John Shirley: “empathy may be a precious commodity in the future”

In the wake of the Connecticut shootings, John Shirley posted on Facebook this excerpt from a text he wrote as the basis for a TedX talk:

“People who are quadriplegic have stated that they feel less emotion than they did, when they could still feel their entire bodies. The projection of the self into electronics reduces our relationship to the body, the seat of our emotions, and for several reasons that might lead to an increase in psychopathology.

“And empathy may be a precious commodity in the future. Most people unconsciously cut off their empathy when they’re feeling endangered–when the population increases to 8 and 9 and 10 billion, we may instinctively become, as a race, proportionately less empathetic–unless we actively struggle against that kind of degeneracy.”

Jon L. on SXSW

I’m talking about SXSW 2012 (as well as bits about the history and relevance of the event) on the WELL. [Link]

SXSW started in 1987 as a quirky event inspired by New York City’s New
Music Seminar and festival, but I didn’t get involved until 1994, when
the event added Multimedia to the mix. I’ve been going and involved in
various ways ever since. We were encouraging the producers of
Multimedia to include Internet programming, and my recollection is that
it took 2-3 years for the Multimedia conference to become
Internet-focused. The name changed to SXSW Interactive in 1999.

Interactive was at that point smaller than Music and Film, and in the
early years of blogging and social software, it became a go-to
conference to people with that focus. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a
digital technology conference, though there are always sessions that
are about tech. It’s more of a digital culture conference encompassing
a broad range of online scenes, activities, platforms etc.

As such, the conference/festival tends to reflect the state of the
online world in any given year. Following digital convergence, all
media are digital media. Analog has become a quaint exception. Given
that, there’s huge interest in all things interactive, and the festival
has become the largest of its kind – in fact there’s nothing quite
like it.

This year Internet has mainstreamed, broadband adoption is high, even
your 90 year old grandmother is liable to have a Facebook account –
probably to track what the kids are doing, but once you’re online
you’re drawn into any number of scenes and pursuits. Digital culture is
not just culture. Everything has digital implications.

So the interesting thing about SXSW this year was that there wasn’t
much new. As a friend was pointing out to me, it was less about hearing
about new cool stuff or jamming in innovative ways, and more about
exposure to the best of the best of technology and culture. The
conference is so huge, it attracts those people, and that creates a
special kind of energy, though not the same as the energy of the
festival when it was smaller, quirkier, more innovative.

And it’s a place where everybody shows up, so there are a lot of
people who have working and personal relationships online but never get
to see each other face to face; they can come together here and have
side meetings of some duration, get things done, have a brief but
deeper experience of each other.

Bruce Sterling at SXSW Interactive 2012

After introducing Bruce I dove into Twitter and live tweeted his talk. People told me afterward that they thought it was too cheerful – see what you think from these short bursts (I was typing faster than I could think.) Comments encouraged.

After introducing Bruce I dove into Twitter and live tweeted his talk. People told me afterward that they thought it was too cheerful – see what you think from these short bursts (I was typing faster than I could think.) Comments encouraged.

SXSW 3/13/2012

I’ve been running around SXSW having meetings, taking notes, taking photos. Might take some time to summarize. Haven’t had time to sit still, attend to sessions, blog and tweet, and that seems to be true of various Old Hands who are here to meet specific conversations, have particular conversations, slicing the conference according to need and aspiration. For instance, I met with the brilliant and focused Amber Case to discuss cyborganics more generally and our new blog, Reality Augmented in particular. More about that in a later post.

Today, the last day of Interactive, I caught only a couple of sessions, one on Buddhism and the Internet, the other Jennifer Pahlka’s inspiring keynote about the potential for better government through digital technology. Shortly I’m introducing Bruce Sterling for his closing talk, which I’ll no doubt be tweeting live.

I used to do some live blogging and posting at these events, which is easier to do if you’re not local (which makes you a host, after all). I’m thinking it’s better to digest and sort things out before writing.

Also I’ll be holding forth about SXSW on the WELL starting March 15.

Augmented cyborgs at SXSW

Another SXSW coming up; it’ll be good to see old friends and make new connections. The Austin Chronicle asked me to write something for their SXSW Interactive issue; that led to an interesing interview with cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, a longer version of which I might post here later. When “bOING bOING” was a magazine, I was an associated editor listed as “cyborganic jivemeister,” and the magazine I published, FringeWare Review, focused quite bit on “cyborging.” Originally a science fiction term, a mashup of “cybernetic organism,” the term represents a potentially huge field of study – how humans interact with, and how human experience is enhanced by, digital technology. If you’ll be at SXSW Interactive, don’t miss Amber’s keynote Sunday, March 11, 2pm at the Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5 (#SXAmberCase). Meanwhile after the interview was done she and I kept talking, and will be working on a project together, a blog on the subject of augmented reality.

