inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #0 of 220: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Dec 18 13:40
    
The year has turned, 2019 is happening, and we're here once again to
have a two-week conversation about the State of the World. This
year's model is the bumfuzzle edition, chaos and confusion being the
proverbial order of the day. We can't promise definitive solutions,
but hopefully we'll raise useful questions and stimulate creative
and critical thinking as we bring in the new year.

We're having this conversation on the WELL, an influential,
independent online community that's been active for over three
decades. Members of the WELL will likely join the discussion, and
readers who are not members can send comments and questions to
inkwell at well.com - we'll post those as well. Mention "State of
the World" in the subject of the email.

This will primarily be a discussion including comments and rants
from four principal investigators -

The usual suspects:

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction writer, journalist, net critic,
design maven, cyberspace theorist, and global traveler. Early in his
career, Bruce was a founder and proponent of the cyberpunk sub-genre
of science fiction.  Originally from Texas, he spent a lot of time
in India as a youth, and he currently lives in Torino, Italy, with
occasional forays to Ibiza, Spain. But he's a well-traveled citizen
of the world, known for his many insightful talks as well as for his
fiction and nonfiction writing. Here's a talk he gave last October,
on "How to Be Futuristic":
https://theinterval.org/salon-talks/02018/oct/16/how-be-futuristic-bruce-sterl
ing

Jon Lebkowsky was cofounder and CEO of three companies, including
Polycot Associates, which was recently transformed into a
worker-owned web development cooperative. He's co-producer of the
Plutopia News Network (https://plutopia.io), a podcast and blog
focused on culture, media, and technology. He is also known as an
activist and writer/blogger focused on strategic foresight, Internet
evolution, digital culture, cyber liberties, media, and society.  

Our special guests:

James Bridle is an artist and writer working across technologies and
disciplines. His artworks have been commissioned by galleries and
institutions and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. His
writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in
magazines and newspapers including Wired, Domus, Cabinet, the
Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Observer and many
others, in print and online. He lectures regularly at conferences,
universities, and other events. "New Dark Age", his book about
technology, knowledge, and the end of the future, was published by
Verso (UK & US) in 2018. His work can be found at
http://jamesbridle.com.

Tiffany Lee Brown, a.k.a. T, is a writer and interdisciplinary
artist from Oregon. An editor of Plazm magazine, she wrote the
poetry collection A Compendium of Miniatures. Her writing has
appeared in Utne, Tin House, Bookforum, Boing Boing, Oregon
Humanities, Wired, Whole Earth Review, and Bust, along with various
anthologies and newspapers. Her art, music, and performance pieces
have been shown at Performance Works NW, Enteractive Language
Festival, and Portland Center Stage, among others. Rooted in lived
experience, T's creative work delves into themes of nature, spirit,
consciousness, and the American West. She lives with her husband and
son in the woods near Sisters, Ore., where she writes for the local
newspaper and helps kids learn strong values through hands-on
entrepreneurship via Kid Made Camp.

Jake Dunagan is an experiential futurist, political system designer,
and professor of strategic foresight.  His work centers around the
concept of social invention—developing futures concepts and
participatory platforms to help people and organizations around the
world re-imagine and re-design their futures. Jake is Director of
the Governance Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future, a
non-profit research and education group in Palo Alto, CA.  He
teaches strategic foresight in the Design Strategy MBA program at
the California College of the Arts and at the Center for Integrated
Design at the University of Texas. He is International Mentor for
the Deseño de Mañana program at CENTRO, a media and design school in
Mexico City.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #1 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:51
    
The Chinese Year of the Pig, 2019, here we are!

We do this State of the World every year out of sheer glee.  It's a
mental hygiene for us, a comic relief, like taking a cleansing
squeegee to our grimy apartment windows.  Which is something I
actually did here, just yesterday, and I can tell you, my view's a
lot crisper now.

These aforementioned windows are way up here on the 4th floor, so I
couldn't get to every corner of 'em without plummeting straight to
my doom.  So, admittedly, big grimy streaks remain.  However, thanks
to this cheerful year-starting effort, they can now be recognized as
actual streaks of grime, instead of a grim, grimy worldview thick
with comprehensive filth.  

Onward through our fog!
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #2 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:54
    
The end of 2018 found me doing more travel than I've ever done in my
life.  I was in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles,  Berlin, Riga,
Tallinn, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bangalore -- and Austin of course,
Turin of course, Belgrade of course.  I did these visits in no
particular order, sometimes repeating them, plus a whole bunch of
roadside burgs all over the American Southwest, because I couldn't
resist driving in America.

