The media is the massage, or: What Bruce Sterling said (January 22, 2003)

[Blogger’s note: Here it is almost four years later — Bruce Sterling isn’t always right about everything, but how prescient was he that night in the bookstore?]

And then, there’s the media. I think of Laurie Anderson (who I really can’t stand otherwise for her snobbishness, self-indulgence and elitist attitude) when she remarked, as an aside during a concert, that she usually thinks of the media as “one giant slime mold.” Yes, it’s a cheap laugh. I don’t think of individual journalists as such, but when you consider that they are mere tools in the hands of the corporations they work for, and the interests said corporations represent, I have to give props to those journos who manage to let a bit of individual initiative slip through. It hasn’t been an easy quarter-century or so in which to journalize. Last night I went to Austin’s largest independent bookstore to hear sci-fi author and futurist Bruce Sterling (who you could call an early Late Boomer, having been born in `54, and with the graying longish hair to prove it). He was there to promote his new non-fiction book Tomorrow Now, in which he attempts to predict the next 50 years.

Among other things, he warned us to prepare for a season of major protest in the US in the very near future. (Worse things could happen…)

While I sat in the third row and listened intently to Chairman Bruce, I could feelmy cerebral cortex overheating and threatening to blow. The guy sees the big pic and takes a  very long view, and, like the best journalists, attempts to make sense out of seeming chaos. I wasn’t covering the event for any outlet, but found myself making notes out of habit…

Among Sterling’s many provocative statements, here’s a standout: “All the demonstrators are saying No War For Oil. Eventually, you realize that the war is oil. If you have oil, you can get away with anything. It’s worse than heroin. Everyone who gets near it is corrupted. Look at Enron. It’s the devil’s work. And coal is worse. If Saddam Hussein didn’t have any oil, he would have been gone long ago.”

Sterling described the antiwar marches last weekend in Florence, Italy as “a 7 km long march” composed of scads of different groups, not one of them talking to another. It’s a gathering with precious little cross-pollinating dialogue, he said, adding that chaos is no substitute for bad government; “if the sewers don’t work, you’re screwed.” You could say as much for the protests last weekend in the US. Here’s a topic for discussion: is the peace movement’s lack of centralization its fatal flaw? Do we need a leftist Mussolini type (or a Lenin) to organize the peace activists into an effective critical-mass organism (or, a big giant slime mold)? Or do we leave well enough alone?

As for the media, he adds, “There isn’t any difference between media and surveillance. They’re the same thing. This is something we’re doing to each other.” Which is something that, as a journalist, he added, he’s profoundly ambivalent about. Security vs. privacy is a major concern: “Nobody blind-dates you anymore, they’re gonna Google you on the spot!” (He also expressed reservations about doing a public reading in his hometown, because he doesn’t like to be recognized at 2 a.m. in the supermarket.)

In Sterling’s words, he’s “neither an optimist nor a pessimist; I’m just engaged.” As for me, I’m just an interested observer asking questions…

You can view Sterling’s blog here.

Peace of mind, y’all.


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