SXSW: Verbatim in places, Bruce Sterling closing speech. Telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

  • SXSW 2010
    [It’s verbatim except where it’s not, which is a fair few places, and there’s holes (Brazil, Lingerie). It’s full of typos. It’s what I captured. Until we get the full length video (ppppppleasee, SXSW?) it is, I will immodestly say, the best ASCII capture I’ve seen.
    But check out the artwork.]

    I do complain, but I live in Serbia, where they are top-class complainers, so I take on protective colors.

    And I’m a futurist, which means I can predict my own complaints.

    Growing old is pleasant in many ways, and beats the alternatives.

    Kids these days” is where I jump the shark. This is probably the best behaved generation in history. Depression, two land wars, zero in the way of predictable future and they’re still confident and cheerful, and kindly. By the standards to the 20th century we shouldn’t be surprised if they were settting fire to the core of every city on the planet.

    Now to the complaints. Two big problems. A Finance crisis, and this long lasting greenhouse effect. We are networking while Rome Burns.

    Everybody thinks the world is ending because the guys at SXSW didn’t do enough about it.  I’m not sayin you should do nothing, only that saying your not doing enough is like saying barbers are not doing enough. So let’s talk about what you will actually be blamed for in the future.

    I heard say that the internet is 15 years old and hasn’t had sex yet. I think the internet is actually about 25 years old and has some grown up problems.

    I was pleased and touched by the reception that the internet critics got. But they do a disservice to Kevin Kelley, to Tim O’Reilley et al when they call them internet-promoting idealogues.  They’re not. They’re deep thinkers and much more complex than that.

    Your fate will be to be attacked by the digital natives who never knew the pre-digital times but become pre-digital nostalgists. The buzz words of today will be used as the whips and scorpions of their critique. Why did your “social media” rob us of the right to watch Gunsmoke?

    You will be attacked for demonetizing the wrong things. Reportage, for instance. Much here about the death of journalism, but how many people are paying attention to what’s happening in Juarez? People talk about the extinction of the press, the demonetizing of reportage.   In Juarez people are being shot. Twice the people we lost in 9/11. Why? Because the anti-terrorist anti-insurgency troops switched sides and decided to become a narco-terroritst régime. And something they were told was to ice the media. What conceivable moral leap is there between spectacular beheadings in Mexico and you guys? Because they are in the business of keeping Austin stoned. And this is because of an American policy to criminalize drug use with a malfunctioning drug enforcement policy that has festered for a generation and become really severe. And that’s the situation that the internet will be in a couple generations down the pike. The problems that we see today, that we have not dealt with, are going to fester and we’re going to get excoriated for them.

    You are going to have to find it in your heart to help these people. It will be your greatest moral test. Things that you didn’t plan, that you meant to plan, the tendency to treat everything as censorship and route around it, the rubber band and scotch tape mashup kludge of putting it together is going to come back to haunt you. But you have to put aside the inate conservativism about the things you did to overturn the existing order. You will say you didn’t intend it. You will say it wasn’t forseen. And that will be true. And it won’t matter. You have to be kind to your critics, and you have to help them.

    In the old days, SXSW used to be uphill with the taboggan — you had to explain what a modem was. These days you’re all heading down the slope full speed with your hands in the air.

    Moral authority based on technocracy. The small pieces loosely joined begin to rattle like bones.

    If we had it to do over the first thing we should have demonitized was food and shelter.  Imagine if the world had open source food, and shelter.

    Why is there not a single startup whose business model is communist? From each according to their ability to each according to their need, Vanguard of the revolution… how much could it hurt?

    It’s obvious what happens in a depression. Poverty!  But still I hear pundits ask  “Gee what would an extended depression where the means of production collapsed look like?”  Well it looks like Detroit.

    Or “What would an envrionmental crisis in which extreme weather events were ravishing our cities due to global warming?”  It looks like New Orleans!

    Why is there so much febrile resignation about giving up? It’s arrogant to despair. We’ve multiplied so many options we can’t even name them. Anything is possible, and that’s what gets me out of bed. Telling the truth about the future is not hard. But why would people listen, and how would they respond?