     So 2018  was an apotheosis of my live-out-of-a-bag,
twenty-first century, digital nomad lifestyle.  It was sheer 
Kerouac ON THE ROAD excess, even; I travelled so far and fast that I
couldn't even take proper pictures.

      I chose that kind of life,  and it suited me well, but I doubt
that I will ever travel that much again.  I'm a person at ease in
transit, I got useful things done on the road and I even felt
energized at the end of it, but that was enough.   So 2019 marks a
personal transition for me; I'm just not gonna lift and drop the
bags that much.

       I ended up here in Ibiza (not exactly a hardship posting). 
It's the exact same place that I was during last year's State of the
World, back in antique 2018.   I have no return ticket from Ibiza --
and I've been here a couple of weeks and more -- so I should
probably admit that I'm living here.  I'm getting some creative
writing done,  in a contemplative, less antic fashion, and I feel
perkier here than I do in my customary haunts of Austin, Turin and
Belgrade.  

     They are three cities that all suit my temperament, and I learn
a lot about the state of the world by methodically comparing them. 
But, frankly, their air pollution of all three of them is doing me
in.  They're three energetic but rather dirty towns,  especially in
winter.   I'm not yet reduced to the tubercular state of Robert
Louis Stevenson retreating to Samoa, but I can see that prospect
clearly.   If, as a man over 60,  I can no longer breathe tainted
air, I'm not gonna lie about that.  That's a crass act of self-harm.
That's like ignoring global warming; a sensible person just doesn't
do that.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #3 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:55
    

    So I travelled quite a lot in late 2018, but I found pretty much
the same mood, spread worldwide.   It's the "new dark."   Tallinn
and Bangalore were were  the brighter standouts -- more energetic,
more sense of get-up and go -- but there's just not much twinkly,
sparkly social energy out there.  

      It's gray, it's becalmed.  It's not a fatal gloom, but it is a
kind of learned-helplessness, a malaise and bewilderment. It's  very
much the attitude of people who sign onto Facebook 'cause they can't
yet figure out any other way to live.  They do that, because they
must conform to the apparent need,  despite their vague oxlike
awareness that they're being spied on, tricked, and defrauded.   

      This is the resigned malaise  that fits the post-Snowden
Internet and  tech industry's consolidation.  It's the funereal
aftermath of Moore's Law.  It resembles a fat, sweaty guy on the
couch snacking on poisoned cookies.  That's how it is.

      With all that admitted, though, among this global weltschmerz
there's a strange undercurrent of people who are personally having a
pretty good time.  There's fire under the ash.  People are not in a
morbid, overwrought despair; on the contrary, the streets look
well-ordered, people are better-dressed, the birth rate is up a
little....  They may not have dependable jobs, or a retirement plan,
but they've hit on routines, of a sort.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #4 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:55
    
      The street-scenes in Bangalore were extraordinary.  Indian
life is still very hard-scrabble, but it's like the bazaars are on
steroids.  That's not Western economic development, but it's sure as
hell not abject Indian urban poverty:   it's novel,
Post-Third-World, proletarian, tech-inflected energy, humble yet
seething thickly, full of sustenance; its like watching oatmeal
boiling.  Maybe it's  the relative youth of the Indian population,
but if you compare that vivid sidewalk commerce to the storefronts
in Europe now, it's like watching people selling gentleman's canes.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #5 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:57
    
     I'm here in Ibiza with no plans to depart.  Thanks to the
cut-rate tourist airlines, I can be  back in Turin for 30 bucks. 
However, it's not like I'm ducking out on 2019 in a stoner
Lotusland.  On the contrary, I'm figuring Ibiza for an economic
blast-zone for Brexit, this March.   This Spanish island is very
Briticized -- not as much as Gibraltar, admittedly, but right on up
there -- and the British are about to place themselves under
unilateral economic sanctions.  They've been at this weird ambition
for years, and 2019 is when it comes due.

     Since I do hang out in Belgrade, I have a pretty good idea of
what economic sanctions can do to people and their societies.   And
yeah, the lack of trade agreements will probably deal with that
immigration free-movement problem they think they have.   That
annoying flow of job-stealing migrants, and the free-spending
tourists, are both gonna vanish like the dew, because there's no
genuine difference: they're both human meat on the hoof.  

       Sanctions against world trade are very effective, if you
really, really want to carve a place like Yugoslavia into
quarrelling micronational bits.  That this fate would happen, by
choice, to a nuclear power that's a permanent member of the UN
Security Council, well, that's pretty interesting.   Not the
bureaucratic process, what is boring, but what it does to people
inside: getting balkanized.

      I sure wouldn't wanna be trapped inside that situation -- 
because in 2018, the British were the gloomiest and doomiest that
I've ever seen 'em.  They all know they're about to pound nails
through their naked feet with big hammers.  I reckon that Ibiza will
be an interesting ringside seat for that.

