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Bruce Sterling's 2010 State of the World
January 6, 2010 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Acclaimed writer Bruce Sterling is back for his annual State of the World interview in The WELL's inkwell conference. It's a must-read. The first question comes from Cory Doctorow who asks him to help him plan for the future now that Cory has a kid, etc. Sterling's answer is hilarious, biting, and brilliant all at the same time. And that's only the beginning...
posted by brianstorms (130 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Enjoyed this a day or so ago. Hopefully this thread doesn't turn down the well beaten Metafilter argues about Cory Doctorow path, because Sterling's writing is very engaging. And I'd like to read what others here felt about it, rather than snark about Mr. Doctorow.
posted by localhuman at 6:39 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Doctorow does something. MetaFilter disapproves.
posted by brundlefly at 6:39 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


* doesn't want to join in the rote Cory-bashing but grumbles that a professional writer really ought to know what "enormity" means *
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Enormity means hugely evil, not just huge. For some reason, it's one of the few word/meanings I actually care about.

Effete means creatively barren, not poncy nancy boy, but I just can't get worked up about that. Why is this? They both being with "e". I don't know.
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Oh ha ha ha, George. We are *so* on the same page there.
posted by smoke at 6:41 PM on January 6, 2010


Beyond the Doctorow bits:

Nobody's gonna sit around watching Copenhagen delegates debating giant phony orbital solar mirrors if the windmills in Copenhagen harbor are blowing over. When and if it becomes obvious that we truly need massive, ultra-costly geo-engineering interventions, that we have no other choice, then somebody -- likely some traumatized veterans of weather havoc who are full of Al Qaeda self-righteousness -- they're gonna cut emissions in half by cutting people in half. Mankind wouldn't lack for means, motive, opportunity and eager volunteers.
posted by swift at 6:42 PM on January 6, 2010


[comments removed - this is not the Cory hate thread you are looking for, go to MetaTalk]
posted by jessamyn at 6:43 PM on January 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


Very much in spite of myself, I kinda like the name 'Poesy.'
posted by box at 6:44 PM on January 6, 2010


Well, this is a depressing but scarily realistic read.
posted by Jimbob at 6:49 PM on January 6, 2010


When I read this my thought voice turns to the hippie voice the Simpsons use, or the voice of Woody Harrelson in 2012.
posted by mattoxic at 6:54 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


[comments removed - this is not the Cory hate thread you are looking for, go to MetaTalk]
Aww.
Enormity means hugely evil, not just huge. For some reason, it's one of the few word/meanings I actually care about.
Well, the dictionary definition you linked too indicates it does mean "big" but tags that definition with "Usage problem.
Usage Note: Enormity is frequently used to refer simply to the property of being great in size or extent, but many would prefer that enormousness (or a synonym such as immensity) be used for this general sense and that enormity be limited to situations that demand a negative moral judgment, as in Not until the war ended and journalists were able to enter Cambodia did the world really become aware of the enormity of Pol Pot's oppression. Fifty-nine percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of enormity as a synonym for immensity in the sentence At that point the engineers sat down to design an entirely new viaduct, apparently undaunted by the enormity of their task. This distinction between enormity and enormousness has not always existed historically, but nowadays many observe it. Writers who ignore the distinction, as in the enormity of the President's election victory or the enormity of her inheritance, may find that their words have cast unintended aspersions or evoked unexpected laughter.
So the panel wasn't happy, but 41% said it was OK. Most people would understand what you mean. I think it sounds better "enormousness"
posted by delmoi at 7:15 PM on January 6, 2010


Thank God geoengineering will, unlike every other large scale human environmental intervention, have no unanticipated negative side effects at all, because we know how all flora, fauna and global wind patterns would react.

Oh wait.
posted by mobunited at 7:15 PM on January 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


*Okay, first, the college funds. Cory, you're a guy who rather famously dropped out of college. I completed college with a lucrative degree in (wait for it) JOURNALISM. There are people coming out of colleges now with humanities degrees and debtloads of $100K. What precise benefit are you trying to confer here? You want your kid to go to some college? Move to a country like Italy where they've got FREE college, and people don't leave school till they're 28 years old.
I think a lot of people do the 'college fund' because they want to feel like they're doing something important for their kid. But you'd be much, much better off helping/forcing your kids do really well in highschool then trying to save money. If they do well in H.S. they'll probably be able to go to a state school for free.

If you're kid is smart enough to get into an Ivy League school and you're in the middle class, their tuition will also pretty much be free.

Apparently one of the reasons why people in the lower class don't aspire to college is that they don't understand how affordable/how easy credit is. The argument is that if they knew it was pretty much available to every good student willing to take on debt, and pretty much all top students they would work harder.

Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 7:20 PM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


...asks him to help him plan for the future now that Cory has a kid, etc

This really irks me. Not about Cory specifically, but that so many people

a) only start caring about "the future" when they personally have kids, as though they were completely unconnected from the rest of the society but NOW they have a stake

b) use a question like this to say HAY YOU GUYZ I HAVE A KID SO I'M LIKE A ADULT NOW WITH SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PLANET SEE MY SERIOUSNESS
posted by DU at 7:20 PM on January 6, 2010 [24 favorites]


I was wondering how old Doctorow actually was so I checked his wikipedia ariticle, and found this:
Doctorow is married to Alice Taylor, and together they have one daughter, named Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow, who was born in 2008.[7] Cory Doctorow and Alice Taylor married on Sunday, October 26, 2008.
Turns out he was born in 1971, if you were wondering.
posted by delmoi at 7:29 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I care about the future only insofar as that's when my wine cellar is really gonna start paying some dividends. Yeah, you laughed at me when I bought twelve dozen bottles of Yarra Valley merlot at $10 a crate but in 2042 I think you shall find yourself chagrined, friend. Because not only will it be a lovely drop but once the bottles are empty I'll have somewhere to stick my homemade candles, the delicious tallow of which was rendered from the suet of your complete lack of foresight, earlier scraped from the slush fund barrel of my cunning. You may have stockpiled the jetskis and cigarettes but, ha ha ha, you forget that I pulled the Pacific plug one evening whilst poleaxed!
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:39 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


*Most of my Twitter tweeple, in expressing their mild hopes for the decade, seem obscurely terrified. "Well, it couldn't possibly be any worse than last year," seems to be the consensus notion. I haven't seen any Scrooge-like spoilsport remarking on the prospect that the twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes. The Depression of the 1930s was followed by the 1940s, right? It's casino thinking to imagine that the next poker hand is bound to be great just because you lost your ass in the last one.
Heh.
posted by delmoi at 7:44 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not that print's a medium, and the web's a medium, and you get to migrate between media. The Web is a metamedium that turns everything it grips into network-culture.
Bruce Sterling
I have been asked why I name people like Sterling, Doctorow, Ellis on the same level as Jarvis, Rosen, Shirky for understanding media. That's why. These guys are not only great artists but dedicated craftsmen and heavy users of media. This quote is just tossed in the WELL's conversation, but it sums up brilliantly everything that's bugging the news business on the Web. If only media moguls got it, the so called media crisis would be over.
posted by bru at 7:46 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Should've gone for the shiraz.
posted by pompomtom at 7:48 PM on January 6, 2010


