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Bruce Sterling: "Make No Decision Out of Fear!"
Alex Steffen, 17 Mar 06

brucesSxSW06.jpgPhoto by Simon Phipps

WC Ally#1, Bruce Sterling, just gave two major talks back to back and both should be of immediate interest to worldchangers.

The first, delivered at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies conference, is all about spimes. the emerging Internet of Things and why people keep making up terms like "spime" and phrases like "the Internet of Things"

"A neologism, a completely made-up word like 'spime,' is a verbal framing device. It's an attention pointer. I call them "spimes," not because I necessarily expect that coinage to stick, but because I need a single-syllable noun to call attention to the shocking prospect of things that are plannable, trackable, findable, recyclable, uniquely identified and that generate histories.

I also wanted the word to be Google-able. If you Google the word 'spime,' you find a small company called Spime, and a song by a rock star, but most of the online commentary about spimes necessarily centers around this new idea, because it's a new word and also a new tag. It's turning into what Julian Bleecker calls a 'Theory Object,' which is an idea which is not just a mental idea or a word, but a cloud of associated commentary and data, that can be passed around from mouse to mouse, and linked-to. Every time I go to an event like this, the word "spime" grows as a Theory Object. A Theory Object is a concept that's accreting attention, and generating visible, searchable, rankable, trackable trails of attention."

The second, his keynote speech at South by Southwest, which you can listen to here, is an entirely different beast altogether. While Bruce throws the crowd some juicy technical tidbits here as well, primarily the SxSW speech is about the future we're building, and what we ought to do about it:

"When you actually ignore reality for years on end, the payback is a bitch brother! ... We're seeing just frantic collisions of fundamentalist delusion with objective reality... We're on a kind of slider bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable now, bteween the grim meathook future and the bright green future. There are ways out of this situation; there are actual ways to move the slider bar from one side to the other, except that we haven't invented the words for them yet."

The challenge, Bruce says, is that the worst people in the world -- genocidal ethnic mafiosos, fundamentalist fanatics, Washington lobbyists -- are running the show, American government has become the new Soviet Union (ossified, corrupt and widely perceived as illigitimate by the rest of the planet) and things are not good in much of the world. That said, if you look honestly at the world, you see a new story emerging, with millions of smart, dedicated people locked in a struggle to steer us towards a better future using every tool in their power, and that "that's a big story!" Finally, he reminds those of us who are part of that story of the motto of the old Soviet-era Eastern European dissidents: "Make no decision out of fear."

That's damn good advice. These are damn fine speeches. Bruce, well done.

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Count me a Sterlingsceptic. Isn't an idea or a word that's a cloud of associated commentary and data idea?

And if he really cared about "design", "architecture" and such he wouldn't have that dire livejournal.

Posted by: Alex on 17 Mar 06

Looks like you missed the point. Try actually reading Bruce's SxSW talk, and the usefulness of describing the particular subset of ideas which are designed to work as theory objects will I think be apparent.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Mar 06

Is there a text version of the South by Southwest speech anywhere online?

Posted by: Stephen Frug on 17 Mar 06

Not that I know of... at least not yet.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Mar 06

The link to the speech may have been bOINGbOINGED.

It's timing out, and I can't save it for off-line listening.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 17 Mar 06

Minneapolis Worldchangers: Bruce is speaking at the Walker Art Center with Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija next Thursday, March 23. It's free! Details here:
And here:

Posted by: Chad K on 17 Mar 06

Ignore my earlier comment. My attempt to load it just happened to correspond with a network outage.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 17 Mar 06

one of the more inspiring, wise, funny, moving, engaging, enraging, honest and brave things I have ever had the privilege to see or hear. THank you Mr Sterling.

Seriously - I heard it in person - I'll remember it always, I am sure. Just listen to it right now.

Posted by: john Allsopp on 17 Mar 06

The Internet of Things and the related idea of a 'fabbing' citizenry keeps fascinating. Maybe WC could start writing journalistic stories about how it might help the dev world in the future.
Maybe it's too early to do so and maybe the applications seem limited (and maybe it's too 'moralistic' to think in these terms right now), but it's always nice to see how WC links new technologies to concrete problems facing the Natives down South. And how it does so before anyone else thinks of the potential of such technologies.
I hope WC keeps doing this.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 17 Mar 06

I wish Bruce had taken the time to transcribe his speeches. Audio recordings are essentially invisible to current search engines.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 18 Mar 06

A lot of earlier bruces speeches were transcribed. Or, more likely, he posted the written version.