      The markets are holding their breath for that development. 
The markets are in bearish decline now, but it's no use getting all
worked up during the preliminary phony-war.  The markets are waiting
for the markets to stop being global markets.

       That effect may not be as savage as the British Remainers
want to paint it.  Plenty of small nations exist on the rim of the
EU.  They don't thrive, exactly -- mostly, because they're so
corrupt and parochial -- but they more or less get along in life.  
It's not like the placid, elderly Europeans will bother to invade
and kill you.  

      Also, the World Trade Organization is about to collapse,
because Trump can't be bothered to appoint anybody to it, and there
are trade-wars spreading hither and you.  So Britain will not become
an overnight economic leper -- the whole planet's gonna be screwed
up.

       The best-case scenario is that they somehow Brexit, and
there's no coherent response from anybody -- just, nobody left to
inspect all the lorries; the alleged hard Irish Border is as silly
at the Trump Wall, the emigres cruelly forced out are thousands
instead of millions, the restive banks decide to hang on  a few more
years, and so on.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #6 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:57
    

        The worst-case scenario for a modern European rim country is
Ukraine.  That is the EU-Russia shatterbelt where the elderly
village grannies, the last ones too poor to flee, are harvesting
their turnips while  getting randomly pounded by mortar fire.  There
is no true war-front there, with any genuine military tactics or
strategy, no defeat, no victory.  Basically, it's covert operatives
from hundreds of kilometers away pay jobless young men to blow up
their own country with loaned heavy-weapons.  Very like
election-meddling, but with howitzers.

       I'm not predicting that Britain will become a bloody
shatterbelt of car-bombing mini-Irelands, but that is a scenario. 
Nobody expected that from the Ukraine, either.  Or Yugoslavia.

       I would point out, if it helps any, that this worst-case
scenario is, historically,  not that severe.   If you compare the
Russia/Ukraine "Hot Peace" to the massive depredations there of one
hundred years ago, the Czarist White Terror, Trotsky on the armored
propaganda trains, it's mild.  

       People die, in thousands, but people in that war aren't
starving.  They don't even die of typhus or Spanish flu.   There are
no mass liquidation camps, the populations aren't ethnically
cleansed, Cossacks are around yet Jews go unnoticed, even (sort of).


      Ukraine's unsought war has been forced on it for half a
decade, but it's a more ulceration compared to a great world war.  
Syria is much crueller, because there are angrier crabs in that
basket, but Ukraine is typical of our times.  It's the patient zero
for the actual trouble.  The prospects for real peace there are very
slim.  The prospects of that kind of offshored Violence Lite
appearing elsewhere, those are high.

     This is especially true if the USA transforms into the Trump
Towers All-White Gated Community.  Then the Bush New World Order
will look in the mirror and see itself as it is nowadays, merely a
Trump branded, dodgy, break-the-bank hotel and casino project.    I
don't wanna go on and on about The Donald this year -- because he
bores and disgusts people now, which is a good sign -- but if
"everything Trump touches dies," then American military hegemony is
a likely casualty.  And where does Hot Peace break out after that? 
Pretty much anywhere.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #7 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:57
    
        I do have one self-set task for the SoTW this year.  What is
the forthcoming shape of the 2020s>   Moore's Law is dead, there's
no Singularity, the fix is in tech oligarchs of (take a breath) 
Google Apple Facebook Amazon Microsoft Baidu Alibaba Tencent Netflix
Samsung.  They're in charge, but they're sitting on heaps of cash
with nothing much to do with it.  

         So what does post-disruption, post-Moore's Law,
tech-industry consolidation look and feel like?   What kind of world
is that, what matters to people who live then?  What happens when
there's no Next Big Thing, and you live in a New-Dark Hot-Peace? 
What do people do with their time, their ambitions -- just tremble
at the Greenhouse thunderstorms?   They're bound to be up to
something.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #8 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:58
    

      I'm somebody who was close to pioneers in this multi-decade
effort to digitize our planet, but I know that it's old-fashioned
now.  I can even perceive my 90s-style, live out a laptop bag
lifestyle as a major component of today's social problems.   I don't
wanna scourge myself for  being an unconscionable Uber-AirBnB
cosmopolitan-globalized troublemaker, but I don't have to.  I can
just scourge all the rest of em, because I see 'em wherever I go.

