The Null Device
The State of the World 2009
Texan Cyberpunk sci-fi author turned father of the Viridian pro-green design/technology movement turned Belgrade-based design theorist Bruce Sterling gives his annual state-of-the-world address to the Inkwell forum
. It's focussed mostly on the economic cataclysm in progress, and it's full of the sorts of apposite powder-dry black humour you'd expect from him:
Do we HAVE to talk about the economy this year? I'm wondering what
conceivable event could overshadow the fiscal crisis. Maybe a cozy
little nuclear war? An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably
take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis.
I'm a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything
"financially sound" in my entire adult life. Last year was the first
year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people.
Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the
underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent
If the straights were not "prone to hostility" before that experience,
they might well be so after it, because they've got a new host of
excellent reasons. The sheer galling come-down of watching the Bottom
Line, the Almighty Dollar, revealed as a papier-mache pinata. It's
like somebody burned their church.
After indulging in terriblisma
for a while, Sterling turns his attention to Dmitry Orlov's prediction of the US disintegrating, and ideas for a "new localism" that might arise in the event of catastrophic collapse:
In any case, after eight glum years of watching Bush and his neocons
methodically wreck the Republic, both Kunstler and Robb have gotten
really big on American localism -- "resilient" localism. Kunstler has
this painterly, small-town-America, Thoreauvian thing going on, kinda
locavore voluntary simplicity, with lots of time for... I dunno, group
chorale singing. Kunstler seems kinda hung up on the singing effort,
somehow... Whereas Robb has a military background and is more into a
gated-community, bug-out-bag, militia rapid-response thing.
Certainly neither of these American visions look anything like what
happened to Russia. As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian
collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you
were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive
opportunities, so they were the ones getting by.
So the model polity for local urban resilience isn't Russia. I'm
inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous
Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year
Meanwhile, Clay Shirky gives his predictions for 2009
. Whether or not we're all toast, a lot of the old media, such as newspapers, seem to be:
The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It's like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union - nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.
Why pay for it at all? The steady loss of advertising revenue, accelerated by the recession, has normalised the idea that it's acceptable to move to the web. Even if we have the shallowest recession and advertising comes back as it inevitably does, more of it will go to the web. I think that's it for newspapers. What we saw happen to the Christian Science Monitor [the international paper shifted its daily news operation online] is going to happen three or four dozen times (globally) in the next year. The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press - high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication - is over. But will the New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.
Shirky's not one for terriblisma, so not much about social collapse, cannibalism or killer caravans marauding the post-apocalyptic landscape there. For that, you'll have to read Charlie Brooker's column
Dim your lights. Here's the highlights reel. The worst recession in 60 years. Broken windows and artless graffiti. Howling winds blowing empty cans past boarded-up shopfronts. Feral children eating sloppy handfuls of decomposed-pigeon-and-baked-bean mulch scraped from the bottom of dustbins in a desperate bid to survive. The pound worth less than the acorn. The City worth less than the pound. Your house worth so little it'll collapse out of shame, crushing you in your bed. Not that you'll die peacefully in your sleep - no, you'll be wide awake with fear, worrying about the situation in the Middle East at the precise moment a chunk of ceiling plaster the size of a flagstone tumbles from on high to flatten your skull like a biscuit under a shoe, sending your brain twizzling out of your earholes like pink-grey toothpaste squeezed from a tube. All those language skills and precious memories splattered over your pillows. It'll ruin the bedclothes. And instead of buying expensive new ones, your grieving, impoverished relatives will have to handwash those bedclothes in cold water for six hours to shift the most upsetting stains before passing them down to your orphaned offspring, who are fated to sleep on them in a disused underground station for the rest of their lives, shivering in the dark as they hear bombs dipped in bird flu dropping on the shattered remains of the desiccated city above.
There are no comments yet on "The State of the World 2009"