Sterling's 1991 address to the Computer Game Developers' Conference is an utter hoot.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 18 Mar 06

wow the mp3 speach is amazing,. it brought me to tears in the end quite literally. What i found most moving is the positive vision of a possible future it evoced in my imagination,. coupled with a nice bit of percing analysis of current human failings here in america and around the globe,. thanks for the hope and tears. I will endevor to 'make no decision out of fear'

Posted by: jph wacheski on 19 Mar 06


Can someone "convert" mp3 to txt, please?

Thanks, Roman

Posted by: modicr on 19 Mar 06

I'm a Sterling fan, but don't have time at the moment to search for his speeches, I'm frantically trying to finish a book on new media and politics.
If anyone has txt versions of any of Sterling's speeches, or the url, I'd love to hear from you.

Also, if any of you have a comment about the myths of the Internet - it seems that Sterling may in fact be generating some - pls post them to me this week if you can, full acknowledgment in the text for any who send a note that gets used in the text.
The book is called 'Broadcast to narrowcast' and it has a major section on the rise of the surveillance economy.
any thoughts on that?


Posted by: Martin Hirst on 19 Mar 06

Sorry, my email address didn't take:
here it is:


Posted by: Martin Hirst on 19 Mar 06

Here is "The Bruce Sterling Online Index:"

Articles, columns, transcribed speeches, and etc.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 19 Mar 06

"'ll have to Amazon it [his new book]."

should be

"'ll have to local bookstore it."

keeping in tradition with small, independent-minded, artististic and thoughtful communities.

Posted by: ej on 20 Mar 06

Partially transcribed:

Serbia has one of the most dysfunctional societies on the planet.

And I can see that it's depressing here in America. An empire that lacks any base except oil, real estate speculation, and blood. A nation at war. And we even look different physically. Fat. Hugely and scarily fat. Swollen up as if poisoned and about to pop.

"The Balkans have so much future they have to export it to other people." Slovenia? It's a dull, conventional place. Like Iowa. Because they're way into Serbian truthiness there. And forgive them some of that.

Posted by: modicr on 20 Mar 06

I just finished blogging a plain-text rendition of Sterling's SXSW speech from this year, here.
I feel fortunate to have witnessed it first-hand. Perfect capstone to a pretty amazing year of SXSW Interactive.

Posted by: Sean Harton on 22 Mar 06

Having sat through Sterling's speech, I have to say that my opinion differs from most posters here.

Sterling's speech was one of the most rambling, self-promoting, uninspiring self-indulgences I've had the misfortune of hearing.

Sterling took plenty of time to promote his "audacious and freaky" book, his "weird and innovative" book and his "visionary" book.

He talked about the joys and ironies of his expatriate life.

He gave us his elevator pitch on a word he made up, "spime" that really isn't a word, but a "theory object".

He dissed old people who live in Topeka and called Iowa and Slovenia "dull, conventional, harmless little places" - despite the fact he earlier made the point that HIS location in the world didn't matter.

He called America dark and depressing and its people scarily fat, like they are about to pop.

And he told everyone "you are a philistine, and you have no taste."

Then he gave a blubbering rendition of a poem.

If SXSW attendees really think this sort of thing is a great speech, though, how can they hope to understand the power that priests and politicians are currently wielding on our world?

The speech really downgraded my impression of Sterling.

Posted by: jeri on 23 Mar 06

jeri - Wow, do you ever have a knack for missing the point! Your going to falt an author for pimpin' his newest book? What you expect the guy to say, he is an author and I would assume he would like to inform people of his latest work,. I was not a SXSW attendee, however I do think this was a phenomenaly perceptive and politically brave speach given by one of our greatest global thinkers. I guess he gored one of your sacred ox eh?

Posted by: jph wacheski on 24 Mar 06

"He dissed old people who live in Topeka and called Iowa and Slovenia"

"he told everyone "you are a philistine, and you have no taste.""

Do these comments really matter? In the context of the speech? They're nothing more than light hearted throwaway gags with obvious ironic intent

... and to dismiss obvious emotion at the Sandburg poem as "blubbing" is a lot more mean-spirited than anything Sterling said there.

I didn't think the speech was perfect - I found it hard to interconnect all of his themes of the speech - but I'll go back and re-listen to it later.

Posted by: Danny on 2 Apr 06



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