      Austin, Turin, even Belgrade, and Ibiza, of course, 105
percent Ibiza -- the global nomads there are thicker than fleas.  
This is what the Left (especially the Spanish Left over in
Barcelona) calls "overtourism."  For everybody else, it's just
common-or-garden Build the Wall ethno-nationalism.   A typical,
contemporary, visceral emotional reaction to a world where money and
data flow around through crooked laundries and human flesh finds
strange methods to follow.  The Westphalian order doesn't like that.
It really got under their skin.

     Nobody seems to have a clue about what to do about it, except
maybe the Chinese, who do have a clear strategy: tightly controlled
National Sovereign Cyberspace complete with Moslem digital
tracking-camps, with a network of Belt and Road tentacles to sop up
global resources and markets.  
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #9 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:58
    

      Not everybody else can do as the Chinese do, though.  They
lack China's boldness and huge resources.  Our world's very crowded
in 2019.   There are sixty million refugees, nobody flings opens
their arms to new settlers of a nonexistent wilderness.  

    The wild card in the migrant panic is the  huge internal
population displacements from climate change.  Just: whole towns
gone overnight, Paradise California; swarms of Neo-Okies leaving the
dustbowls in their Teslas.  

     The true bitterness in today anti-migrant, anti-tourist
sentiment is people's fearful awareness that they might become a
refugee, whether they like it or not.  And, once you're uprooted,
your baby's heading for baby jail, because you built one yourself.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #10 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 19 06:59
    
     So, I hope that sets the stage.  What seems to  me to be
missing now is not more technological solutionism -- we've kind of
had enough too-clever disruption stunts -- but some humanistic
concurrence on what a modern civilization ought to look like when
nobody's  much impressed by the hardware any more.  

     One of the few guys I know who is effectively chipping away at
this conundrum is James Bridle.

      That's why I requested Mr Bridle to join us this year.  James
Bridle is an artist, editor, publisher and the author of "New Dark
Age: Technology and the End of the Future," a tome I pored over with
keen interest because, at its basis, it's a book about knowledge:
the difficulty of figuring out what's going on.  Its title may sound
a tad cyberpunk-dystopian, but I have to say that the prospect of
James's "New Dark" actually cheers me up some.  Given that you know
there's a "New Dark," and what aspects of novelty that darkness has,
that implies the cheery potential of a New Light, assuming that you
could figure that out, somehow.  

     The new enlightenment for the new dark age; even if it's just a
modest puddle of candlelight, next to the newly squeegeed window,
that's not such a bad thing.  Makes you want to unstack the
injection-molded plastic chairs and set out a plate of legalized
hash brownies, since that's the kind of thing grandma eats nowadays.


Let's get right after it, shall we?
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #11 of 220: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Tue 1 Jan 19 12:41
    
Not too many neo-Okies left Paradise in Teslas.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #12 of 220: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 1 Jan 19 12:53
    
Interesting. Residents of Paradise, CA, are mostly poor. Unlike
refugees from hurricane Katrina, they are mostly white, so that
gives them some advantages. But it occurs to me that one result of
climate change is the central american refugees on the US border.
The other is the growing swath of poor affected by water, fire,
collapsing infrastructure in this country. Okay, collapsing
infrastructure isn’t, mostly, climate change related. It’s our
retreat from the idea that people who got economically lucky need to
pay a fair share.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #13 of 220: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Jan 19 15:25
    
Unlike Bruce, I wasn't traveling in 2018. Unlike many my age, I
haven't retired, I'm still focused on work, and digging it. I'm part
of a worker-owned cooperative web development company, also active
as a member of a decades-old activist organization committed to
digital freedom. And I'm co-producing podcasts with a colleague from
my home town, someone I've known for over six decades. I have deep
roots and well-established endeavors.

I haven't been writing much lately - I'm blocked. I still have a
creative flow of ideas that could become written works, but I can't
give weight to any one idea sufficient to flesh it out, and I avoid
deep investigation in favor of drive by posts, skimming the surfaces
of ideas.  The firehose of online information and the siren song of
social media have disrupted my focus.  My memory is not as reliable
and sharp as it was when I was younger, but I can't say whether this
is an effect of age or of long-term exposure to the
attention-disrupting effects of a life spent mostly online.

I think the latter. Recently I've stopped focusing on social media.
I've come back to the WELL, where there is a sense of community and
a persistence of real, focused conversations.  When I started
participating here again, it was obvious to me that the way I was
using online resources had contributed to a lack of focus and a
deficit of attention. I initially had trouble following
conversations that involved longer sentences, paragraphs, and
patterns of thought. I had to convert bounce to flow.

I can't help but think this is a crucial year. The true State of the
World is complex and confusing, an elephant for the blind, a crazy
quilt of conceptions and perceptions increasingly unreported, or
under-reported, by market-driven journalists. Unreliable, biased and
polarized cable news is the primary source of perspective for so
many increasingly wired netizens, consequently they are politicized
beyond reason, at war with the ghosts of ideas. 

