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Is the Future Getting Better Fast Enough? (SxSW Footnotes)
Alex Steffen, 14 Mar 05

Bruce Sterling and I will be having a keynote conversation tomorrow at South by Southwest.

In preparation, we've been trading some email about the subjects most on our minds, touching base on how we each see the world unfolding these days.

If you're looking for footnotes to our discussion, the list of topics and links I fired off (below) may at least provide an interesting introduction.

Here's what I've been thinking about these days:

Can we really end absolute poverty?

Will leapfrogging take off?

Will it help extend the second superpower to the third world? (though I know you hate the term second superpower...)

we're building a city the size of Seattle every eight days now -- can we grow green megacities?

How much can we mitigate our damage to the climate, and to what degree do we need to exercise climate foresight/ plan to adapt?

Can we shrink "the gap" and extend stability and peace if not democracy -- and can we do it on national security grounds?

Can China turn the corner before it's too late?

the Brasilia Consensus: will it pan out? And will F/OSS power its systems?

Can we create neobiological industry and biomimetic farming, or are we just fooling ourselves?

Will smart places and product sharing catch on?

Can we spread the bright green/ viridian meme *fast enough*

And, in general, can we win the Great Wager?

I do actually believe that things are getting better, overall. But are things getting better *fast* enough? That's the critical question, it seems to me...

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you might have noticed by now, but most of these links have an extra "br" tag stuck in the url. impossible to follow at the moment.

Posted by: odograph on 14 Mar 05

Bah. Fixed.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Mar 05

I'm still not clear on the point of pursuing the "is there enough time" idea. Say you discover there isn't enough time. Then what?

Again, I think it's a good intellectual exercise for oneself, but really not very effective in terms of motivating people, and if and when things play out differently than you imagined, it might look a but hyperbolic in hindsight.

A friend of mine once said his uncle gave him this slice of wisdom: "Lose sense of time".

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 14 Mar 05

The question is, rather, What else can we do? Or What should we be doing differently? Some answers might include:

- post an ad about in the New York Times (like in

- copy, steal or otherwise cooperate with spreadfirefox (as a concept or as a bunch of people)

- interview prominent politicians and other Big (memetic) Sneezers

- find ways to have paper newspapers republish WorldChanging articles

- find ways to translate WC into other languages fast (at least one in every ten articles)

- recollect a list of some 10 or 20 "important things to do" and put some kind of muscle behind them (definitely vague - what kind of muscle? meetups? glocal openspace gatherings? interconnected worldcaf├ęs?) Maybe we could select the kind of things where layman effort is needed - as something different from things where highly specialised effort is needed?

- ... please keep adding to the list

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 15 Mar 05

I don't have any specific action item to add to the list, but the one you mentioned sound pretty good.

I do think framing WC type-ideas just right and then introducing it into public debate is only way to go.

Posted by: Justin Thomas on 15 Mar 05

There was an interesting book on this issue I ran into about a year ago - "The Ingenuity Gap : Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an IncreasinglyComplex and Unpredictable World"
by Thomas Homer-Dixon. In fact, I think I heard about it here! -

Not that I entirely remember the premise of the book, but basically it addressed this question of whether things are changing faster than we can manage to keep up - I was a little dissatisfied with his approach though, he seemed to hint at some way of measuring the gap between change and our capacity to respond to it in a semi-quantitative way, but then never actually reached any quantitative conclusion.

Anyway, I think the main point is, the future won't get better without people putting effort into making it so. I'm glad you guys are here :-)

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 15 Mar 05



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