Bruce Sterling's State of the World 2009

Over at one of the Well’s public conference topics, Bruce Sterling is doing his annual discussion on the State of the World. It’s a long read — currently three very long tediously mono-spaced pages — but worth it if you have the time.

It passes through the environment, the state of the economy, how to organise society, and more. I’ve picked out the bits that jumped struck me most…

Bruce Sterling:

Let’s just predict that in 2009 we’re gonna see a whole lot of contemporary urbanism going on. Digital cities. Cities There For You to Use. Software for cities. Googleable cities. Cities with green power campaigns. Location-aware cities. Urban co-ops. “Informal housing.” “Architecture fiction.” The ruins of the unsustainable as the new frontier.

Bruce Sterling:

When you can’t imagine how things are going to change, that doesn’t mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable.

Art Kleiner:

Peter Senge posits that the entire industrial age was a bubble, that is now collapsing…

Bruce Sterling:

I’m still interested in the networked commons. A social invention that enables social inventions.

The commons offers ways out of the glum solipsist autarchy of hippie homesteads and survivalist city-states. If you’re gonna “do it yourself” with a wireless Linux netbook, you’re not doing it Robinson Crusoe style. You’ve got the collective labor of a couple million guys there under your arm. This is not a “virtual community” WELL-style. It’s more like a huge, anonymous public infrastructure of aqueducts. But if you’re getting clean free water, why buy that bottled stuff they marketeers flew in Fiji?

It has escaped its geek ghetto. Normal people no longer apologize to their bosses for using open-source components, or for finding things out on the “unreliable” Internet.

The trend toward make-and-do labs and hacker spaces is also of keen interest to me — not just what gizmos people are designing and making, but how the infrastructure of designing and making is itself breaking up and reassembling in new component-sets.

Bruce Sterling:

Makes you wonder what the world might look like if peers building commons resources were visibly marked out, honored, publicly distinguished. Sure, you get medals, maybe a flag. People stand respectfully when you enter a bus. You wear a clerical collar. Whuffie pours out of you like manna; you have a golden glow. Traffic lights favor your vehicle. You get free pizzas.

Brian Slesinsky:

One thing to remember about today’s do-it-yourself culture is that it’s an optional supplement to industrial production. Sure, making clothes is fun sometimes for some people, but not if you have no alternative. Who wants to make their own underwear, as a regular thing?

… What seems to be happening is that making high-margin fashionable stuff (including media and software) becomes increasingly do-it-yourself but the boring stuff like basic supplies and infrastructure get manufactured cheaply by international companies at scale.

Bruce Sterling:

Everyday reality IS changing. General Motors crumbles at a touch. There are no newspapers. Gangs of terrorists fight major military powers and bankrupt them. A black guy is the US President. Ten months ago, petrocrats like Putin and Chavez were conquering the world and now they’ve got soupbowls.

We need new ways to frame what’s going on.

Bruce Sterling:

Sarkozy has hundreds of ideas. He even has maybe a dozen pretty good, unorthodox, inventive, yet practical ideas. Sarkozy’s my favorite European politician now, even though I’m certainly not “of the Right.” I frankly doubt that Sarkozy himself is “of the Right” in any ideological sense, either. Sarkozy’s a truly abnormal politician for abnormal times. In normal times he’d look pathological, but in crazy times like these, he’s like the only sane guy in our lifeboat.

Bruce Sterling (well worth reading more of this post):

…the depth of the climate crisis is very profound. It will require a lot of sacrifice from people who never expected to face that.

Starting with you. So: leave journalism. Stop preaching to the green choir. Be brave. Suffer. Leave your big green groups. Go into big business or big governance.

Real solutions to a crisis of the size of climate change can only be huge. Therefore, eventually, they will seem normal and dull. When everything is “green,” nothing is green. Heroic campaigners will have to accept the idea of becoming functionaries.

That, or stop the campaigning. Personally, I stopped the campaigning. When functionaries are required, zealots should shut up shop.

If I wanted to be politically effective, rather than visionary, I’d disguise myself as a right-wing Green, probably some kind of hunting-shooting NASCAR “conservationist,” and I’d infiltrate the Republicans this year.

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