Monday, March 2, 2009

What Bruce Sterling Actually Said About Web 2.0 at Webstock 09

I just read this article by Bruce Sterling on the Wired Blog and there are several paragraphs I wanted to highlight because I think that they get at the heart of where we are heading as a global society:

When Bruce talks about the "clouds" in Web2.0 he makes a very interesting analogy with financial thinking and the rise of "securitization" pointing out some of the connections and inherent contradictions:
Imagine that this was financial thinking [referring to clouds in Web2.0 world] -- instead of web design thinking. We take a bunch of loans, we mash them together and turn them into a security. Now securities are secure, right? They are triple-A solid! So now we can build more loans on top of those securities. Ingenious! This means the price of credit trends to zero, so the user base expands radically, so everybody can have credit!

Nobody could have tried that before, because that sounds like a magic Ponzi scheme. But luckily, we have computers in banking now. That means Moore's law is gonna save us! Instead of it being really obvious who owes what to whom, we can have a fluid, formless ownership structure that's always in permanent beta. As long as we keep moving forward, adding attractive new features, the situation is booming!

In this next quote Bruce points out some of the inherent stupidity in much of the West's thinking about global connectedness and the role of the web. It is about "networking" it is about "communicating" it is not about what we think - creating viable monetized business models. Hell, the sharing of ideas is what is viable.

The people of the world are building a new global network and it doesn't require the fastest and best computer in the world with fat high-speed connections. What it requires is very simple technology - remember when the phone came to the west how that revolutionized our worlds? How it allowed us to grow a new set of relationships? This is what is going on in the world - in Africa, India, Asia, S. America. People are able to make phone calls - that is powerful stuff. And focusing on this is what will maybe give us a sense of the direction we are headed in.

Bruce points out that we don't even know what we are creating next. This is what is so exciting we don't have a blueprint but we have a sense we know that the last system and what it was built on is non-sustainable and it will and has collapsed. Time to network to talk to share and to communicate.

Gosh, we're really sorry that we accidentally ruined the NASDAQ." We're Internet business people, but maybe we should spend less of our time stock-kiting. The Web's a communications medium -- how 'bout working on the computer interface, so that people can really communicate?

That effort was time well spent. Really.

A lot of issues that Web 1.0 was sweating blood about, they went away for good. The "digital divide," for instance. Man, I hated that. All the planet's poor kids had to have desktop machines. With fiber optic. Sure! You go to Bombay, Shanghai, Lagos even, you're like "hey kid, how about this OLPC so you can level the playing field with the South Bronx and East Los Angeles?" And he's like "Do I have to? I've already got three Nokias." The teacher is slapping the cellphone out of his hand because he's acing the tests by sneaking in SMS traffic.

"Half the planet has never made a phone call." Boy, that's a shame -- especially when pirates in Somalia are making satellite calls off stolen supertankers. The poorest people in the world love cellphones. They're spreading so fast they make PCs look like turtles.

Digital culture, I knew it well. It died -- young, fast and pretty. It's all about network culture now.

We've got a web built on top of a collapsed economy. THAT's the black hole at the center of the solar system now. There's gonna be a Transition Web. Your economic system collapses: Eastern Europe, Russia, the Transition Economy, that bracing experience is for everybody now. Except it's not Communism transitioning toward capitalism. It's the whole world into transition toward something we don't even have proper words for.
Ultimately Bruce gets at one of the fundamental questions I am asking in my own research and I think many others are asking:

After a while you have to wonder if it's worth it -- the money model, I mean. Is finance worth the cost of being involved with the finance? The web smashed stocks. Global banking blew up all over the planet all at once... Not a single country anywhere with a viable economic policy under globalization. Is there a message here?

Are there some non-financial structures that are less predatory and unstable than this radically out-of-kilter invisible hand? The invisible hand is gonna strangle us! Everybody's got a hand out -- how about offering people some visible hands?
Can we not design as system of economic interaction that doesn't require us to "monetize" everything in order for it to get some semblance of value? Can we create a system that recognizes "abundance"? That there are certain things that hold an "infinite" value - that there exists no right to destroy or purchase this value?

What can we do about the way our money behaves? Can we design multiple currency systems that are able to meet our needs as a global society? What role does "credit" have in all of this? What about creating money without creating debt?

Oh I am sure there will be many market fundamentalist arguments against this. That is okay it needs to be tested. However, we are moving into a new territory of economic systems and this needs to be recognized. We don't know exactly what it looks like but we know how we want it to work.

As Bruce says it needs to be about "visible hands" not a groping around for some "invisible force" that operates beyond our control.