(2009-06-30) Sterling Reboot

Bruce Sterling gave the closing talk at Reboot-11.

So now I’m going to describe a futurist quadrant for the twenty-teens. Except I wouldn’t call it a futurist quadrant, I would now call it a “strategic forecasting quadrant,” because that’s what futurists call themselves when they’re no longer allowed to be futurists. Then they become strategic forecasters. So here’s your strategic forecasting quadrant. We’re dividing the future up into four interest groups, four possible worlds.

  • Number one, quadrant number one, “crisis capitalism for ageing baby boomers”.

  • Quadrant number two, “brics.” BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India, China. You write Russia out of there if you don’t like oil. Brazil, India, China. The emerging states, emerging to nowhere. The developing countries, developing in no direction in particular. Sopping up other people’s technology, they’re globalizing, they’re not progressing, they’re not developing, they’re just globalizing.

  • Shock of the old. Fundamentalists are in that quarter. Christian fundies, Islamic fundies. You put them in power, they never do anything. Nothing happens, they have no policy. They don’t improve anything, they don’t change the structure of society in any way except ruin whatever is left of the economy and politics.

  • “Reboot in power”. What’s it look like, Reboot in power? GenX-ers actually running things, sort of. What is the cultural temperament of this era? Well, I think it’s got a good two-word summary: “DarkEuphoria.”.. It comes in two flavours. Top end and low end... The top end we can describe as “GothicHighTech”... What is the downside, what’s the other side of this? The flip-side of Gothic High-Tech is downmarket, and it’s called “FavelaChic.”.. Every slogan you have here, practically every slogan fits perfectly in a favela.

Okay, I want to offer you a general principle here. For a Gothic generation like yours, this is going to be painful for you. I mean, really a cognitive upset. “Stop Acting Dead.” Now, you think that acting dead is a virtue. Because you’ve been trained to behave as is if you were dead for a long time, and it actually appeals to your temperament as a generation. It’s your default position. But you have to stop it. Because Hairshirt Green, which is most of the things that you had on your action list there, Hairshirt Green just changes the polarity of the twentieth century. It’s just the opposite of consumer culture. It’s like Satanism for a consumer culture. And all Satanists are actually Christians. It’s not really a different way to live. And it’s not something that’s going to fulfil you... Now, how do you know if you’re acting dead? Well, there’s a test for this. It’s the Great-Grandfather Principle. You’re saying: I’m going to do something morally worthwhile that’ll make me feel proud of myself. But does your dead great-grandfather do a better job of it than you?.. Okay, you should be using less power, power’s bad, you need a lower footprint. Okay, your grandfather is not using any electrical power.

Now let me explain how you can go about doing this, and it really is a different material way of life than any in the twentieth century. It’s a geek-friendly approach to consumption. It’s about objects and services. Especially objects, devices... They’re not treasures, they’re not things you want, they’re not things to stockpile, they’re not material wealth, they’re basically frozen social relationships... What you need to do is re-assess the objects in your space and time.

The king of objects, the monarch among objects are not fancy objects. They’re not high-tech objects, they’re not organic objects, they’re not biological objects, they’re everyday objects. Things that you’re with every day. (bed, chair, shoes, real underwear, cosmetics)

(After those...) Four variety of items: Beautiful things; emotionally important things; tools, devices and appliances that efficiently perform some useful function; and category four, everything else.

  • Is it so beautiful that you’re driven to exhibit it, to show it off and to share it with others? It’s not that beautiful? It’s not beautiful! Gotta go!

  • How do you know if it’s emotionally important? Are you going to tell anybody else about it? “This is your grandfather’s watch, son. He wore this, and I’ve worn it too, and it should be for you. Look at how well made it was. He carried this in battle, he fought for our freedom, look, there’s bloodstains on this watch.” Does it have a Narrative? Is there something you want to tell other people about it? (Social Object+)

  • Tools — okay, high technical standards. I don’t have to preach to you about this. Be very demanding of these tools. Do not make do with broken stuff... There’s nothing more materialistic than doing the same job five times because your tools are inferior.

    • However, you have to look out for time-sucking beta-rollout crap. Because that’s the dark side of your tool fixation... Okay, are you really “experimenting”? How do you know if you’re really experimenting? You’re working on it methodically and you’re publishing the results! It’s not an experiment if you don’t publish the results in some verifiable and falsifiable form, okay?
  • And everything else. Category four, everything else. Virtualize it, store the data, get rid of it... It’s the sort of thing you do when a spouse dies. It’s the sort of thing you do when you move to another city... It’s not going to hurt you to lose all these things. You don’t need them. After you go through this particular discipline, you will look different, you will act differently. You will become much more what you already are. (Minimalism)

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