Bruce Sterling talk at ATX Hackerspace

I shot this video of Bruce at an EFF-Austin-sponsored event February 25 at ATX Hackespace. We were rallying the troops. “You will not have the Internet that you had 20 years ago, that’s not possible. But you don’t have to roll over at the site of bluster from the Internet’s increasingly desperate enemies…”

Contact Summit: “It’s time to take back the net”

At the Contact Summit. Photo by Steven Brewer
At the Contact Summit. Photo by Steven Brewer

This week, on October 20, a diverse assortment of forward-thinking, Internet-savvy, solutions-oriented people gathered in New York City for Contact Summit, a project-focused event organized by Doug Rushkoff and Venessa Miemis. I was originally planning to attend, and was plugged into the small team of organizers. I couldn’t make the event, but have been available as a resource for organizers of related global Meetups, and will help sustain the converation following the event.

Doug had created a prologue video for the remote Meetups scheduled to occur synchronous with the main event. Here’s a summary of his comments in that video – this gives a good idea what the gathering was about:

It’s time to take back the net. Currently the Internet is much too concerned with marketing, IPOs, and the next killer app, and too little concerned with helping human beings get where we need to go. We want to use the Internet effectively to promote better ways of living, doing commerce, educating, making art, doing spirituality. To collaborate on ideas about how to use the net well. There are a lot of projects that need our assistance. From Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, people are rising up. We need solutions. Contact is about finding the others, and working and playing with them to find solutions to age-old problems. In New York on October 20th, we’re having unconference-style meetings plus a two hour bazaar where people will demo their projects. We’ll select projects that most need help, help them get funding and move forward. What it’s really about is planting a flag in the sand, saying the Internet is really about us, not about aiding the bottom line of a few corporations. This goes as deep and as far as we want to take it. The Summit is just a trigger point. It’s time to fold the fringes of the Internet back into the middle and re-ignite the passion and practicality of the Internet. If there were another name for Contact, I would call it “Occupy the Net.” We will collaborate to bring disparate projects with similar goals into harmony, so that anything we can dream will emerge.

Here’s a list of the winning projects from the Bazaar:

Here’s a list of winning sessions (selected by attendees):

Upgrading Democracy: Representation is a fundamental concept of our governance, but is encoded in the technology of the 18th century. The modern networked world enables a truer form of representation known variously under the names Dynamic Democracy, Liquid Democracy, and Delegable Proxy voting.

Local Foodsharing platform: I don’t have details on this yet

Kick-Stopper – Crowdsourced Unfunding: This group is dedicated to creating online organizing tools to organize large scale divestment and debt strike campaigns. Join here:

Online General Assembly: This group folded itself into the Upgrade Democracy group, but has its own mandate: to create an online version of the General Assembly technique (as practiced by Occupy Wall Street) for consensus building.

Collaboration Matchmaking Application: The idea is to create an application that helps creators, particularly artists, find collaborators on projects. During the final session on this concept, participants decided that this project should grow at its own pace and with a relatively smaller circle.

DJ Lanphier shot video at the event, and has gradually been uploading those to Here’s an example, a video of Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation: “We are discovering together how we should be working.”

Photo by Steven Brewer.

Future of the Internet talk tonight

Tonight I’ll be giving my “future of the Internet” talk at Bootstrap Interactive. I’ll cover a bit of history and evolution of the Internet and ‘net applications, talk about what’s been changing, related effects, and network trends. We’ll talk about the kinds of applications that are emerging, and utopian and dystopian scenarios for the future. This’ll be interactive; come tell me what I’m missing. Free, at Conjunctured, 1309 E. 7th in Austin, 7pm.

EFF-Austin revives meeting series

EFF-Austin has been quietly working along presenting occasional events (like the recent Texas Government 2.0 Camp), operating its email list, and publishing occasional blog posts,  but we’ve had a growing sense of a need to ramp up our activities. We can see major threats to the distributed, decentralized Internet and the expectation of a “freedom to connect,” and there are all sorts of interesting conversations and movements emerging that are relevant to EFF-Austin’s stated mission: “EFF-Austin advocates establishment and protection of digital rights and defense of the wealth of digital information, innovation, and technology. We promote the right of all citizens to communicate and share information without unreasonable constraint. We also advocate the fundamental right to explore, tinker, create, and innovate along the frontier of emerging technologies.”