[comments removed - this is not the Cory hate thread you are looking for, go to MetaTalk] - jessamyn

Doctorow is married to Alice Taylor, and together they have one daughter, named Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow... - DU

JESSAMYN YOUR ADMINISTRATIVE RULINGS ARE CRUEL AND UNUSUAL
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:50 PM on January 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


"...Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow... - DU"

JESSAMYN YOUR ADMINISTRATIVE RULINGS ARE CRUEL AND UNUSUAL
DU and I are different people.
posted by delmoi at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2010


Not agreeing with all of this, but Sterling frequently puts things very well. I was amused by this:

There are some societies today completely untroubled by moguls, like, say, Sweden. You look at all the statistics that technocrats use to determine where people are doing just great, where society is thriving, and Sweden's been in the top five percentile for decades. Sweden does everything perfectly from a technocratic policy perspective, Sweden's like Oz, apparently.

And then you ask Swedes about their future and so forth, and they're like: "Bring the razor and the bathtub! When can I die?" There are penniless, vitamin-deprived guys in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai who are upbeat and perky compared to Swedes.

posted by A dead Quaker at 7:57 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you're kid is smart enough to get into an Ivy League school and you're in the middle class, their tuition will also pretty much be free.

I disagree. I guess it depends on your definition of middle-class, since everyone calls themselves middle class, but this is not something you want to promise your future kid. It's not something you want to promise your 1985-born-kid.

Get a very generous $20 - 30,000-a-year scholarship to an Ivy and today you're still paying over $80-120,000 for that degree. Which might be worth it, but that's why you have an honest discussion about cost-benefit-debt and don't pull the "get A's and go to any college you want, kid! study what you like! I promise!" bull. The "be smart and get a free ride to state" still rings true, but it might not in the future.

I know this is a small point to hash upon but I just got back from break and was privy to several of my friends' "I'm at an expensive school with crushing debt and I'm not interested in being a doctor or lawyer or whatever oh god" meltdowns.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:01 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


[comments removed - this is not the Cory hate thread you are looking for, go to MetaTalk]

Beg your pardon, I'm looking for the Bruce Sterling hate thread.
posted by $0up at 8:02 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow

That's quite a jaw-dropping mashup of namecraft.
posted by Ratio at 8:05 PM on January 6, 2010 [20 favorites]


If Cory Doctorow claims to have concerns over the enormity of [his] fatherhood, who am I to disagree? Heck, I think the PEFNTD name is proof that "enormity" is indeed the correct word.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:12 PM on January 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Get a very generous $20 - 30,000-a-year scholarship to an Ivy and today you're still paying over $80-120,000 for that degree.

A few of the Ivies have gone "debt free" for middle class (and poorer) students; I think Harvard caps family contributions for anyone under $180,000, which is a pretty broad concept of "middle class." But not all the Ivies are able to afford that path, and taking advantage of it still involves the minor issue of, you know, getting in. It's not exactly something that you should base your plans for your kids around.

Sterling's answer is hilarious, biting, and brilliant all at the same time.

And here we part ways. I've really enjoyed the books of his that I've read -- I'm not a hater. But this interview was the worst kind of combination of self-importance and vacuousness. I want back the few minutes that it took to read.
posted by Forktine at 8:19 PM on January 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wish I still had the energy to riff away at stuff like Sterling does. It blows the dust out.

I think I need to get back into industrial-grade chemical stimulants.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:27 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have met some relatively wealthy people who view themselves as "middle-class'.
For them the "upper-class" is kinda like the late Howard Hughes.
posted by ovvl at 8:41 PM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


DU and I are different people. - delmoi

Oh, sure, you say that now, but I bet if the lottery people were knocking on your door saying "We have a big basket of cash here for DU, are you that person?" you'd be all like "Yeah I totally am." Also, whoops.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:41 PM on January 6, 2010


I prefer futurists to futurologists, but this was still a good read.
posted by cell divide at 8:42 PM on January 6, 2010


In their view, "upper-class" people stayed awake at night watching Ice Station Zebra.
posted by ovvl at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2010


You're thinking: "got some money here, might as well settle down in suburban Shepperton where the kid has a stable neighborhood with those delightful Ballard children." That's a joke. They're ALL FOREIGNERS in Shepperton now, just like you. They're living in DISINTEGRATED, ROOTLESS, MULTI-ETHNIC HOUSEHOLDS where people relate through SMS messages. Go outside, walk around in extremely globalized London, count the number of exiles in the streets. Is that Christopher Robin and Pooh at the gates of Buckingham Palace? The Buckingham Palace charades are wall to wall Brazilians, Indians and Chinese. That's why they put up with YOU. And the genuine kids there are even weirder than their parents, because they're multi-ethnic Brazilo-Indian-Chinese kids.
what
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:47 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is this something that I would need to be a nerd or care about nerds talking to nerds to enjoy? Because I have a high tolerance for nerds, but the first couple of paragraphs made me want to give wedgies to everyone in the dialogue.
posted by Slap Factory at 9:13 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


He kind of comes across as a crotchety old man, pontificating about the world without much evidence.

He also does the Tom Friedman "Look at the people in random exotic location X and see how they conform to my random broad brush generalization that confirms my point!" which irritates me.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, I think he comes off as perfectly cynical and smart. Plus, he invented vat-grown political consultants in Distraction over 10 years ago.
posted by mediareport at 9:28 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


He also does the Tom Friedman "Look at the people in random exotic location X and see how they conform to my random broad brush generalization that confirms my point!" which irritates me.

Well, he used to live in Belgrade and now he lives in Turin, and he's married to a Serbian film-maker, so I think he has more street cred than Friedman does (as far as random exoticness goes).

While I'll always love the Shaper/Mechanist stories, I think Sterling is better at this futurist stuff than at penning sci-fi these days. His last book was awful.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:41 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only media moguls got it, the so called media crisis would be over.
media moguls *do* get it, and are cutting furiously to try and avoid the network effect destroying their businesses, which is why there's an actual media crisis.

Also, Jarvis, really? Why not add Winer to your list while you're at it.
posted by bonaldi at 9:43 PM on January 6, 2010


Sorry, meant to include a link to Sterling's last book. I liked that he actually set it in a "hot" world, since there are so few sci-fi writers that have done this so far, but it seemed like he couldn't decide what he wanted it to be about.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:44 PM on January 6, 2010


media moguls *do* get it, and are cutting furiously to try and avoid the network effect destroying their businesses, which is why there's an actual media crisis.