But I probably don't get out enough.  Last night we brought in the
new year at a rustic rural bar with soundtrack by a great Tom Petty
cover band, among people who were joyously drinking, dancing,
smiling and laughing. No confusion there, we knew what we were
about. It was a hopeful moment, really - how could such a
rambunctious and happy bunch of people settle for collapse,
extinction?  I have come to believe that climate change and
environmental collapse are beyond fixing - that extinction of homo
sapiens is a not just possible, but a probable outcome.  But today
I'm feeling hopeful.

My horoscope for the week, via Rob Breszny's Free Will Astrology
(https://www.freewillastrology.com/horoscopes/taurus.html): "The
night parrots of Australia are so elusive  that there was a nearly
six-decade stretch when no human saw a single  member of the
species. But in 2013, after searching for 15 years,  photographer
John Young spotted one and recorded a 17-second video.  Since then,
more sightings have occurred. According to my astrological  vision,
your life in 2019 will feature experiences akin to the story of the 
night parrot's reappearance. A major riddle will be at least
partially solved.  Hidden beauty will materialize. Long-secret
phenomena will no longer be  secret. A missing link will re-emerge."
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #14 of 220: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Tue 1 Jan 19 19:36
    


"Hidden beauty will rematerialize." 

let us make that the mantra of 2019. 

thank you, bruce and jon, for inviting me to be a special SOTW guest this
year. 

first, let me respond to a couple things y'all mentioned. New-Dark
Hot-Peace sounds about right to me (though i haven't read Bridle's book
yet). bruce, your image of " The new enlightenment for the new dark age;
even if it's just a modest puddle of candlelight" really shines for me.
that's how the last almost-three years of my life have felt. 

my family left our comfy liberal bubble city. we lived on the road and
tucked away in national forests and campgrounds for six months, with a tiny
16-foot travel trailer, usually off-grid. technology enabled this
adventure, as my husband and i could work on the road and keep in touch
with folks elsewhere... but the grip of its tentacles felt more pronounced
the longer we traveled and camped. "off-grid" became not-quite-good-enough. 
sometimes we need to get far away from wi-fi and cell service, too. 

we bounced between furnished rentals and living on the road for a couple
years. when we were settled, it was near a very small town in the
middle of Oregon: in the pines at the feet of great volcanoes, on the seam
between the high desert with its ranches and Trump-Pence banners, and the
hidden mountain world that gives way, if you travel west, to the Willamette
Valley's lush jungles of grey-and-green, its college towns and ageing
communes. 

that first winter we had four feet of snow on the ground for four months --
unusual for this area. we were strangers in a strange land (that had indeed
voted majority Trump, at 49%), everyone stir crazy, many of us processing
the horror and bizarrety of the 2016 election. for me, this meant going
extremely dark, going way into my own ugly dark little heart, into the
shadows, exploring just how radically closed-minded i had become,
acknowledging how i and my compatriots had helped push our country to this
insane brink. 

we had become the polarization, and we had exacerbated it. it sounds easy,
typing it into The Well right now... it was not easy to excavate my own
depths and actually admit these truths on a deep, emotional level. it
implied that i had to *change*. so i've been working on that ever since. 

eventually i deleted all my social media accounts as part of this effort.
meditating, spending huge amounts of time in nature, mostly alone, but also
organizing small gatherings and rituals in the woods -- i sank into my own
personal little Dark Age. i sought out "modest puddle of candlelight"
instead of the liquid blue light of my phone and computer. 

OK, i'm exaggerating. i'm still online and still rely on screens for my
income. i still rely on The Well for incredible community, far-flung and
blissfully lacking a "like" button. but i found that i *needed* darkness.
without it, the beauty of candlelight had been lost. i wanted the modest
puddle and the dark, both. i got them. and i feel incalculably better, more
whole, less fragmented. maybe even slightly less full of shit! 
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #15 of 220: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Tue 1 Jan 19 19:54
    

i spent much of 2017 wrestling with my relationship to technology, if we
can even really call that abusive push-pull a "relationship." i'd been a
Facebook addict for years, but the dismay and hideousness it now inspired
in me? too much to handle. apparently the algorithm liked me liberal,
progressive, feminist, and in constant conflict, though sometimes the ads
it served me made it clear *someone* actually believed i was an 85-year-old
man, as i'd typed in when i signed up. 

so i started a second account. a mild one where i could friend my many
Christian cousins, and my new local community, which as mentioned above
went 49% Trump. (43% Hilary, 8% other). this was a whole different world.
living my two lives side-by-side proved quite revealing. in order to leave
the liberal bubble and learn from the experience, i'd have to leave my
Facebook world, too. 

