Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Insights from science fiction authors, good and bad

I just came across an excellent interview in the Guardian with William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, who coined the term "cyberspace". As someone who tries to look a little into certain aspects of the future, I found it interesting to see the article say that

"... he has stopped looking forwards. 'The future is already here,' he is fond of suggesting. 'It is just not evenly distributed.' ... The problem, he suggests, is one of time and place: things, technologies, now happen too fast and in unpredictable locations."

A few things he said in the article which especially struck me as interesting were as follows:
  • "These days, 'now' is wherever the new new thing is taking shape, and here is where you are logged on"
  • "I'm really conscious, when I'm writing now, how Google-able the world is. You can no longer make up what some street in Moscow looks like because all your readers can have a look at it if they want to. That is an odd feeling."
  • "I think we are getting to the point that a strange kind of relationship would be one where there was no virtual element. We are at that tipping point: how can you be friends with someone who is not online?"
The last comment is especially relevant to the current frenzy of activity in the social networking space, which I am looking closely at right now - more on that in future posts. But anyway, read the article, it's good!

By way of contrast to the thoughtful insights from William Gibson, a little while back someone forwarded me a link to this Google lecture by Bruce Sterling, which has to be perhaps the worst and almost certainly the most irritating presentation I have ever seen. I have a half-theory that the whole thing might be a spoof by the people who write "The Office" - it has the same cringe-worthy feel about it. Basically up front he says that he won't really talk about his ideas (about "spimes") since they're so widely published and he's sure everyone knows about them (though explaining them was supposed to be the subject of his talk). Instead he mainly talks about how visionary he is and repeatedly plugs his books. My favorite bit is right at the very end in the Q&A (yes, I did last that long, thinking that surely he must say something insightful at some point), where he asks whether anyone has read his book, and one person puts their hand up. Hint to presenters: if you're not going to talk about your ideas because you assume everyone knows about them, it may be a good idea to ask this question at the beginning of your presentation rather than the end! Perhaps Bruce has written some interesting things (he wrote an article in Wired recently which was okay), but I'm not inclined to rush out and see him speak on the basis of this showing.

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