    Cassandra — the prophet who knows there will be hell to pay in the future. You rarely see someone with precognition who is having a good time. It’s always a lugubrious guy with bats flying around him. What Cassandra had to say was not a lot. I looked up Seneca, in a 1912 translation that hasn’t been retranslated since, but which has been scanned and is in Google Books. So why did Cassandra, favored by Apollo, get killed? She was a sex slave, captured by Agamemnon, put in chains, enemy alien, war booty, illegal immigrant. So that’s a disadvantaged social situation. Who she chose to talk to is also a critical error. She only talks to people she hates. So I asked what would she have done with Social Media? You know, instead of shouting at her enemy and getting beheaded what if she had gone out an mingled with the Greek population. Is there nobody who would listen to her? Who would Cassandra’s BFF be? Who’d be linkin to her all the time? Socrates. Whose line of work was asking pointed and embarassing questions, hanging out in the Agora and spreading the news of the academy under the olive groves, tweetin out truth.

    She could have walked up and said Socrates, I know everything, I just don’t know how to say it in a way the boss can hear. That could have been a beautiful relationship.

    I want to read something. Mark Twain was a high tech entrepeneur. He sunk a bunch of money in a new printing press, and he went broke. So to earn back enough money to pay back this machine that went into blue screen of death, he went out on the lecture circuit because he couldn’t make enough money with his books. Do a Willy Nelson. He didn’t write a genuinely funny book after his encounter with the day’s dot.com bust. But he could reinvent himself on paper. He enabled America to become more American. At one point he was in India. He goes out and has a human encounter with this indian.

    I was up at dawn, the next morning. In India the tourist’s servant does not sleep in a room in the hotel, but rolls himself up head and ears in his blanket and stretches himself on the veranda, across the front of his master’s door, and spends the night there. I don’t believe anybody’s servant occupies a room. Apparently, the bungalow servants sleep on the veranda; it is roomy, and goes all around the house. I speak of menservants; I saw none of the other sex. I think there are none, except child-nurses. I was up at dawn, and walked around the veranda, past the rows of sleepers. In front of one door a Hindoo servant was squatting, waiting for his master to call him. He had polished the yellow shoes and placed them by the door, and now he had nothing to do but wait. It was freezing cold, but there he was, as motionless as a sculptured image, and as patient. It troubled me. I wanted to say to him, Don’t crouch there like that and freeze; nobody requires it of you; stir around and get warm.” But I hadn’t the words. I thought of saying ‘jeldy jow’, but I couldn’t remember what it meant, so I didn’t say it. I knew another phrase, but it wouldn’t come to my mind. I moved on, purposing to dismiss him from my thoughts, but his bare legs and bare feet kept him there. They kept drawing me back from the sunny side to a point whence I could see him. At the end of an hour he had not changed his attitude in the least degree. It was a curious and impressive exhibition of meekness and patience, or fortitude or indifference, I did not know which. But it worried me, and it was spoiling my morning. In fact, it spoiled two hours of it quite thoroughly. I quitted this vicinity, then, and left him to punish himself as much as he might want to. But up to that time the man had not changed his attitude a hair. He will always remain with me, I suppose; his figure never grows vague in my memory. Whenever I read of Indian resignation, Indian patience under wrongs, hardships, and misfortunes, he comes before me. He becomes a personification, and stands for India in trouble. And for untold ages India in trouble has been pursued with the very remark which I was going to utter but didn’t, because its meaning had slipped me: Jeddy jow! (“Come, shove along!”)

    Why, it was the very thing.
    ===================

    Today, he would be sitting there in the same attitude, with a cell phone and an MP3 player. But these days the American novelist is the endangered species, and the guy he worried was going to disappear is still there, and he has a phone.

    Telling the truth is a revolutionary act. But there are only so many times and places where people can handle that. So why not right here, right now.

    One thought on “SXSW: Verbatim in places, Bruce Sterling closing speech. Telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

    1. Hey, thanks so much for these notes — sounds like a great speech! Wish I could’ve been there, though the competing panel I went to at SXSW was also good.

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