, if I recall correctly and it would be a possible title at a design school.
posted by infini at 8:53 PM on March 19, 2007


Am I the only person who thinks Bruce Sterling is overrated?

I'm not a huge fan of his fiction, but talks like this make my brain feel good. I don't know how he's rated as a Guy Who Synthesizes Shit In Interesting Ways In Speeches, but I hope it's pretty highly.

And I'd love to see a transcript too, as others have requested, if anyone has sweet linkage.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:16 AM on March 20, 2007


I listened last night and it took me quite a while to work out what he was talking about. But then, I didn't really get what srboisvert was on about either. Or at least, if they just mean simplistic that works well beats klunky razzle dazzle every time then I agree. But I don't really give a shit if this guy doesn't like deviant art or if he thinks he's a visionary for identifying swarm movement as being a less than intelligent metric for quality. Yet conversely he outlined how to exploit, tweak and control the free swarm to build some ethereal business or other. There was a lot of adverting to people's ideas whom I've never heard of - a transcript would help in that regard. Maybe I was just in an underwhelmed kind of mood or something.
posted by peacay at 1:42 AM on March 20, 2007


I thought the bit about creating a open source, comment based web app to be fascinating. I think he has an interesting take on technology, although I think he's a bit too cynical sometimes. I guess that's the occupational hazard of being a futurist with the future looking so bleak at the moment. But he does tend to drone sometimes, and I find my mind wandering from his digressions and thought poems. He's more engaging in person. And I enjoyed a couple beers of his, so I won't dismiss him outright. I think I got to go to one of his last SXSW house parties before he quit having them, and then he got a divorce, and moved abroad.

I really hope it wasn't anything I said...
posted by Dave Faris at 8:14 AM on March 20, 2007


Well, peacay, I don't know how or if one might summarize. But his talk did get me thinking, and this is what plopped out. I think it's important stuff, these ideas, for those of us who spend a large chunk of our existence online.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:52 PM on March 20, 2007


Will Wright's Keynote
posted by Dave Faris at 8:08 PM on March 20, 2007


Unfortunately, the 3 paltry videos only arouse my appetite without bedding it down.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:25 PM on March 20, 2007


Aye, I was all excited when I saw the link from Matt's site yesterday, but detumesced rapidly when I figured out it was just a highlight reel.

Will Wright's another high-profile geek hero whose thinking interests me a lot. But I'm waiting to see if Spore is actually fun. (I didn't care for the Sims at all.) I'm hopeful, but we shall see.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:29 PM on March 20, 2007


If Tom Friedman is the Mustache of Understanding then Bruce wears the Eyeglasses of Truth. He is such a wanker, always has been.
posted by scalefree at 10:56 AM on March 22, 2007


Bruce Sterling: I'm not a snob but folk culture is for hicks.
posted by junebug at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2007


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