Plenty of folk tend to get speculative around this time of year, but there’s provocation to be found amongst the predictions.
State of the World
At the the turn of each year, sci-fi author, blogger, creator of the viridian design manifesto and all round sharp-fella, Bruce Sterling runs a spritely conversation at The Well, between himself and anyone interested. Moderated by media theorist Jon Lebowsky, the conversation generally ends up trying to puncture various conspiracy and apocalyptic theories, and make some vague sense out of the recent whirlwind of media and technology events. Well worth a read through, the sample quotes below give some of the flavour :
Jon Lebkowsky’s cheery introduction :
Everything’s peachy, with a few exceptions… the economy of the USA is crumbling, of course, and the U.S. government’s bleeding dollars (as well as real American blood) in Iraq. Climate change is accelerating, polar ice caps are melting, whole species are disappearing. Developing nations want their chance to be the next USA, and they’re not especially interested in hearing that it’s not possible for everyone to leverage the same increasingly limited resources. What happens when we pay everybody in the world a living wage, and give ’em all a chance to own an SUV and a house in the suburbs? How many worlds would it take to float that boat? How pissed are they going to be when they realize “lifestyles of the rich and famous don’t scale,” in fact the lifestyle of the typical middle-class American is not sustainable.
Bruce Sterling: Serious-minded people everywhere do know they have to deal with the resource crisis and the climate crisis. Because the world-machine’s backfiring and puffing smoke. ( eg see – http://climateprogress.org/2007/12/12/an-ice-free-arctic-by-2013/ )
I love the fringes of society, but, as great designer Henry Dreyfuss used to say, the best way to get three good ideas is to brainstorm a hundred weird ideas and kill off 97 of them. And we need to get used to that process, and not, say, shut down Silicon Valley because there are too many start-ups there wasting Microsoft’s valuable resources.
Jamais Cascio, in response : We really do need to learn to generate lots of prototypes, throw ’em at the wall, search them, sort them, rank them, critique them, and blow the best ones into global-scale proportions at high speed. That’s what our contemporary civilization is really good at, and it is simply beyond the imagination of the 1960s.
The EDGE.org’s John Brockman asks a new question each year, and gets an interconnected crew of tech/sci/internet elites deliver short and nano-sharp replies. This year’s question: What have you changed your mind about? make Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind? Climate change and energy resources are again in the forefront of many heads, but there’s also insightful opinions about memory, the internet, language, distributed identity, wikipedia, the mind-body problem, online privacy, complexity, the ethics of animal research, software as performance art and muchos more.
Turns out that we don’t need to drink 8 glasses of water a day ( we get water in food in other drinks too ), our hair and fingernails don’t keep growing after we die ( the rest of us shrinks ), we use more than 10% of our brain ( the 90% supposedly never-used has never been found ) , and shaved hair doesn’t grow back darker or coarser ( when first shaed, the hair has a blunt edge, thereby seeming thicker, it is also bleached by the sun over time ). And more, at the Guardian.
And Other News Worthy of A New Year
The New York Times reports on signs of 21 st century civilisation:
“For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund being released today.This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa.”