i used Patreon to create an experiment for dealing with Facebook, politics,
media, and social media. it was private, supported by a handful of friends,
and proved very fruitful. i wound up with a system for interrogating my
tech habits and changing them, along with ... my mind, i guess. it's no
coincidence that i ended up changing my diet, giving up alcohol entirely,
and going head-on with severe chronic illness problems.

that catches me up to 2018. by now, i could feel the strength and promise
of these changes. we'd bought a house and settled down, though we
still headed out for month-long trips in the RPod, our little trailer.
reducing tech and increasing my time in nature helped bring my writing back
into focus. in 2018, i deleted all my social without much problem. i wrote
tons of poetry, started playing piano again, got my first artist's
residency in ten years. community journalism called to me and i wrote a
bunch of fun, micro-local articles for not a lot of money... but oh, i love
it. i also jumped back into the fray of larger marketing and branding
projects, including a former client that is arguably one of the greatest
brands in the world. my political activism streak took new, firmly local,
and perhaps more meaningful turns.

the world around me, as bruce describes in his travels, seemed to be in a
dark place in 2018... yet like those he describes, i was having a pretty
good time.

this is all quite personal, but hey, the personal is political. that never
changes. context is needed. without it, we are just blathering,
self-appointed "experts". 

my son is in second grade now, and he's been running in here every ten
minutes, angry that i keep saying, "i'll be done in ten minutes." i ain't
done. he's right to be angry. 

i'm going to close the lid on this MacBook Pro. it's going to make a
satisfying snap. i'm going to walk away from this SOTW discussion before
i've even made my damned point. my son will have my full attention.

so i'll make this fast. five, six years ago, i believed we were in an
epistemological crisis -- a crisis of knowledge, trust, and belief. 

now i believe we are in a crisis of meaning. that it drives people to
puddles of darkness and candlelight may prove to be a salvation of sorts. 
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #16 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 19 02:00
    

https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Year-in-Review-2018

Here in 2019, there are more Americans alive over 60 than Americans
who are under 18.  So for a brisk, road-ahead, forward-looking
viewpoint,  it might be time for us to check in with that
widely-noted retired guy, Bill Gates.

Despite his advancing years, Mr Gates hardcore grinds it out more in
a week than I ever do in a year.  And, although he's not a facile
TED-talk optimist, he's always got his eye on the deliverable. 
That's why it's a little weird to see him tacitly admitting so much
defeat in his recent screed.

To begin, Bill quotes his best pal Warren Buffett, claiming that the
bottom line of human good behavior is "Do the people you care about
love you back?"  This seems an odd scheme to promote, considering
the Sage of Omaha's polygamous lifestyle.  Buffett's motto should
have been, "If your wife leaves for California and sends her best
friend over instead, go for that." Let's hope they were all happier.

Then there's this prediction: "software will be able to notice when
you’re feeling down, connect you with your friends, give you
personalized tips for sleeping and eating better."  Something
downright ominous here, because obviously Gates is tacitly conceding
that it's not your nearest and dearest but rather  the *software*
that ought to be caring about you and loving you back.  

First, I don't think that's ever gonna work.  Second, I'm getting
concerned about Bill's mood.  Is he so personally unhappy now that
he would want to digitally monitor his own mental state?
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #17 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 19 02:01
    

Then Bill frets at length about Alzheimer's Disease, and although
that's indeed a huge scourge, malaria-sized, and obviously the sort
of thing that a medical philanthropist ought to tackle, I get the
impression that Bill is mostly worried about *his own* Alzheimer's. 
He talks about boosting the brain's mitochondria, while there's
about a zillion neutraceutical pills on the market already that do
this  right now.  I have to wonder if maybe Bill's eating those
pills.  Not, like, big Ray Kurzweil double-handfuls of them, I hope.

Then polio, which ought to be as extinct as smallpox, only it's
making a resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the Terror
is winning the Global War on Terror.  "The global health community
is finding creative ways to work in war zones."  Is that good news
for everybody, Bill?
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #18 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 19 02:02
    

Then, since Bill's never been stupid, he gets it about global
warming.  But then, for some reason, he's suddenly keen on nuclear. 
There's lots of tech guys keen on nuclear, for decades.  Not a lot
of 'em left in Fukushima or Chernobyl.  

Also, pitching a lot of nuclear into a world beset with Balkanized
ethnonationalism -- in particular, American nuclear, Bill says. 
Donald Trump doesn't have enough nukes?