That's a really bizarre description of the "head-in-the-sand profit-taking and zero investment in future technology followed by frantically stupid and obnoxious cost-slashing with shallow understanding at best of the forces of change surrounding them" process we've seen over the past 10 years.
posted by mediareport at 9:54 PM on January 6, 2010


I can't even understand that webpage. It says things like "permalink #2 of 87" in a stupid courier font and then there's a bunch of text inside asterisks and... done.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:00 PM on January 6, 2010


Yeah, don't get me wrong, mediareport: I agree with your characterisation entirely. It's the idea that if only they'd been visionaries like Jeff Jarvis we wouldn't be suffering a media crisis at all.

On the contrary, I think media moguls do now, admittedly very belatedly, "get it" more or less. It's just that they, and a lot of other journalists, don't share the Jarvis-esque booming optimism of what an all-consuming network culture actually entails. You can get it, but still be deeply cynical about it. I think Sterling is increasingly the latter, too.
posted by bonaldi at 10:06 PM on January 6, 2010


Bloody iPhone: it's that idea that I discount.
posted by bonaldi at 10:08 PM on January 6, 2010


While I can agree with his general perspective, I don't find Bruce Sterling's view particularly revelatory, and his way of phrasing it... very, very grating.
posted by Auden at 10:15 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I'll always love the Shaper/Mechanist stories, I think Sterling is better at this futurist stuff than at penning sci-fi these days. His last book was awful.

His last novel was a mess. But if you're reading Sterling primarily for his novels you're missing out. He, like Greg Egan, is all about the shorter works.

And I just remembered I have a new Egan collection sitting in my to-read pile! NERDGASM.
posted by Justinian at 10:36 PM on January 6, 2010


yeah this was a cool convo but why does this website deliberately look like a bbs circa 1991...i kept expecting to hear my mom trying to call out over my laptop speakers
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Does anyone else have a vision of Sterling sitting at a desk, with a big giant steampunk buzzword roulette wheel next to him ready to spit out the next meaningless techno-term?

Has anyone met him in person? Does he talk like that in real life? If so, how'd you manage not to beat him senseless with the nearest monitor?
posted by madajb at 10:45 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Beg your pardon, I'm looking for the Bruce Sterling hate thread.

As I'm really doing everything I can to make it through Heavy Weather without writing him a nasty letter and/or just shouting my opinions loud enough that, if Mr. Sterling doesn't hear them first-hand, they will still surely make their way to his ears, I'm amenable.
posted by Graygorey at 10:52 PM on January 6, 2010


I've had to bifurcate my understanding of Sterling to stay sane- there's the accomplished, powerful short story writer- I'm thinking of the Globalhead collection, specifically.

Then there's that guy who throws up self-important neologisms and comments about technologies well outside his field of expertise.

The latter seemed to be responsible for this piece. And I quote:

"Basically we've got an emergent, market-driven global financial system
that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism."

Quotation seems poorly machine generated, contains no factual content- but sounds fancy enough to be blurbable.

'We See Things Differently' is still great, tho.
posted by mrdaneri at 10:54 PM on January 6, 2010


Has anyone met him in person? Does he talk like that in real life? If so, how'd you manage not to beat him senseless with the nearest monitor?
posted by madajb at 10:45 PM on January 6


He's really fun in person. I was lucky enough to be in Torino last February for a couple of weeks on a project and got invited to join him and his wife for cocktails, along with Regine Debatty of We make money not art and the head of Pininfarina's design department.

I wasn't sure how this intimate - smaller side room in a bar, the type with cozy couches - meeting with all these uber cool folks would be like but Jasmina was warm and welcoming and Bruce turned out have grown up in Madras (Chennai) - both global nomads with multicultural influences growing up.

I even confessed to him that while I'd liked his short stories I wasn't really a big fan of his work (in the way I'll read anything by Silverberg or the Grandmasters) and he was cool with that as we discussed sci fi anyway.

He stayed in touch by email for a while, responding whenever I'd write to say hello or send a link but its kinda petered out, otoh, he recently started following me on twitter (closed account so he asked!)

Overall? He is so much much nicer, more laid back, with no sense of entitlement or whatever implied by this state of the world conversation (I'd seen it, debated making an FPP and chose not to since its not as good as some of his previous ones) and I really really like his wife as well. I look forward to meeting them both again sometime, somewhere.
posted by infini at 10:58 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought his last book was awful too... though oddly laced through with random cool bits. On the whole I'm actually kind of fond of it, though it's not really the Sterling book I'd recommend to anybody.
posted by Artw at 11:16 PM on January 6, 2010


yeah this was a cool convo but why does this website deliberately look like a bbs circa 1991

The Well
.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:51 PM on January 6, 2010


Heh. He's kind of harsh on the brain uploaders.
posted by Artw at 11:59 PM on January 6, 2010


Why do I despise so very much these semi-cynical guys introduced breathlessly by excited modernista techies? I don't know anything about this Bruce Sterling character because I refuse flatly to read any of this cyberpunk trash - even William Gibson generally writes shit, honestly - but the general tenor of this stuff just seems so ridiculous and weirdly modernist to me. That's what cyberpunk is, right? - an attempt to preserve the 'neat-o!' factor and general savviness that us geeks crave by injecting wholly artificial and frankly silly old-timey stuff into it, so that you're so busy looking at the cool bronze and top-hats that you never notice the absolute alienation that all that tech has created in modern life? And not just cyberpunk, but most science fiction over the last few decades - our little bubble of romantic notions about the future, or at least our little distraction from the alienated ennui we feel in the present.

Really, this ability to be incredibly enamored with modernity, and to worship with hands raised these geniuses and visionaries. I mean, I had to stop reading the first time I tried to read this thing before I'd even finished with the introduction, because I tripped over this meaningless bit of prose:
Once again, Bruce's interlocutory partner is Jon Lebkowsky. Jon writes about culture, society, technology. He is an Internet pioneer and thought leader immersed in contemporary social technologies, with expertise in digital communication and collaboration.
Really? Wow, fuck - so am I.

YOU MUST OBEY YOUR THOUGHT LEADER!

Gee, how useful for human life. This is all so much electronic detritus - who gives a fuck? Google News is like Jenga, so you'll read me your twitter feed? To people like this, having your finger on the pulse is godhood. Predicting the next big thing is the absolute state of nirvana that all crave. They grew up hearing about so-and-so being a great writer because they predicted this or that, and in their little modernist frenzy they really believe it.

