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The closing key-note at Reboot was given by Bruce Sterling. A great and entertaining talk, looking at the next ten years and what it will be like to live through them. Sterling, a futurist (or strategic forecaster, if you’re not allowed to use the word ‘futurist’), and cyberpunk SF writer, painted a great and at the same time very bleak picture. Referring to a lot of things he saw and heard during the conference, he repeatedly poked all of us in the eye with apparent pleasure. The room grew increasingly silent throughout his talk. I loved it, and I still remain very much an optimist (I guess getting through and out of clinical depression did that for me).

Bruce Sterling

The next 10 years
The next decade, Sterling says, will not feel like progress. At the same time it won’t feel like conservatism either. There’s simply nothing much left to conserve, as well as nothing to progress to. So it’s transition, but transition to nowhere. No new (asset) bubble to get the old economic structures going again, ‘lots of bad weather’ (i.e. climate change), and global emergent change. The core feeling for the Reboot-type people for the 20-zero’s and 20-tens is ‘Dark Euforia’. “Everything falls apart, but there are endless opportunities. You just didn’t think you’d dread them so much.

Sterling distinguished four quadrants that hold scenario’s for the next decade. For me they contain loads of interesting notions about the type of (weak) signals that go with them, which can help to choose your actions, avoid time wasting rear-guard fights, recognize threats to neutralize etc. Basically I can see a whole new set of tags coming into use with which I will collect bookmarks for my writing and thinking.

1: Crisis Capitalism for Aging Baby-Boomers
A large demographic that wants to hang on to their material achievements. “They have all the votes but no future.” They won’t get out of the way, but get nothing done either.

2: B(R)IC
Brasil, India, China, and if you don’t discount oil, Russia. Emerging economies, but emerging into nowhere. Developing with no direction in particular. Globalizing without purpose, not progressing, not really developing.

3: Shock of the Old
Fundamentalists in power, whether they are christian or islamic. They don’t have a policy, have no plan, they can only ruin what is still left standing.

4: Reboot in Power
Basically the Reboot participants, feeling their ‘Dark Euforia’ over endless opportunities in a world that’s coming apart. They come in different varieties. At the top-end is ‘Gothic High-Tech’. You’re brilliant, on top of the world, but death is just around the corner, caused by something secret and horrible. Steve Jobs (made the iPod, but needs a liver), Nicolas Sarkozy (brilliant, but no ideology, offering no alternative), Barack Obama (Massive grassroots fund raising routine, but a Chicago machine politician, ‘not Vaclav Havel’), are positioning themselves in the narrative rather than building infrastructure. Cheerleaders, not leaders.

At the low-end is ‘Favela Chic’. It’s when you ‘lost everything, but you’re wired to the gills and big on Facebook’. Everything we Reboot-geeks believe is basically Favela Chic. We have Favela-slogans, says Sterling: ‘Action is cheaper than control’, ‘So fix it’, ‘Always in Beta’, ‘Just fucking do it’. Favelas are emergent structures. Stuffed animals are the European Favelas, repurposed buildings like Kedelhallen, the old-new. Urban interventions, re-using the left-over husks of the unsustainable is our frontier, because it’s under the radar, and you actually can get a lot done there.

Bruce Sterling then offered some practical advice, on how to not be ‘hair shirt green’ (because it just changes the polarity of 20th century consumerism, and does not constitute a really different way of life), but to be ‘bright green geeks’.

The Great-grandfather Principle
The first piece of advice was to stop acting dead, even though it’s temptingly gothic. Saving water, saving energy, reducing your CO2-footprint, recycling, my dead great-grandfather is much better at it than me. You have plenty of time to save water (“water is indestructable“) when you’re dead. Billions of years of it. So start doing things that matter, that your dead great-grandfather cannot do. Saving and economizing that way is also not social, as you’re basically starving someone else by reducing the volume and intensity of your transactions.

Listening to Bruce Sterling Bruce Sterling Closing Keynote
People listening to Bruce Sterlings closing talk

Objects as Frozen Social Relationships
In stead reassess the way you deal with and relate to objects. See objects as frozen social relationships, as print-outs of those relationships. See objects in terms of volumes of time and space. With such a (design) approach you will make entirely different choices when it comes to objects.

The objects that should be most important to you, ‘the monarchs among your objects’, are the ones you use most, intensively, and are closest to you. Clothing, your bed, a chair, personal care stuff etc. Don’t go ‘cheap’ on those as they are the things you spend most time with. “Buy real things, that you actually use. All everyday objects should be the best.”

For all the rest of your objects, sort them into 4 buckets (‘making lists is a very lifehacking-like thing to do’):

1: Beautiful things
2: Things with emotional meaning
Things only belong in bucket 1 or 2 if you are actually eager to tell people about them, show it to them. Do these objects have a narrative that you want to share?
3: Tools
Tools are very important, so make sure you have the best tools, high-tech. Don’t make do with stuff that is broken. Also don’t put tools in this bucket that you only pretend to be experimenting with. “You’re only experimenting if you are publishing the results“, which is a very significant point I think.
4: Every thing else.

If it’s not in bucket 1 to 3, get rid of it. Before getting rid of it though, virtualize it by taking pictures or scanning it, and scanning the barcode. So you can later refer to it or retrieve a similar item if needed.

The Right Closing
I thoroughly enjoyed this talk, specifically at the end of Reboot. Someone remarked it would have been more effective if it had been the first keynote of the conference, as then ‘we would have had two days to prove Sterling wrong’ or something to that effect. I disagree. This was a very useful and valuable talk, both in terms of content and form. Sterling was an active participant during the preceding conference days, and it made his talk more effective. It told him which eyes to poke in. Below is the video of Bruce Sterlings closing key-note.

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