A first important step in our ramping up: we’re restarting our monthly meeting series, coordinated by our new board member, Anna Kozminski. The first of the new series of meetings is June 1 at the Flying Saucer at the Triangle – information and (free) registration here. Open Source software developer Tom Brown, who among other things maintains oscurrency for the Austin Time Exchange and founded Superborrownet, Inc., will talk about his experience attending Internet Identity Workshop 12, and about the Identity Commons movement in general. Come to the meeting, express your support for EFF-Austin’s mission, volunteer to be part of our future going forward.

(Note that EFF-Austin is an independent nonprofit formed originally as a potential chapter of the national Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). When EFF decided not to have chapters, we went our own way as an influential organization focused on cyber liberties and more, such as digital culture and arts.)

SXSW 2011

Jeff Lofton playing with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Jeff Lofton playing with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Intense week at SXSW, starting with the Ed Ward/Jon Lebkowsky breakfast Saturday morning, followed by a Project VRM workshop organized with Doc Searls that afternoon, and much running around Austin that night. Sunday, a core conversation I attended discussed iPad apps for journalism, a good lead-in to the panel I moderated Monday about news apps (standalone apps vs thin client or browser-based data apps). Spent most of Monday revving up the Plutopia event Monday night, which was a smashing success, and included a press conference with Text of Light, David Merrill of Sifteo and Bruce Sterling, where we discussed the meaning of the event’s theme, “the future of play.”

It was like we were thrashing around in our ideas. Some of them might be revolutionary, though none were especially new. For example, I found myself in several discussions about political and governance subjects that felt new when I wrote about them in the mid to late 1990s… they’re still presented as new thinking today in the wake of seemingly effective Middle East protests. But the jury’s still out on those, and governing a protest demonstration, however large and long term and however successful, is not the same flavor as governing a country and plugging it into a new global reality.

I walked into SXSW with a sense that the world is profoundly changing, with the change driven by forces, not by people. It felt like I was in a bubble where time and the world had frozen, a world with its own laws driven by old-school capitalism and marketing. A very pleasant world where so many hoping to attract my attention and allegiance would buy me drinks and feed me really-okay conference food. Last night Asleep at the Wheel was closing down the trade show and I saw a line of people waiting for slices of an enormous cake shaped like Texas. Texas itself is not much of a cake; a state which, like so many other political entities, is overextended and starving for cash. No icing on that cake; very little flour and egg. Mostly a need that politicians were loathe to acknowledge pre-election. Now they’re scrambling to shut down schools and end essential services. No cake there – Texas will be an economic disaster in a decade, because without great schools and a commitment to education, we won’t compete well within the global capitalist economy, if indeed there is one. Things are tough all over; toughest today in Japan, devastated by earthquake and facing potential nuclear meltdown. I heard yesterday that the Japanese at SXSW are stranded here for now, they can’t go back.

The Middle East is exploding with supposed democratic fervor; the energy of democratic revolt is compelling, but there are hard questions ahead, even in if “the people” win. Governance is hard. Democracy is difficult. It’s arguable whether a revolution fixes more than it breaks. You just can’t tell at this stage of the process. The Middle East could be an unstable, unworkable mess for decades in the wake of widespread democratic revolts – this is why the U.S. has tolerated and often propped up dictators there and elsewhere to serve our interest in stability. As a matter of policy, we’ve wanted global stability and sources of cheap labor. The implications of a global middle class are difficult for those who have real power. Those with whole pies socked away aren’t comfortable with the idea of a world where slices of pie will be evenly distributed. Even now they’re driving the dismantling of the American Middle Class, with the full cooperation of ignorant Tea Party zealots who are ready and able to work against their own interests, thinking it’s patriotic to deprive ordinary citizens of education and basic services so that millionaires can become billionaires and billionaires can become trillionaires. We’ve had one of the worst recessions ever and we’re sliding backward, throwing power back to oligarchy even as we rant about the democratization “possible with these great information tools at our disposal.”

That sounds bleak, but I’m still a bit hopeful because so many that I met and spoke with at SXSW seemed smart, sparkly with energy, good-humored and (aside from the Robert Scobles and Tim O’Reillys in the crowd) showing a certain humility, a modesty about their lives and their accomplishments.

And there’s still hot jazz and jammin’ rock and roll in the streets; for that I’m thankful.

Bruce Sterling’s talk via live tweet

Bruce Sterling at SXSW 2011
Bruce Sterling at SXSW 2011

I live-tweeted Bruce Sterling’s talk at SXSW Interactive. Here are the tweets… in reverse chronological order, so read ’em backwards.

