SXSWi: Bruce Sterling's SXSW Rant

Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant
Bruce Sterling, Visionary in Residence,
Bruce’s blog

My thoughts before the text: A great rant. Do catch this podcast. Open, honest critique of problems with the Internet as well as celebration of potential.

Video is the stupidest medium. TV is the wasteland.

Viacom sued Google today for $1 billion. It’s old media vs. new media. We’ll see how this plays out.

I remember when people were saying the Internet would grow up and be more like TV. That is not it, broadband has beaten everything, it is just so much more.

The Internet Generation cares nothing about proprietary media. Time is not on the side of the giants.

Jokai Benkler, Henry Jenikns are some of the big thinkers right now. (I wrote on them yesterday)

Lev ManovichSoft Cinema

These three guys are coming from three angles at this and they are like the acceptable face of Richard Stallman. Stallman is radical and you can’t introduce to mass media. Benkler, Manovich and Jenkins have the diction to spread the right messages into the establishment.

I was using Google and I realized that information was free. Information wants to be free. This device was delivering a torrent of the most arcane stuff imaginable for no cost. You put Google and YouTube together and it is game over for the 80’s. It is done, there is no area of struggle.

We have the first world: the global market – build it in China, ship it to Utah
Second world: governments – local, UN, state
Third world: common space peer production
Fourth world: disorder – parts of the world where they don’t have any of this

In 10 years this might be quite a bit more obvious

Journalists worry about things like Craigslist. If Craig were a mogul people would understand that. He isn’t trying to be that. He just wanted 200 million friends. He gutted major media outlets and isn’t making any money. We have more readership than ever but no classifieds means no money.

There are downsides to this. The golden opportunity is oversold. It is a new world of laptop gypsies instead of solid professionals. Jenkins is enamored by fandom, I think a lot of fandom stuff is crap – repurposing Harry Potter characters because you don’t have the literary creativity to come up something is ridiculously.

Mashups are novelty music. They won’t be around in 10 years. To pretend like that is creative work is wrong. It is powerful, but not good. It isn’t good music.

In a contemporary Hollywood product every frame is touched by a compositor it means that everyone who can afford the machine (and it is getting cheaper) everyone will be able to create that type of product.

Yes, the broadband is growing. Things are getting faster all the time. That doesn’t mean that we are becoming better artists.

If you have a CusinArt you think everything should go through the chopper blades. Because we have new media products we think everything should be presented that way. The mere fact that it is technically possible doesn’t mean it is better.

DeviantArt is not great. Electronic Art isn’t great. It is interesting, some of it, but no great art there. DeviantArt isn’t even that deviant. It is folk culture. I am not an elitist, but folk culture is for hicks. Hicks are fine, they are there and are good.

We need to eliminate film studies, media studies and we need to come up with ways of analyzing new realities. We need real academics. To valorize them because they are shiny is the electronic hick. It is cool and I couldn’t do it before so it must be good. No.

55 million blogs, so some must be good. Well no, some must be good blogs, but we don’t even know what blogs are yet. I doubt in 10 years if anyone will even use that term. t is hard to find a blog that will make you cry or has the effect of fine art. Now embedded video, words, Flickr set, Digg this: we don’t have a vocabulary for describing this yet. Sort f magazine analysis: nice writing, good typeface, good photo, etc, but that doesn’t express it. We don’t have web analysis skills yet.

I am very suspicious of any internet item that is about turning on the information factory and leaving the room. It is not a mode of self expression, it is machine expression.

95% of the net is spam. Imagine if you turned on the TV and immediately someone tried to rob you or you go to the movie theater and they pick your pocket.

