Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bruce Sterling, All really good futurists

16 May 2006

After the close of the City University conference on Broadcasting and the Digital Dividend, I raced across town to the Space Triangle where Bruce Sterling - Shaping Things, his latest excursion and incursion, fairly fresh off the press - was holding forth at the Space Triangle artists space in the East End.

Its been ages since I attended an event with a sole guest speaker. A packed room, for the spectacle that is Bruce Sterling. I had to stand up for the whole session. It was not practical to take notes. Claustrophobic space. I made do with some photos to record the event. - I wonder, did anyone podcast the event?

Although I arrived late Bruce held forth for a full two hours, playing cat and mouse with the potentials of the new ubiquitous world of RFID for his art audience. One braces oneself for a spate of arts council grant applications of the "we'll add RFID to wi-fi" variety. As the ARPHID meme is scratched and smelled for aphrodisiac qualities.

In the long Q&A session I asked one question: "Bruce, we've heard a lot about the top-down genesis of RFID technology. In your year as Visionary in Residence in LA, presumably you did some brainstorming sessions on RFID and I'm curious to know what bottom-up scenarios you envisaged".

I scribbled two comments on my train ticket *, to lay claim to some memory of the event (* a fair bit of air-play at the event was given over to the Oyster card, its RF capability opening up a world of panopticon possibilities):

* All really good futurists are historians

* Tag yourself * ARPHID * and stuff will come out of the woodwork.

"Arphid" relates to Bruce's semantic play on RFID. He was keen for anyone who was blogging the event to join the semantic club, to see Arphid spike on the Net. With an open invitation to articulate an anti- Arphid construction. A catchy little meme, so that my subsequent word play alighted on * Triffids * -- they're ubiquitous; there's gonna be trillions of them (- see Seamless Freedom video here); oh yeh, and if there's a triad, three of them located contiguously, then one can triangulate one's geographical position.

Bruce's playful situating of RFID - exploring "derive" and "detournement" strategies for the medium, in his words - was a surprisingly demystifying event of Bruce Sterling, as Bruce explained his journalists drive, discursive strategies, and post-modern sensibilities.

"Maybe I am an agent of the state, circulating discourses on RFID", quipped Bruce in response to one interlocutor.

"There really is now way of knowing in this chaotic, post-modern space"

"But really, I just don't do paranoia".

(- my lose paraphrase, from memory).

Then as the Q & A session went on one became ever more aware of the audience, and Bruce's situationist references brought to mind that quote about social relations - "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images" (Debord, X).

My imagination was absorbed less by avant garde sorties into frontier technology country (- you need to know how to use a map and compass!), than the opening up of vistas of new geo-political frontiers. "I met Arkan", Bruce declared in his talk, "I interviewed him, and learnt a lot from him". Bruce now lives in Beograd, with his partner. One anticipates some future writing with Belgrade as its locus. (Ah, and I see Richard Stallman was recently in town... X and X)

Final thoughts:



Not fetishized technology. Not derive and drift.

The Internet Revolution (X , X and X). The role of Radio B92 (X , X, X and X). Social networks. Social revolution.

[A strange personal link is that Bruce was a peer of BH, who had presented at the Digital Broadcasting event earlier in the day and with whom I attended the Sterling event (and BH and I were gearing up for the Wireless Event later in the week). "Ah, Antenna!", chirped Bruce when we had a quick exchange after the event (- BH's nickname from the Well, when they hung about together on the telecoms list)].


newstatesman | An evening with Bruce Sterling - Questions and Answers | podcast

lukehearn's blog | Bruce Sterling Rant @ Space "ARPHID NOT RFID"

Bruce Sterling | Shaping Things |MIT press, September 2005 | Bruce Sterling | The Internet of Things | runtime: 00:56:26, 25.8 mb, recorded 2006-03-06
In the future we may be able to find lost keys with a simple google search. Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling imagines how physical objects will be part of the internet as they become trackable in space and time. Bruce discusses the theoretical and technical challenges that we face as we try and think about and develop the Internet of Things. From Spimes to Thing Links to Blogjects, the terminology and verbal framing devices currently being used are pulled apart in this keynote address from the 2006 O'reilly Emerging Technology Conference. (...)

Bruce Sterling | Viridian Note 00459: Emerging Technology 2006 | Bruce Sterling's blog: Beyond the beyond


Rob said...

He's the man, that's for sure.

Catfunt said...

I did ask Space Studios if they were planning to make the video or audio that they recorded available but haven't heard anything as yet. I'll chase them up.

JohnRWilson said...

Yes, would be good to have the video available online!