Who gives a fuck about the 'state of the world,' at least in these terms? Who cares what the next big thing will be? Who even cares what the next disaster, or financial movement, or technological advance, or medical advance will be? I'm so goddamned tired of discussions about the next that I could puke. This stupid society has never gotten its moral compass, has never come to its senses and really examined itself as a people, and we're still arguing about what will happen next as if it will matter? It won't matter. We will fail.
posted by koeselitz at 12:58 AM on January 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Who gives a fuck about the 'state of the world,' at least in these terms? Who cares what the next big thing will be? Who even cares what the next disaster, or financial movement, or technological advance, or medical advance will be? I'm so goddamned tired of discussions about the next that I could puke. This stupid society has never gotten its moral compass, has never come to its senses and really examined itself as a people, and we're still arguing about what will happen next as if it will matter? It won't matter. We will fail.
posted by koeselitz


Define "We" please

ref A Dead Quaker above

And then you ask Swedes about their future and so forth, and they're like: "Bring the razor and the bathtub! When can I die?" There are penniless, vitamin-deprived guys in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai who are upbeat and perky compared to Swedes.

posted by infini at 1:04 AM on January 7, 2010


bru: “I have been asked why I name people like Sterling, Doctorow, Ellis on the same level as Jarvis, Rosen, Shirky for understanding media. That's why. These guys are not only great artists but dedicated craftsmen and heavy users of media. This quote is just tossed in the WELL's conversation, but it sums up brilliantly everything that's bugging the news business on the Web. If only media moguls got it, the so called media crisis would be over.”

"Media" is not a meaningful word in the sphere of human interaction. Words, pictures, sound. Nothing more. Talking about those things as though they were complex is a complete distraction from the real processes going on; and these people who've made it their business and livelihood to distract as many people as possible by using overblown jargon to describe the simple as though it were complex are part of the problem.
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


infini: “Define ‘We’ please”

Democracies.
posted by koeselitz at 1:11 AM on January 7, 2010


Sweden included.
posted by koeselitz at 1:12 AM on January 7, 2010


Dharavi
posted by infini at 1:12 AM on January 7, 2010


And I should say that, again, I know nothing about Bruce Sterling, and haven't actually read anything he's written - I was put off by the name. He might indeed be a brilliant fellow, and I'm sure he's quite nice. And I guess he may as well talk about whatever he's asked. But the framing of this interview really, really annoys me, and it's symptomatic of this oddly lurking blind modernism and futurism that I would've thought had petered out decades ago. He almost begins to start to talk about just that, but it goes off in another direction. Altogether unsatisfying.

When was the last time a science fiction writer, or a 'web conversation about stuff,' actually talked about human things? I can't remember. That's what's bugging me - the surfeit of buzzwords and the lack of real meaning.
posted by koeselitz at 1:17 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dharavi?
posted by koeselitz at 1:18 AM on January 7, 2010


actually, i think what he's saying is that we are all FUCKED.SO.HARD.OUR.NOSES.FEEL.STUFFED

i really hate everything he's said here - and what i hate more than anything else is that i can't prove him wrong

can you?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:43 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


its in a democracy, dharavi that is

the juxtaposition of the differing energy levels in sweden and dharavi as quoted taken together your sentences viz,

Who even cares what the next disaster, or financial movement, or technological advance, or medical advance will be? I'm so goddamned tired of discussions about the next that I could puke. This stupid society has never gotten its moral compass, has never come to its senses and really examined itself as a people, and we're still arguing about what will happen next as if it will matter? It won't matter. We will fail.

where you clarified the "we" in failure as "democracies" which motivates me to take the trouble to point out that not all "democracies" [or otherwise] are feeling as negative or depressed as both sterling's quotes on sweden or your own words seem to show.

that the inspiration for the next things may yet come from the ramblings of someone whose peripatetic wanderings and musings on "what if" - speculative, science or whatever fiction - for those who have barely begun to fill their stomachs (metaphorically speaking, literally too perhaps for a great majority) and aren't satiated to the point of meaninglessness

from the original link in the FPP,

Wanna see some "Favela Chic?" Cool Chinese
piracy of a Bruce Sterling story.

http://www.docin.com/p-34476299.html



Putting aside issues of copyright and copying and fakes et al - this still implies that penniless nobodies somewhere are reading and wondering what their future might be like, not a bad thing to happen, if as in the past, it was science fiction which inspired many to become robotists and scientists and the people who went to the moon

its 2010, god bless his soul

don't snuff out the flickering flame of the future if yours, for a moment, feels stale and much abused
posted by infini at 1:54 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed this. Thanks for posting it.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 1:58 AM on January 7, 2010


infini: “don't snuff out the flickering flame of the future if yours, for a moment, feels stale and much abused”

Oh, I don't mean to do that - if all you take out of what I said is my last three words, then I sound like an inveterate pessimist.

All I meant was: we, Democracies, the world, human beings, will fail if we don't know how to talk about actual, real human things - which were never actually mentioned once in that interview, maybe through no fault of Sterling's but through fault of the interviewer perhaps. I might agree with you that democracies might have a bright future; my heart's in Iran right now, with the Green Movement, and with the direction that is taking, and so I know what you mean about a lot of societies having hope, but this article talked about hope as though it doesn't really mean anything, as though it's detached from real outcomes. Hopeful about what? Love, friendship, justice, death, faith, freedom, goodness,—to be honest with you all the convincing emerging democratic movements have very real opinions about these things, and lively thoughts about what they mean; that is in fact the difference between them and us, in my opinion. And that's really sad; moreover it's more than a little ominous, because as long as we keep prattling about our tweets, and about meta-media or hyperculture or whatever jargony buzzwords we have now for stuff that doesn't actually mean anything, I worry that we'll turn those hopeful societies into jaded, empy husks like ours.
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


... and on my third reread I have to say that I think I agree more with pyramid termite - although I won't say "I hate everything he's said here" so much as "I hate what he hasn't said." And he sounds intelligent enough that I have a feeling he has an inner life that's much more real, much more meaningful and fulfilled than what's in these words. But it comes through a diaphane of such breathless techie glowing, of buzz that seems to infected people second-hand as a result of the barrage of marketing we're under now, that it seems like Bruce Sterling never has a chance to say at any point during this interview why he enjoys life, for example, or what he thinks is important or worthwhile or what he thinks is right - because they're so busy asking him about "what's the next big thing?" that all he can think to do is ad-lib about it, admittedly in a way that's as meaningless as the question demands and therefore fitting.
posted by koeselitz at 2:23 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


infini: “that the inspiration for the next things may yet come from the ramblings of someone whose peripatetic wanderings and musings on "what if" ...”

Do human beings require 'inspiration for the next things' to be happy? Is it possible that ceaseless, relentless innovation and change isn't the highest value?
posted by koeselitz at 2:26 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Um. koeselitz. You do realize almost all cyberpunk is dystopian? That it's a snarling refutation of the gleaming optimism of science fiction, and unvarnished mockery of the concept that tomorrow is going to be better than today? Just checking.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:50 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Or it used to be, back in the '80s, when people were still writing cyberpunk.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:51 AM on January 7, 2010


"Basically we've got an emergent, market-driven global financial system
that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism."