Reed Hundt (his blog),former head of FCC, has this weary look on his face. To say he is disenchanted doesn’t begin to express it. He was involved in spectrum auction. He came up with mad scheme to sell 700mHz spectrum to coalition of police, emergency service providers. He wants to take a couple channels from broadcast TV. Broadcast TV debases even the poverty-stricken people who watch it. It was bad before American Idol. Broadcast television is an archaism. You can take that spectrum and put the Internet on them. Put the Internet over TV and saturate TV areas with broadband. Should that happen, so many borders between media would erase. Phone or TV or Internet would all just use what was there. Look at his website. It is paralyzingly dull, but it is important. Go give him some Neem social networking crap, I don’t care. Give us some damn broadband. Pry it out of the hands of the aging, useless broadcasters.

Benkler – how do you build the third type of thing with collective intelligence. You don’t just open a website to comments. You have to engineer it with thought and care. Socially-motivated, commons-based peer production, here’s how:

First, divvy up the work (you’re not paying and you can’t draft). It has to be granular, modular and integrateable. Even if I do it for 5 minutes I will do it good. 5 minutes or 500 minutes both move it positive direction (granular). Modular – has to be broken up into small pieces. Integrateable – has to have broad social impact, has to be useful.

Self-selected: people are choosing to join you. You have to have a selection process. Then you need an in or out mechanism. In or out membrane of participation.

Communication: need to have platform to talk but not kill each other

Humanization: I don’t believe in this so not covering it

Trust construction: teach people how to trust each other

Norm creation: assembling all these people, they are trying to figure out how to fit in. People have to be acculturated into the space. What’s normal behavior here?

Transparency: how do you stay transparent. When it is small it is obvious. When it is hundreds of thousands of people it becomes an organizational problem.

Monitoring: you actually need a police force (Benkler doesn’t say this). Someone has to watch it all the time. Then who monitors the monitor. State has this problem, common space has this problem. A human difficulty.

Peer review: the people in the group need to know who is good at it.

Discipline: when it is not coming down from powers on high, this is a tough one.

Fairness: Marxist analysts are upset about web 2.0. radically upset about MySpace. A giant machine for teaching false consciousness, teeneagers are roped in and forced to work for nothing and forward Rupert Murdoch’s right wing war against the world.

I don’t think this is a blip. Former professional are being erased by things on the net. Nice, put-your-kids-through-college jobs are melting.

Institutional sustainability: I don’t know how long things like Slashdot can exist. Digg, Redditt and others are eating their lunch. They threw it out there like chum and saw what happened. There was no future plan, no board of directors. I don’t know what sustainability looks like here, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Al Qaeda is the #1 socially-motivated, commons-based peer production has solved almost all of this. Sustainability? You can’t kill them, more just come up in their place. They are existence proof of this form of organization. KKK, 4th generation warfare groups are good examples.

Benkler: in order to make this work we need to understand the computers are platforms for self-expression rather than well-behaved appliances. Computers stink as appliances: they are hard to use, they change a lot, painful to use, steep learning curve, highly innovative. When you see an appliance it probably kills commons-based peer production. When something barely works (like Ubuntu) it is probably a place for self-expression and peer production.

Benkler put his PDF all over the web, don’t have to pay for it. Then he opened a wiki to explore all the legal, ethical, etc implications. There is nobody there. It is easy to open a wiki and easy to post, but it is not easy to be as smart as Yokai Benkler. He feels like there must be thousands of people to advance his brilliant forward thinking concepts and there just isn’t. Go into any left wing blog and see thousands of people agreeing and saying stuff. There may be two or three people in this room that might be able to help this guy. I can’t engage in a conversation that might help this guy – he is out of my league. If you are in his league you ought to go help him.

Eastern European poet: Cheslav Milosh, Polish communist dissident who got chased out of Poland. He really paid some dues. He wrote it in Berkely because Californians offered him shelter, then became a prof, married a California. A poem about serenity and a sense of fulfillment.
“Gift” – I didn’t transcribe the poem, and I can’t find it online, but in my humble opinion, it wasn’t that central to his talk. Catch it on the podcast. Oh yeah, and I couldn’t find it on Google.

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.