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Technology, Language, and Imagining Tomorrow
Jamais Cascio, 10 Mar 06

WorldChanging patron saint Bruce Sterling gave what looks like a pretty terrific speech at the 2006 Emerging Technology conference in San Diego. On the surface, it's about the "Internet of Things" -- spimes, blogjects and the like. What Bruce is really talking about, though, is language, and how what we call things can shape not just our perception of them, but how we use them to build the future.

As a literary guy, though, I think these definitional struggles are a positive force for good. It's a sign of creative health to be bogged down in internecine definitional struggles. It means we have escaped a previous definitional box. For a technologist, the bog is a rather bad place, because it makes it harder to sell the product. In literature, the bog of definitional struggle is the most fertile area. That is what literature IS, in some sense: it's taming reality with words. Literature means that we are trying to use words to figure out what things mean, and how we should feel about that.

So don't destroy the verbal wetlands just because you really like optimized superhighways. New Orleans lost a lot of its mud and wetlands. Eventually, the storm-water rushed in, found no nice mud to bog down in, and came straight up over the levees.

Those of you who disliked Bruce's response to Lovelock's latest essay take note: this is Bruce in academic mode, not sarcastic rant mode.

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