Quotation seems poorly machine generated, contains no factual content- but sounds fancy enough to be blurbable.


We have a market-driven finanacial system.-check
with emergent properties.
emergent behavior or emergent property can appear when a number of simple entities (agents) operate in an environment, forming more complex behaviors as a collective

The global financial system had a religious belief in the invisible hand of the free market to correct itself, thus their anti-regulatory crusade.

I think think that I like it better the way he said it.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:51 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


koeselitz - thank you for articulating that, I do agree with what you have said there and acknowledge the hopeful aspect of what you've pointed out. it helps to understand better where you were coming from than just your first comment which I'd taken to imply a sense of "everything's hopeless, lets not talk about the future, we'll fail anyway" kind of thing.

regarding your question

Do human beings require 'inspiration for the next things' to be happy? Is it possible that ceaseless, relentless innovation and change isn't the highest value?


I'd like to step away from any assumptions that we might make that 'ceaseless, relentless innovation and change' are only referring to next things that simply mean more consumption, more technology and more goods in the context of mainstream consumer culture and media (as in "wheee, the Google phone or hooray the iSlate" next things)

but 'ceaseless relentless' striving for a better way to live or earn income or change one's quality of life is the very driver that motivates those " penniless, vitamin-deprived guys" to keep on living, hoping and dreaming, to keep on keeping on so that if not theirs, than perhaps their children's lives will change

or simply innovation as simple as an affordable way to obtain safe drinking water (while the link says it costs 1000 rupees (about USD 23) there is a version for 800 or you can buy just the filter for 300 and attach it yourself to some container i.e. no intent to create a closed loop trapping consumers in a replacement cycle)

ditto the Green Revolutionaries, here's a take on this vis a vis technology

The mistake both the utopians and neo-Luddites make is by giving too much credence to the idea that technology can fundamentally change human nature. For every article about how Twitter will save the world, a cyber-fatalist will argue that smartphones have turned us all into zombies.

Both are wrong. It is not technology per se that has the power to change the world (for good or bad), but rather the innovation and creativity of the people enabling and using it.


imho, we're probably debating font size than on opposite sides of the debate here
posted by infini at 3:27 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


just musing further...

even "democracy" is a continuum to suit local conditions, cultures and stages of development, democracies defined as only ONE right way or interpretation of such, imposed externally on a wholly different society may never achieve what Sweden's decidedly very different system (universal healthcare, childcare, education) has in terms of its citizen's quality of life

perhaps its that "relentless ceaseless" drive for innovation and change that will lead people to change systems into those that suit them better, maybe not one that might meet all the criteria of "democracy" if set up as a measurement with only one right answer
posted by infini at 3:35 AM on January 7, 2010


Let's imagine you're three years old again. You want to give your Dad,
back in 1974, a coherent picture of what 2010 looks like. You know,
something very actionable, lucid and practical, where he can just slap
the cash on the counter and everything works out great for the family.
Okay: given what you know now about the present, tell me what you
oughta tell him about 2010, back in 1974. Use words of one syllable, so
he doesn't have a stroke.


That's quite an interesting challenge/thought experiment.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:15 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Use words of one syllable, so he doesn't have a stroke.

Buy and hold IBM.
posted by jquinby at 4:40 AM on January 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


koeselitz, what you miss about the discussion is probably all down to the framing: It's on The Well, and the questions are kicked off by Cory Doktorow, of all people. The resultant discussion is about the next Big Thing, that's just how it turned out. I suspect you would enjoy his short fiction, as mentioned by others in this thread. It's not all about buzzwords and gadgets and trends, it's also about the people inhibiting the worlds he conjures up in his writing.

I find that the discussion around the Transistion Towns movement are more about quality of life and building a community in the near post-oil, climate-change type future. And it's a genuine movement, which means action in addition to discussion, and framed in an optimistic mood.
posted by Harald74 at 4:55 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]



Bruce Sterling:

"Everybody who should have been down at the mall last Christmas stocking up at the
Sharper Image is ruined, corrupted, prostituted, miserable, or a hysterical librarian."

As a librarian, it is nice to see the profession rhetorically lumped together with "the Ruined", "the Corrupt", "the Prostitutes", and "the Miserable".

Bruce Sterling, proving once again that is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
posted by mfoight at 5:41 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay: given what you know now about the present, tell me what you
oughta tell him about 2010, back in 1974. Use words of one syllable, so
he doesn't have a stroke.


There's a great future in plastics.
posted by Forktine at 5:50 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


A few of the Ivies have gone "debt free" for middle class (and poorer) students; I think Harvard caps family contributions for anyone under $180,000, which is a pretty broad concept of "middle class."

Harvard provides "free rides" to students who come from families with incomes below $60,000.
"In December 2007, Harvard introduced a new financial aid plan that dramatically reduces the amount families with incomes below $180,000 are expected to pay. Families with incomes above $120,000 and below $180,000 with assets typical for these income levels are asked to contribute 10 percent of their incomes. For those families with incomes below $120,000, the parent contribution declines steadily from 10 percent, reaching zero for those with incomes at $60,000 and below."
There has been an ongoing discussion at Harvard about adopting a "tuition-free model" for all students: Why Can't Harvard Be Free?
posted by ericb at 6:39 AM on January 7, 2010


I enjoyed portions of The Katydids, and there is some crazy-interesting stuff in there, but as a piece of science fiction with a plot, characters, etc. it didn't make me weep with joy.

On the other hand, I've gotten to the point where I start dreading the appearance of anyone I really like on metafilter, for fear they will fall prey to the snark hounds.
posted by mecran01 at 7:06 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Remember, folks, this is The WELL. By definition, conversations taking place there are self-aggrandizing technohippies and Mondo 2000 washouts worshiping their gods while refusing to understand the technologies they fetishize. The conversation hasn't changed since the 80s and 90s, except it has less hazy bloviating John "Lyricist for the Dead" Parry "Lyricist for the Dead" Barlow, Lyricist for the Dead.

It's like Usenet for a generation of people who are permanently future shocked. Like or dislike Sterling, keep in mind the venue he's playing and who the audience is: 50-something and 60-something white males with money who have read a few magazine articles about technology and like to make big pronouncements about how it all fits together.
posted by majick at 7:13 AM on January 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Last Spring, Sterling did a stint as editor on Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools. It did not please the regulars there. This is a product review Sterling chose to publish. The comments display the disapprobation for the editorial decision; scroll down to comment #76 for Sterling's reaction, which includes these prophetic words: "This is a marathon, not a sprint," along with a lot of very poorly-aimed condescension. In Kelly's words, it "did not work out." After about a week, Sterling was Cool Tool history.

That was my first exposure to the guy. This post is the second. Now I'm done; I need no more BS in my life.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:54 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just noticed that the conversation is actually FOUR PAGES LONG. Seriously, The Well has paginated threads. This is why we're better than them.

