The Boomer’s Jeremiah: Bruce Sterling, SxSW 2011

In the introduction to The Book of Jeremiah in my “Good News Bible,” the first paragraph reads:

“The prophet Jeremiah lived during the latter part of the seventh century and the first part of the sixth century BC. During his long ministry, he warned God’s people of the catastrophe that was to fall upon the nation because of their idolatry and sin. He lived to see his prediction some true with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of the city and the temple, and the exile…of many of the people. He foretold the eventual return of the people from exile and the restoration of the nation.”

For me, there is but one “must attend” session at Southby – Bruce Sterling’s closing keynote – and these are my notes. Good luck interpreting and enjoy!

(NOTE #1: that’s a 2007 picture of me chairing the closing panel of the Austin Clean Energy Summit [not SxSW] with Matthew Nordan and Bruce Sterling – fun fun fun!)

(Note #2: with any luck and if you are a literal-ist, you may be able to catch what I suspect the Southby organizers would consider a ‘bootlegged’ [does anyone even use that term anymore?] recording of the keynote, thanks to Uber Egnaro, you cagey Canadian, you!)

“I got no apps to plug, no gamification, no powerpoint”

Annual address has become a tradition; I’m old enough to be a tradition – I’m now Professor Dr. Sterling

Regardless of your personal experience, this Southby is better in every objective way than past festivals… there are bona fide science fiction writers here …and biologists 

There are people here younger than the event

Cool gatherings like Augmented Reality meet-up – loaded and hot, with people talking design fiction, like Julian Bleecker

Yes, there are concerns about SXSW cultural imperialism; to combat this, roam the world for other perspectives on ‘what’s next’ like PICNIC Amsterdam or FutureEverything in Manchester

“But, I do have a few issues…”

Political language is toxic – it has descended into polarizing brand mgmt, with which the US is afflicted with worst case in the world

We have a foot in fantasy and a toe in reality – we are chockfull of accumulating cool ideas – the new volume of World Changing 2.0 has endless ideas

What is lacking is passionate virtuosity – instead, we have what more approximates disgusted incompetence

We need political will, organizational skill… from conversations with Rudy Rucker, mathematician and friend of Sterling

If you want to see how it’s done, just observe the work of J. Craig Venter, one of this year’s speakers

Sterling: “why did he come to SXSW? Because he wants to reframe genetic engineering as 21st century synthetic biology”

He has an agent working with him, Drew Endy, who is heading a program named iGEM that is all about innovating cells with foreign DNA, but through the organizational mechanism of a high school science project

They have “left flanked” the policy makers and the usual guardians of public safety.

Read the report – The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging technologies [Warning: 3.95 Mb pdf]

Managed, via highly coordinated and benign-appearing campaign to persuade that “microbes aren’t baby seals” and, thus, there isn’t the same need to be morally outraged or gripped with the “Franken-food” fears of the 1970s/80s

In fact, so well has this worked, that Venter has managed to obtain $600 million in funding from ExxonMobil (a corporate ‘person’ that “should be imprisoned for crimes against humanity” – Sterling) towards eradicating bad CO2 in the atmosphere (a good thing!)

Venter is like Edison and Ford – a genuine force of inventive genius – would be remiss (unwise) to get in his way

Wikileaks and Anonymous – they are sock puppets 

I’d like to see you paralyze Austin, just like they did in Wisconsin – the governor there is willing to win ugly, but you don’t have to succumb to defeat

Avoid the exquisitely well-informed, helplessness fed by Google

The 15 yr olds from Cairo are the ones to watch out for – no helplessness there

God help the average Washington DC lobbyist firm if their building ever caught on fire – they’d probably issue a white paper

Taking to the streets becomes the imperative / the force of change – the people of Italy, having enough of Berlusconi, said so with “we are your wives, your sisters, your mothers”

But if Berlusconi has turned Italy into a national brothel, DC is a brothel on a continental scale

The scapegoating going on in politics is horrendous, pitting “female communist lawyers” against “treacherous teachers unions”

For those aspiring to come to our shores, imagine if the Statue of Liberty was a better reflection of society today, an obese image with a Wii exercise bat in hand instead of a torch

What we need is courage and focus and energy – only these will make a difference when then next BP-style offshore oil mess happens, preventing the pretend-like state of affairs that projected that they were doing something; when in reality they were incapable … arguing in infinite wars on abstract nouns

It’s time for youth to take over or fall victim to a decaying status quo – a Soviet-style gerontocracy… it’s inevitable; a numbers game

So, the Sterling message? “Boomers shut up – you’ve had your time”

You job is to shift to collaborative consumption; dematerialize; stop clinging to what you have; you’ve gotten top heavy with age; sure, you’ve got the votes and money; but, who is going to feed you?

“Millenials, it’s time for a general strike – move to Austin; take over the government; you can do it… there’s enough of you; I’ll vote for you; I’ll sleep on the floor with you.” 

Stop the organized deception era – rid the incompetence of the powers that be – locally and abroad

This is turning out to be a “decade of revolution”

In closing, hew your future on words like those of Giuseppe Garibaldi: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor food; I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart, and not merely with his lips, follow me.”

I missed Sterling in 2008 and 2009 due to out of town and family obligations. And, for whatever reason, 2007 and 2010 just didn’t connect with me as strongly. But, in my opinion, 2011 lived up to level of the riveting 2006 closer. Good to see you in such strong form, Professor Doctor!