  • “Women of Italy, cast away all the cowards from your embraces.” SXSW looks like a new world because it’s got women in it.
  • Closing with a Garibaldi quote. “I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battle, and death.” And people went for that.
  • This is an era of organized deception! Days of rage, baby. Be realistic, demand the impossible.
  • “Move to Austin, take over the town!”
  • You need to take power, millenials. I’ll vote for ya! You need a global youth movement.
  • Boomers, shut up! What you should study now is collaborative consumption, technomadism.
  • Young people are the victims of a decaying status qo.
  • They pretend to govern, we pretend to obey.
  • Who would save us from the BP? We’re incapable of rapid deciseve action, and the world demands that sometimes.
  • What worries me is the response to things that take courage and virtuosity and passion to work out, like disaster response.
  • Obese people in the US: “Imagine if the Statue of Liberty looked like that.” It brings out one’s inner Bill Hicks.
  • Catholic Church borgia-like devil’s bargain with Berlusconi to get the legislation they want.
  • Republicans: “a joke to anyone outside the range of Fox News.”
  • People don’t want to throw Berlusconi out, because they fear some kind of economic upheaval.
  • Talking about Berlusconi – he’s a head of state behaving like Hugh Hefner. This is a big deal in Italy.
  • ExxonMobil are not the only political malefactors, they’re just the best connected.
  • ExxonMobil is the personification of corporate evil. (applause)
  • You cn do whatever you want to a microbe and no hippie will show up with a protest sign. Microbes are not in the Bible.
  • Beautiful social network for synthetic biology: (expand)
  • Craig Ventner was at SXSW because he’s trying to reframe 20c genetic engineeering as 21stc synthetic biology.
  • In our society, we don’t have any passionate virtuosity.Our political situation is the opposite,disgusted incompetence.
  • We’ve got a series of problems that are poorly recognized.
  • Passionate virtuosity…. the ideas in Worldchanging 2.0 are passionate but lack virtuosity.
  • Bruce Sterling shows Worldchanging 2.0 (the book) at sxsw.
  • As a design critic, I criticize stuff that doesn’t exist yet.
  • Polarizing brand management. Culture wars. Politics from POV of a design critic.
  • All the political language has been rendered toxic.
  • “There are people here who are younger than the event.”
  • At Southby, science fiction authors talk like they know what’s going on.

Plutopia Sampler

Plutopia Productions, the company I’ve built with Derek Woodgate, Maggie Duval, and Bon Davis, is having a “sampler” event tomorrow night, February 5, at The Beauty Bar in Austin. By sampler, we mean that we’re including artists that will be part of our larger show on March 14… this is a preview.

Lineup for the February 5 show:

  • Intimate Stranger
  • Bodytronix
  • Dr. Strangevibe

Plus interactive fun from:

  • Steve Jackson Games
  • Switched On Audio
  • The Edge of Imagination Substation
  • Darkstack Media

Tomorrow’s show is free, register here.

What is Plutopia? Here’s some draft material I’ve written about the company:

Plutopia Productions is a highly creative events and media company that emerged from a consideration of the future of digital convergence in 2005-2006. We create experiences and media that are steeped in the evolving post-technological culture where mobile connected technologies are deeply embedded and inherent as running water. We are evolving a culture wherein digital literacy will be pervasive and connection and coordination will be via subtle, granular applications and technologies. In this culture, environments are highly configurable to individual preference and group experiences are mediated by technologies embedded in our daily experience: smart phones, augmented reality and location-aware applications, and persistent deep connection to all friends and acquaintances and the entire world’s information and knowledge. In this context we are evolving a new kind of event, the sense event, which we define as “a produced entertainment or educational affair that engages participants in an amplified multi-sensory experience and results in enhanced associated memory formation.” The character of the event enhances the experience of the event.

As well as events, Plutopia Productions is creating a media channel, Plutopia News Network, which explores cultural evolution in the convergent context and covers the emergence of new cultural forms and experiences. Through its events as well as its media channel, Plutopia is evolving a core for the experience of post-technological consumers. We are building a network of people and experiences that will aggregate broad audiences whose affinity is in the way they experience the world, mediated and enhanced by convergent technologies. The potential size and scope of this audience is potentially boundless. It is suggested by the popularity and growth of events like the SXSW Interactive Festival, where Plutopia Productions has incubated its signature event, and Europe’s convergent conferences Ars Electronica and V2. The entertainment experience is increasingly an experience of visceral physical event experiences and media that emerge from and leverage those experiences.