That said, could we get a STATE OF THE METAFILTER Podcast please?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:03 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: self-aggrandizing technohippies and Mondo 2000 washouts
posted by hippybear at 8:11 AM on January 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


That was my first exposure to the guy.

Holy mackerel, I remember that review but somehow managed to skip the comment thread below. Just perused them now, and...just, wow.
posted by jquinby at 8:23 AM on January 7, 2010


I didn't get the 'hysterical librarian' part. Hysterical because of e-books? Hardly.
posted by codacorolla at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2010


jquinby: Buy and hold IBM."

Just at a quick glance, the S&P 500 and Dow both seem to have done better, 1977-present., which is as far back as Google goes. Although admittedly that's just share price, and doesn't take into consideration total rate of return including dividends, assuming you had them reinvested. (It seems like there ought to be a calculator where you could just plug in the buy date and it would figure this out for you, but Google and Yahoo both don't seem to do it.) Maybe IBM does better when you factor them in, but I find it hard to believe based on how poorly they were doing throughout much of the late PC era.

Microsoft, by contrast, is up 20,000% from it was in 1987; if you had a time machine that would probably be the thing to buy. You'd net 40,000% if you knew to sell back in 2000. (And then you'd want to buy Apple, and make an additional 600%. Of course by that point, you'd probably be so rich you'd be distorting the market by throwing your money around.)

But without market timing, which is a bit silly since it was totally unpredictable ("Microsoft in 1987" might as well be a string of lottery numbers), a low-cost index fund buy-and-hold strategy would have worked fairly well. Apparently, the long-term real (inflation-adjusted) rate of return on the Dow has been about 1.6-2%.

Beats telling him "plastics", I guess.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2010


Microsoft, by contrast, is up 20,000%...

"Microsoft" has three syllables.
posted by jquinby at 8:56 AM on January 7, 2010


...but then, technically, so does "IBM". Still, this was supposed to be in '73 or '74.
posted by jquinby at 8:58 AM on January 7, 2010


Use words of one syllable, so he doesn't have a stroke.

i did except for "noses" - then dad had my mom wash my mouth out with lifebuoy
posted by pyramid termite at 9:04 AM on January 7, 2010


He is so much much nicer, more laid back, with no sense of entitlement or whatever implied by this state of the world conversation

Very cool. Thanks.
posted by madajb at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2010


I think Metafilter has it's humour detection switched to OFF currently.
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


* twitch *
posted by jessamyn at 9:56 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


jquinby: "Still, this was supposed to be in '73 or '74."

True. Of course, the more I think about it, and think about what my father was up to at the time, the less practical it would have been — buying stocks as a small investor was far more complicated at the time. You couldn't just fire up eTrade and dump in a thousand bucks and start buying stuff. I believe Vanguard was started around that time as a sort of mail-order brokerage, but I have no idea how easy it was for a non-financially-savvy person to use.

At any rate, if I did have the ability to spend ten seconds with my own father in early 1973, the advice I'd give wouldn't be financial. I know exactly what it would be: "buy the damn Corvette or you'll regret it for the rest of your life."

Still doesn't help answer Doctorow's question much.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2010


As a librarian, it is nice to see the profession rhetorically lumped together with "the Ruined", "the Corrupt", "the Prostitutes", and "the Miserable."

I didn't get the 'hysterical librarian' part. Hysterical because of e-books? Hardly.

To put the "hysterical librarian" bit in context:
So we've ended up with our current "It's a Wonderful Life" Pottersville, where Rupert Murdoch plays our Mr Potter. Everybody who should have been down at the mall last Christmas stocking up at the Sharper Image is ruined, corrupted, prostituted, miserable, or a hysterical librarian.
Sterling's making an extended reference to the alternate universe sequence in It's a Wonderful Life. "Pottersville" is the neon-drenched skid row that the hero's hometown would have become if it had fallen under the unchecked influence of Mr. Potter, the local plutocrat, and it's populated by the jerks and losers that the hero's friends would have become if they'd never known his moral example. The amiable patrolman's now a trigger-happy, growling enforcer; the town flirt is now the town whore; the hero's eccentric uncle has been committed to an asylum; and his vivacious, homemaker wife is now - gasp! - an "old maid" and a librarian.

Sterling adds in "hysterical librarian" because it sharpens the reference, not because it's pertinent to his larger point, that economic breakdown has shunted us all through the looking glass into a world in which everyone is drabber and pettier than they used to be. I don't think a librarian's a drab thing to be, myself, but the responsibility for that idea lies more with Capra than Sterling.
posted by Iridic at 10:05 AM on January 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I loved Distraction and Zeitgeist to bits, and admire them as much as I do the best of Sterling's short fiction. (His other novels, whatever flaws they may have, tend to have at least something interesting that sticks with me, which puts them ahead of most novels I read.)
posted by Zed at 10:08 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think a librarian's a drab thing to be, myself, but the responsibility for that idea lies more with Capra than Sterling.

Well, to be fair, at that instant in the movie, she had just had a complete stranger who seemed to border on being a madman come up to her knowing her name, insist that they were married, and being to physically accost her. I'm pretty certain that would invoke a hysterical reaction from nearly anyone. The trope of the old maid librarian is a bit tired, but certainly isn't uncommon in cinema.
posted by hippybear at 10:13 AM on January 7, 2010


Hate to be the grammar pedant...

...but it's not just that there simply isn't another word meaning enormity (as in "the enormity of his crimes demands a stiff sentence") and that there are tons of words meaning "great size" - even just "size" in many cases, or greatness, vastness, immensity, breadth...

In the example, "I think about the enormity of fatherhood," if you replace enormity with one of those words ("I think about the hugeness of fatherhood"), you can see the other flaw in the sentence - attributing either a literal or figurative size to an abstract noun like fatherhood is basically meaningless, as almost all abstract nouns ("liberty", "atomic physics") are "huge" in that sense.

What I believe he means is, "I think about how large a task/responsibility/worry/problem fatherhood is." Using the obscure word allowed Doctorow to get away with wooly thinking...

(Disclaimer: I've liked a lot of Cory Doctorow's writing!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2010


This is a product review Sterling chose to publish.

Oh my God.
posted by Ratio at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2010


Thanks Iridic. I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life, and just sort of guessed at the context of the "Potterville" metaphor.
posted by codacorolla at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2010


I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life

First I find out that the Gulf Stream has fucked off to Greenland, and now this? IT'S THE APOCALYPSE!

...must find the thread with the wonderful Potterville discussion...
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was my first post on MeFi, even though I've been reading MeFi for years.

For the record, I've been a member of The WELL since 1986, am not in my 50s or 60s and have never been a hippie or a Mondo 2000 reader (frankly I could never stand that publication and felt sad for the trees that had to be cut down to provide the paper for it). If all you know of The WELL is hearsay, or, for example, WIRED's cover story from a decade ago, then you don't know squat about the WELL. It was and is just a conferencing system like MeFi or anywhere else, with lots of conversations going on on subjects as varied as one finds on MeFi, with hipsters and curmudgeons and fiery personalities galore, some of whom get along fine with each other and some of whom can't stand each other. It's no big deal.

