I thanked my friend Wendy for hauling me out of a talk about the social designs in online gaming to hear the annual sxsw Bruce Sterling “rant”. The author of a number of successful futurist novels, Sterling certainly delivered on the conference organisors' promise of “having a sharp and well-conceived opinion on an almost inexhaustible list of topics”.
His is one of the most forward-looking views on the effects of the Internet that I've heard here. He's also the only person I've heard that has talked so insightfully about international issues – something that future conferences will have to deal with as Internet markets become more dispersed.
Sterling spoke about trends in Internet security, outsourcing, emerging economies and the failures of the Bush administration in the realm of – amongst others – Internet security, predicting that such failures are having an impact on the awakening of dormant economies in the developing world.
Some of his most interesting comments were about the technological and cultural revolution happening in India. He said that the party in power in India has done a great job of putting together the right ingredients for a great blossoming that has seen more advances in health, education, and social upliftment than the country has seen for the past 2000 years. He said that the party currently in power in India was essentially “anti-Ghandi” in nature and in blood, the direct descendants of those who killed the leader in 1984. He attributed the success of the current regime to its acceptance and pursuance of the fruits of globalisation, declaring that people often forget that 'globalisation means everyone's isation – not just american expansionism'.
Another direct, postive effect of globalisation on the Indian economy has come from the diaspora. Websites like suleka.com and bazee.com have enabled Indians living abroad to buy Indian products, send money home and even buy 'the clothes of Bollywood actresses straight off their backs'.
Sterling is also watching Brazil, whose Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, is also a famous musician. Gil (also a great Creative Commons ally) is on a non-stop world tour, logging up countless international travel hours, declaring his wish to 'preside over the “tropicalisation of digitisation”' and making deals for his country's artists with anyone who will listen. A proponent of open source, Gil has recognised that it is only a matter of time before the developing world finds its 'killer app' and that it 'won't be given to them by Microsoft'.
Sterling's comments about spam were probably the most impassioned. He spoke about the extreme filth that is being 'spewed' from the Internet and the massive incompetence of the current administration to listen to the advice even of its own officials tasked with solving Internet security problems. He said the worst thing about Internet security is that the US is pushing its 'great Internet invention' onto other countries, declaring that this is the greatest technological advancement of all time, and that when 'small, shy countries' become connected, they become polluted by the mountain of filth that attacks them from depraved spammers in the US. 'We in the States', he said, 'Are used to this filth, but people from other countries must be shocked at the depravity that comes streaming out of the US Internet into their homes.'
Sterling ended on a note about Austin, about how the city was on a push to become 'the clean energy capital of the world' and how excited he was at this prospect. He said that he was taking his own initiative in this regard, talking about plans to supply energy to his neighborhood from the solar panels on the top of his house.
Austin, he said, is a city that historically tries to do the right thing. It is a place where people seem to have a wonderful ideas about how things should be.
After three days here, I am beginning to agree.