      I'm not, personally, like, hot under the collar antinuclear,
but if Bill wants to dream big about this, why not cold fusion?  
That way he wouldn't have to fret about people demanding that he
store his spent fuel rods in Redmond.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #19 of 220: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 19 02:02
    

     Then Bill wraps up the year 2018 by speculating that Spanish
flu could briskly kill half of everybody, and also that rampant
off-the-books gene-editing is busting loose all over.  

        Then, finally, "Melinda and I are working on our next Annual
Letter. The theme is a surprise, though it is safe to say we’ll be
sharing some positive trends that make us optimistic about the
future."  

     Why does Bill even have to say that bullshit?  It's because
he's got nothing that he's genuinely enthusiastic about, that's why
he says it.  Whenever people are truly positive, they never whine
about how, just any minute now, they're gonna lift their sorry heads
and  say something positive.   "I'm not gonna be depressed about it,
I'm gonna say something really upbeat here," that never works!  It's
like a poker tell, something Bill ought to get since he plays so
much poker.

     You can't scold yourself about not talking properly, you have
to take action in some aspect of life that actually makes you
enthusiastic.  Then you don't have to tell people that you and the
wife will be cheerful any minute now.  If you're really making any
headway, people will show up on their own.  You'll have to chase 'em
off with a stick.

     In any case, this new-dark malaise I was talking about earlier?
He's got it.  Yeah, even him.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #20 of 220: Alex Davie (icenine) Wed 2 Jan 19 06:46
    
A brief introduction and onto my comment:
Retired in March 2015 as construction/project manager from a career
that included environmental remediation to hazardous materials
release emergency response to my final six years spent moving 22
million cubic yards of dirt (among other tasks) to facilitate the
building of two new nuke reactors near Augusta, Georgia
Since becoming funemployed in March, 2015, we have traveled
extensively across America in a motorhome, visiting friends and
family, investing in our health and generally just hanging out in
our home an hour Northeast of Atlanta, Georgia.
Upon returning home after six years (we rented a house near the nuke
project for the duration), I found our County being developed in an
unhealthy manner and decided to get involved so I started to pay
attention to local County groups fighting the massive
overdevelopment of our once rural, bucolic and beautiful area.
That led to me finding another geezer who was interested in
reconstituting the Libertarian Party in our County so we did and
thru no fault of my own or election by the membership, I became
Chairman when the presiding Chair, a Venezuelan woman bolted for
reasons that still are unclear. As a final aside, I have voted
Libertarian since 1976 when I discovered the Libertarians in Austin,
Texas where I was an undergraduate.

Comment:
Tiff kinda nailed it for me when she talked about local politics and
how that has become a way for her to lend her energy to and Bruce
hit it on the head for me when he talked about the candlelight in
the 'New Dark". I have been passionate about politics since I was 13
years old and and JFK was assassinated and I was living in
Manhattan, NY. So for me, to light that candle in my local County,
it appears that I have chosen to become active in the hyper-local
politics of my County. I was asked to become a Citizen Stakeholder
by my County District Commissioner which involves attending public
zoning meetings and engaging citizens on a one-to-one basis
extending my District Commissioners reach by reporting back on my
outreach experience with the citizens of the County.

So, concluding, I live here and care about how this County is
developing and chose to spend my time interacting with the people
that live here with me thru the Libertarian Party and by being an
advocate and conduit for the citizens of this County to make their
wishes and desires known to the political structure.
Thanking y'all for this SOTW...I read it every year and have only
lurked to date. As Bruce said and as Oat Willie said before him:
Onwards, thru the fog! And Onwards thru our fog
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #21 of 220: Administrivia (jonl) Wed 2 Jan 19 08:11
    
Most discussions on the WELL require membership, but this discussion
is world-readable. Short url for access is:

http://bit.ly/stateoftheworld2019  

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inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #22 of 220: James Bridle (stml) Wed 2 Jan 19 11:40
    
First of all, thanks to Jon and Bruce for inviting me, and everyone
at the Well for having me. I've been reading SoTW for a very long
time, and it and the Well hold a pretty special place for me as
someone who grew up with, and on, the internet, just sneaking online
before the web exploded, and riding the wave of it ever since. It's
an honour and a privilege to be here.

The last year or so has been weirder than any preceding it, and I
expect the trend to continue. I always wanted to write a book about
the internet, and while sidetracked by art and other projects, I
finally managed to publish it in 2018 - but it wasn't the book I
expected to write. Gestated in the months between the Brexit
referendum and the Trump election, and fed by far too much time
spent thinking about the technologies of surveillance capitalism and
military intelligence, it came out a lot darker than I or anyone I
know would have suspected. But I'll repeat the 1915 line from
Virginia Woolf I quoted in the introduction to that book (and which
I took from Rebecca Solnit's exemplary 'Hope in the Dark', also
recommended): "the future is dark, which is the best thing the
future can be, I think."