Bruce's State of the World interviews should be viewed at least a little bit (well, ok, maybe a significant amount) as Performance Art: it's Bruce Sterling playing his favorite role, Bruce Sterling. Sometimes he can be full of it, for sure. And this time around he makes some humorous blunders, such as going on and on about Io being a moon of Saturn. But in general I find him less full of it than most people, and for that I value his insights. I am glad he is out there making observations on the world, network culture, media, governments, industry, fashion, design, and technology.
posted by brianstorms at 10:29 AM on January 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, I wouldn't worry, there's just particular modes of discourse that provoke a knee-jerk snark reaction around here.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


drjimmy11 : I can't even understand that webpage. It says things like "permalink #2 of 87" in a stupid courier font and then there's a bunch of text inside asterisks

Thank you for admitting that - I felt a tad stupid trying to read it and totally failing to latch on to any cohesive elements. A paragraph here and there that made me start to think, "Hell yeah!"... Which would then just abruptly drop off to the next bulletted tangent.

And I like Sterling, really... I saw this link and felt excited to read it... Then the page loaded.

Did he mean it as a dialogue of which we don't see the other side? Answers to random unseen questions? Did he, Hera forbid, actually think that reads as some sort of coherent whole? The first blob of text on that page describes it as an interview, with a co-host even, but somehow I just can't parse that as a transcript of two or three humans actually discussing something with one another.


And for the strangely large number of librarians on MeFi, I strongly disagree with his inexplicable dislike for your profession - Carry on the good work, folks!
posted by pla at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2010


Got up to this point and stopped. I love these threads and really think Sterling has a really awesome grasp on the zeitgeist of the edges of the Western world and all the things it is buttressed up against.

Just thought I'd say that now, and then read more comments.
posted by daq at 12:06 PM on January 7, 2010


The WELL: "YOYOW - You Own Your Own Words."
posted by ericb at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2010


See above Re: Potterville.

I am again shocked at the number of people who apparently have seen It's A Wonderful Life less than the required number of times*.


* Roughly equal to age in years minus three.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2010


brianstorms: “Bruce's State of the World interviews should be viewed at least a little bit (well, ok, maybe a significant amount) as Performance Art: it's Bruce Sterling playing his favorite role, Bruce Sterling. Sometimes he can be full of it, for sure. And this time around he makes some humorous blunders, such as going on and on about Io being a moon of Saturn. But in general I find him less full of it than most people, and for that I value his insights. I am glad he is out there making observations on the world, network culture, media, governments, industry, fashion, design, and technology.”

It was actually a great post. I think we on Metafilter are so used to skipping past the framing to the links, and trying to frame them ourselves, that we totally missed what was right there in front of us: that you actually framed the article perfectly, pointing out the wryness of Sterling's approach to the whole thing and the sort of breathless silliness he was responding through throughout. Thanks for it; I really liked it, my ire above notwithstanding.

Regarding the derail concerning enormity— "enormity" has always meant "bigness" to me, nothing more, so I was confused to see people indicating it meant "evil." The word's clearly derived from the word "enormous." However, checking around at various dictionaries, I was interested to notice that it apparently does imply evil. But what's interesting is that it's sort of a provinciality of modernity to act huffy about enormity being required to mean evil, since for hundreds of years enormity really did just mean bigness, and only very recently has the meaning changed to include evil. I quote the venerable Language Log:
Enormity. The OED agrees that the use of enormity to mean "bigness" -- its sense 3, which it glosses as "[e]xcess in magnitude; hugeness, vastness" -- is obsolete, and its citations for that sense are all from the late 18th or early 19th century:
1792 Munchhausen's Trav. xxii. 93 A worm of proportionable enormity had bored a hole in the shell. 1802 HOWARD in Phil. Trans. XCII. 204 Notwithstanding the enormity of its bulk. 1830 Fraser's Mag. I. 752 Of the properties of the Peak of Teneriffe accounts are extant which describe its enormity.
But if enormity could mean "enormousness" in 1830, who's to say that we have to hold the line "until the end of time" against the return of that sense?
So, to the contrary of those who seem to think that the use of "enormity" to mean "bigness" is just a silly misconception, it's actually an anachronism, an old understanding of the word that probably comes from reading too many old books. I have a feeling that those who get puffed up about the word are under the mistaken impression that we don't know where it comes from. All this in spite of my reluctance to defend Mr Doctorow.
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sterling can also be a fantastic essay writer. His essays for Catscan and F&SF contain some real gems such as the ones about Stanislaw Lem, the history of MRI scanners, and the death of the Superconducting Supercollider.
posted by straight at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This enormity = evil thing is a new one on me. Is it an American thing?
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2010


Also, the amount of snark and "he's a doodyhead" in this thread really makes me wonder what the fuck is wrong with a lot of people. I mean, I guess it goes with the territory that Sterling, Ellis, Gibson, and hell, even Stephenson all write with a particular style that uses a shit ton of popular and obscure cultural references that require a great deal of parsing and sometimes even research to be totally familiar with what they are trying to say. Yes, it's quite pompous sounding when half of what you are reading goes flying over your head (like most of his response to Cory Doctorow, which was full of many references to things that the two of them probably have personal references and meaning for, that don't translate into something the general public is even going to be able to follow, let alone understand. It's like when my friend and I look at each other and say "Marklar". Yes, it's a South Park reference. But between the two of us, it goes way beyond the Smurf joke).

I do think that it is very interesting that a lot of what he points out in his so egregious (/sarcasm) generalizations about the state of the world today, is that a lot of the things you see in the headlines about these places he's describing are straight out of fucking cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi books from 2 decades ago. This is one of the reasons why so many people ask authors like Sterling and Gibson and Stephenson what they think of the current state of the world and where they think we are headed. They've gotten it fucking right on so many things. And some of it was a fucking joke when they wrote it. They tried to think of the most fucked up thing that could happen in the future and put it in a story. And then if actually happened and they were left looking like an oracle when really all they did was use their imagination and a little observation to see that the world of the future is much like the world of today, only with a lot less of the nice shiny gleam that we were raised on in our sheltered pasts.

I'm going on, I know, but oh well.
posted by daq at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


jquinby: “‘Microsoft’ has three syllables... but then, technically, so does ‘IBM’.”

Maybe the way you say it
posted by koeselitz at 1:00 PM on January 7, 2010


This enormity = evil thing is a new one on me. Is it an American thing?

