current events

“State of the World 2014”: My favorite bits

So, it’s that time of year when experts, pundits and assorted brainiacs look back at the global economic, cultural, and political trends and try to decipher the grand meaning of what just happened in the last 12 months.

Actually, maybe “that time of year” was a couple of weeks ago now, but cut me some slack. I was busy.

By now, pages upon pages of punditry have been generated, out there waiting to be waded through, if one is so inclined. Or you could just skip it and read Bruce Sterling and John Lebkowsky’s “State of the World 2014”,  the latest in a series which (if I’m not mistaken) dates back to 2000.

It’s all a bit geeky, and materialistic in a tech-obsessed sort of way, but then we live in an increasingly geeky, materialistic and tech-obsessed world. So there’s that. Also, what they have to say may not be fundamentally different from other such year-end round-ups. But they’re just So. Damn. Pithy.

Extracted without comment on my part below are my favorite bits:

Sterling:

“2013 turned out to be the year when the Digital Revolution trended Stalinist. Old-school Digital Bolsheviks scattered hapless in every direction, as Big Data Killer Bot Commissars scoured the darkening landscape, and Trotsky went to ground in Ecuador.”

Lebkowsky:

“The reality of growing persistent domestic surveillance is somehow distant an unreal. It’s like we’re watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the bad acts are bad video, some sort of fiction imposed by deus ex Tom Clancy. We have the same response to the careful dismantling of government and whole sections of the former middle class – it’s a film by Frank Capra, or maybe Judd Apatow. A cheesy bit of cinema that will somehow resolve itself, credits will eventually roll, we’ll step out of the fantasy and into the light of day, and everything will be fine, just fine. But what we’re watching is not cinema, but a maleficent YouTube video gone viral, shot by rabid weasels with an infected Android, looping constantly like Einstein’s definition of insanity. We’ve dozed off watching it, fallen into nested dream states fed by networks of fantasy, no clear way to consciousness.”

Lebkowsky:

“We know too much (broadly) and we don’t know enough (detail), and that odd quirk of knowing invites us to speculate – about chemtrails, which may be ordinary contrails but could also be a spew of unknown, potentially sinister origin. Or Fukushima…”

Sterling:

“Technology’s not moving all that fast in 2014; tech is simply drifting toward the money, really.  It’s hard  to write fiction about technology because the structure of language is mutating.  Also, the demographics for printed fiction have collapsed.  So, who is science fiction talking to? […] For instance, nobody has ever invented a novelistic way to capture SMS messages, which are the way real people basically talk nowadays.  We’ve got dialogue conventions that work on a page, but we don’t have any SMS conventions.   They’re inelegant.  The result is that literary language loses vitality.   It’s out of touch with the digital vernacular of popular speech. […] So fiction is losing its ability to marinate itself in the tenor of the times, and to create a cultural sensibility, to be the credible witness or social guide to ‘the way things are now.’  ‘The way things
are now’ are no longer what pages and paragraphs are about.  Literary communication is a subset of communication, and communication is in turmoil.”

Sterling (discussing the relative success of the current Serbian regime run by the ‘Radikalni’ party):

“I’ve never seen Serbia in such a state of public contentment and apparent stability. It’s truly startling […] This development gives me the conviction that pessimism is public affairs is just a kind of arrogance.”

There’s plenty more worth copying and pasting here. However, that last bit– “Pessimism in public affairs is just a kind of arrogance”–is a surprisingly positive note to stop on, and something I will try to keep in mind as events unfold in the following year.

(You can read more at the link above.) ~nmw

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