I don't, fwiw, think that a new enlightenment is what's coming down
- nor an endarkenment, as plenty of nasty folk would have it. I
think entanglement is closer, which won't get disentangled or
enlightened or explained or understood any time soon. We're going to
have to go deep into the living of this thing for a long while yet,
without the crutch of exegesis.

Like Bruce, the start of 2019 finds me at the end of a period of
pretty intense travel, which I know I both should and need to
mitigate. I'm incredibly lucky to be able to travel the world -
mostly Europe, occasionally further - as I do, but I don't see the
situation being mentally, financially, morally, or even physically
sustainable in the not-very-long-term, and other plans are
necessary.

Following 2017/18's focus on everything that's grim in the world,
I'm making a fairly concerted effort to turn my focus towards other
outcomes: not solutions, but areas which need our attention, pretty
desperately. And they seem to contain interesting things. I'm
talking to ecologists around the Mediterranean who have a far
clearer view of the world than most techs and futurologists. I'm
spending more time in weird, niche communities - antisocial media,
distributed and federated services, truly decentralised ones as well
as real urban anarchists - and they feel like different places to
talk about power and agency, and formulate strategy. I started the
year giving a TED talk (mostly) about child abuse on YouTube and
finished it making a film about flamingos, and I like that
trajectory.

Three years ago we moved to Athens, Greece, by accident. Came for a
month or two, and haven't left. Got mixed up in things. Made a home
- despite the travel pressures of work. Most people come to Greece
to see the past, but I keep telling people, only half-jokingly,
half-shamedly, that it's the future. The twin crises of financial
collapse and (increasingly climate-driven) mass irregular movement
are coming for everywhere, and Greece has been at the front line for
a decade now. More places are going to look like this.

One of my guiding texts for the last couple of years has been Amitav
Ghosh's 'The Great Derangement' (maybe that's better than
Entanglement too). Among other things in the book, Ghosh says
something quite revelatory about time: he notes that it has changed
direction. Under modernity, time was produced in the Metropolitan
centre, and trickled out to the periphery. Now, like colonial
violence, it's returning to the centre, and the things and people at
the edges are those who are living in the future. The deep ocean,
the desert, the coastlines and the tundra: it's in the most distant
places that the effects of the hotter, wetter, more entangled and
deranged future are being felt first, but they're coming for all of
us, and sooner than we think. (I have more diagrams on this.)

I returned briefly to London for Christmas, and landed at Gatwick a
few hours before the drones (maybe?) took down Airstrip One's second
busiest airport for 36 hours (shh, others have already made the
jokes). It felt like a cyberattack: deniable, apparently harmless,
virtually devastating, infrastructure-targetted, impossible to
defend against, and - most significantly - weird af. This is the era
of weird terrorism as well as weird everything else. A lot of people
thought it was a Brexit protest. Maybe it was.

I'm a Brit living on the south coast of Europe. Looking at what's
going on all over right now it seems fairly clear that the walls are
going to come down, and I and a few billion other people are going
to be on the wrong side of them. I don't know much but tech, but I
read a lot. I'm spending a lot more time outdoors and up mountains,
but I'm not planning on leaving. I'm looking forward to this
conversation, and I am planning furiously. Happy New Year.
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #23 of 220: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Wed 2 Jan 19 12:10
    


>  Tiff kinda nailed it for me when she talked about local politics 

thanks, <icenine>. i didn't realize you were involved in environmental
remediation to hazardous materials and nuclear plant building projects. 

from that perspective, where do you think we stand in 2019, in our case as
Americans, or as citizens of the world? do you think we understand what
environmental remediation really is, and do we have a firm grasp on what
needs to be remediated?
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #24 of 220: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Wed 2 Jan 19 12:15
    



Bruce, Bill Gates does sound a bit sad and desperate there. His comment
about software/AI becoming responsible for monitoring our moods and 
wellness (if i might paraphrase) is ominous indeed. Sherry Turkle at MIT
writes and talks about the issues -- deep problems and shallow, obvious
ones alike -- created by switching our attention from real-life humans to
robots, toys, and digitally mediated communication. Any thoughts on that? 
  
inkwell.vue.506 : State of the World 2019
permalink #25 of 220: Tiffany Lee Brown (T) (magdalen) Wed 2 Jan 19 12:27
    


James Bridle, nice to meet you. for years, i've been struggling with the
fact that i love to travel, but travel is unsustainable, as you put it. for
your own personal life have you come up with ideas about how to limit
travel or make it less environmentally problematic?
  

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