It's a pedant who likes reading usage guides and dictionaries (like, say, me) thing. Most Americans would be surprised to hear that "enormity" had any meaning besides bigness.
posted by Zed at 1:01 PM on January 7, 2010


Let's imagine you're three years old again. You want to give your Dad, back in 1974, a coherent picture of what 2010 looks like. You know, something very actionable, lucid and practical, where he can just slap the cash on the counter and everything works out great for the family. Okay: given what you know now about the present, tell me what you oughta tell him about 2010, back in 1974. Use words of one syllable, so he doesn't have a stroke.

"Put as much cash as you can in a West Coat house, then buy more, then sell them all by the year 2004."
posted by mrgrimm at 1:22 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen any Scrooge-like spoilsport remarking on the prospect that the twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes.

Huh. I've been saying that to everyone I know. If you think 2000-2009 was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know anything about this Bruce Sterling character because I refuse flatly to read any of this cyberpunk trash - even William Gibson generally writes shit, honestly - but the general tenor of this stuff just seems so ridiculous and weirdly modernist to me.

"and what's with those "punk rockers," huh? I like a good dog collar as much as the next guy... ON MY DOG. and if you've got that many piercings, you're just asking for it to get caught on something, I'm just sayin'. I swear, that punk music is just noise and they can't even play their instruments well."

honestly, I think all metafilter threads would be better if they were just rehashed arguments from 1982. since we're trashing on cyberpunk, I'd also like to talk shit about car phones, snap bracelets and troll dolls.
posted by shmegegge at 2:06 PM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


mrgrimm: “Huh. I've been saying that to everyone I know. If you think 2000-2009 was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.”

Well, mrgrimm, he must have just skimmed over your Twitter feed without noticing it.

shmegegge: “honestly, I think all metafilter threads would be better if they were just rehashed arguments from 1982. since we're trashing on cyberpunk, I'd also like to talk shit about car phones, snap bracelets and troll dolls.”

Well, yeah, honestly, mine wasn't exactly an insight for the ages. More intended just as a warning shot over the bow of the overexcited, unquestioning hypergeeks that wrote that article; Bruce Sterling and William Gibson (still can't stand his writing, but no big deal) would probably read it and laugh, and I wouldn't really mind that, as I'm aiming a little lower than them.

I mean, come on. I've already mentioned this, but I still can't get over the fact that the interviewer is described as
... an Internet pioneer and thought leader immersed in contemporary social technologies, with expertise in digital communication and collaboration.
This bit just screams "I love fetishizing everything and making it sound fancy." These are the people Woody Allen was talking about in that bit about Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall. Wow, he's "immersed in contemporary social technologies, with expertise in digital communication and collaboration?" You mean he does Facebook, Twitter, and a blog, and he knows how to do italics with HTML? Skippety doodah, let's paint the town red! Of course, to be charitable, maybe that really was just copied straight from a resume; I sure hope so.
posted by koeselitz at 2:36 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seriously, koeselitz, your anti-this-post ranting is beginning to get a bit over the top. I mean, I get that you don't place any stock in anything that anyone involved with this particular Well interview has to share, but your stance is more uninformed than cogent.

Jon Kebkowsky (the interviewer) has been active with online living in a variety of forms since you were in diapers, and he's been active in reflecting on and critiquing aspects of the internet for at least 20 years, if not longer. He's been active in EFF and helped found a couple of different conferences, and he does a lot of consulting for various firms about online matters and has done for decades.

This isn't some child who just learned how to use a web browser and is all agog with the mystery of it all. He's an elder in the online community, and while he may not have your respect, he should get more credit than you are giving him.
posted by hippybear at 2:56 PM on January 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


What gets me is how so unbearably depressing all this is. I like Sterling as an author, but even his quotes on hope seem, well, hopeless.

Is there anything positive we can look forward to over the upcoming years?
posted by Blackanvil at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2010


Is there anything positive we can look forward to over the upcoming years?

Yes. Yes there is.
posted by jquinby at 3:19 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't some child who just learned how to use a web browser and is all agog with the mystery of it all. He's an elder in the online community, and while he may not have your respect, he should get more credit than you are giving him.

I don't see where being one of the first bloggers, etc, gives him any special claim to all that much credit, and he's going to get docked points for being a self-described "Internet pioneer and thought leader." Vint Cerf is an Internet pioneer. Jon is no Vint Cerf.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:20 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a high school and beginning college social outcast, there were two books that completely changed my life. They gave me the idea that science and computers were interesting, not a booby prize for pariahs. The first one was Neuromancer by William Gibson. The second was Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling.

That is what this man some of you are belittling has done. He has changed people's lives. What have you done?
posted by bukvich at 3:49 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


As for infants in the 1970s predicting the stock market:
They did!

It's just obtuse grown-ups (self-included) who didn't realize that gurgled
"Eee bay goo gull ya hoo"
were not mere baby-noises but invaluable investment advice.
posted by hexatron at 4:11 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I so, so wish I had the gumption to take my twenty-odd years of continuous networked social media presence and spin it into an income stream.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on January 7, 2010


hippybear: “Jon Kebkowsky (the interviewer) has been active with online living in a variety of forms since you were in diapers, and he's been active in reflecting on and critiquing aspects of the internet for at least 20 years, if not longer. He's been active in EFF and helped found a couple of different conferences, and he does a lot of consulting for various firms about online matters and has done for decades.”

Hey, I was pretty sure he didn't write the description himself. No offense to him intended. And you might want to scroll up to the part where I said I thought this was a great post.
posted by koeselitz at 7:24 PM on January 7, 2010


He has changed people's lives.

Yeah, well, so did Hitler! So THERE
posted by Ratio at 9:09 PM on January 7, 2010


Ready to get your mind blown? Seriously? ... ready?

We all change people's lives.

Whoa.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:31 AM on January 8, 2010


Ready to get your mind blown? Seriously? ... ready?

We all change people's lives.

Whoa.


In fact, if you get really really despondent and think about throwing yourself off of a bridge, an incompetent angel who still hasn't gained in rank will come and show you exactly what sort of effect you've had on the lives of others.

I don't remember where I got that. Some History Channel documentary, I think. I'm pretty sure it's true, they run it over and over.
posted by hippybear at 11:27 AM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


All I remember about that History Channel documentary is it's FROTHING HATE FOR LIBRARIANS.
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


hippybear: “In fact, if you get really really despondent and think about throwing yourself off of a bridge, an incompetent angel who still hasn't gained in rank will come and show you exactly what sort of effect you've had on the lives of others. I don't remember where I got that. Some History Channel documentary, I think. I'm pretty sure it's true, they run it over and over.”

Actually, speaking of media, I'll bet you got it from Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie's brilliantly biting satirical sketch, "It's A Soaraway Life," in which an angel shows Mr Rupert Murdoch how really wonderful the world would be if he'd never existed.
posted by koeselitz at 5:46 PM on January 9, 2010


"Jesus mothering ass, where the hell are all the tits? ... Get me the cock out of here!"
posted by koeselitz at 6:40 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


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