Bruce Sterling Closing Remarks - SXSW Interactive 2013
Yes, I am a Bruce Sterling fanboy. Give him about 25-30 minutes to warm up ;)
Our democracy has been hacked. American democracy has never been perfect, but more often than not, the will of the people did drive policy. Congress today is utterly incapable of passing any reform of any significance until they get permission from special interests.
Then I look over the SXSW crowd. I’ve seen a lot of them. You look pretty good, for a SXSW crowd. More foreigners around, Koreans, Germans, Britons.
Even a neighborhood from London: Hackney. I was super-impressed by that: Hackney. Hackney! That is unheard-of global ambition by a district of a town. It’s like South Austin had it’s own presence at the London Olympics.
I’m gonna take Hackney a lot more seriously from now on. Hackney is a force to be reckoned with. I’ll probably overlook their surveillance cameras, and their miserable immigration and visa policies.
Whatever happens to musicians happens to everybody. Including you.
People like to say that musicians reacted badly to the digital revolution. They put a foot wrong. What really happened is that the digital revolution reduces everybody to the state of musicians. Everybody — not just us bohemian creatives, but the military, political parties, the anchor stores in retail malls, academics subjected to massive open online courses.
It’s the same thing over and over. Basically, the only ones making money are the ones that have big, legal stone castles surrounded with all kinds of regulatory thorns. Meaning: the sickness industry, the bank gangsters, and the military contractors. Gothic High-Tech.
If more computation, and more networking, was going to make the world prosperous, we’d be living in a prosperous world. And we’re not. Obviously we’re living in a Depression.
Google already disrupted newspapers, basically destroyed ‘em single-handed. That wasn’t okay. What happened when Android disrupted Nokia, that wasn’t particularly okay.
But I’m okay with disruption. I’ve seen a lot of it, I know how it works. I’ve participated in it. I’ve personally known people who’ve benefited by it. I’ve known people who’ve suffered by it.
I have seen disruption in music, literature, the arts, entertainment publishing, the fourth estate, the military, political parties, manufacturing — pretty much everywhere except finance, health, the law, and the prison/military industry. Which is why they’ve got all the money now and the rest of us are pretty much reduced to disrupted global peons.
Computers were really, truly disruptive. Mobile devices are so radically disruptive that they even disrupted computers. They’re a bigger deal then the dead bookstores. We’ve got guys who own cell phones in this world who can’t even read.
It’s always the electronic frontier. Nobody ever goes back to look at the electronic forests that were cut down with chainsaws and tossed into the rivers.
And then there’s this empty pretense that these innovations make the world “better.” This is a dangerous word. Like: “If we’re not making the world better, then why are we doing this at all?”
Now, I don’t want to claim that this attitude is hypocritical. Because when you say a thing like that at South By: “Oh, we’re here to make the world better” — you haven’t even reached the level of hypocrisy. You’re stuck at the level of childish naivete.
The world has a tragic dimension. This world does not always get better. The world has deserts. Deserts aren’t better. People don’t always get better.
Since the financial panic of 2008, things have gotten worse across the board. The Austerity is a complete policy failure. It’s even worse then the Panic. We’re not surrounded by betterness in 2013. By practically every measure, nature is worse, culture is worse, governance is worse. The infrastructure is in visible decline. Business is worse. People are living in cardboard in Silicon Valley.
However, just because it’s interesting doesn’t mean it’s good.
the first step, really the proper step, is to accept that our hands are not clean. We don’t just play and experiment: we kill.
When you disrupt the stone box, the stone box goes empty. It’s not merely irritated or disturbed, it’s dead. It’s dead media. It’s dead, it has been killed, and to be a phoenix you have to admit your complicity in the barbecue fire.
It’s your fire, it’s not somebody else’s. Yes, we killed the past. We didn’t pull the trigger on it directly, but it died for our benefit, it died through things we did.
Own up to that. Own up to that: yes, we burned it up. No one is historically innocent. Yes, we are carnivores at this barbecue. Yes, it died, we roasted it, we ate it. And the saving grace here is we eat what we kill.
Go on, eat it. No, don’t pretend to be the child bride in white lace who thinks that babies are found under the cabbages. You’re not that young, you’re twenty-six years old. You ought to be slaughtering the hog of the twentieth century, roasting it over a bonfire. Live up to it, come on.