This is the first Bruce Sterling talk that I encountered. Now I’m an inveterate Sterlingite, but at the time, 2006, I had only barely crossed intellectual paths with Sterling. I downloaded it with some long dead, precambrian cousin of google reader that lived in the swamps and estuaries of windows computers and survived by allowing the user to view RSS feeds on his desktop. Then pushed it to my equally antediluvian, single purpose device, an Archos mp3 player. I listened to this talk many times before the Archos died off. I thought this audio was lost to the bit bucket of history, until one day… These people are the new Library of Alexandria, with podcasts instead of papyrus.

The full mp3 is available here.

Here are some excerpts:

Commons based peer production, as an industrial method, is getting it’s legs under it. This is something I complained about for years. I used to complain that GNU had the wrong name, because the recursive name for GNU is GNU’s Not Unix. And I describe that as rather childish, because you should not name yourself in opposition to something else, you should have your own name. It’s like, if GNU’s not Unix, what is it? Well, it’s commons based peer production.

Flickr is not a copy of anything else. It is not a hippie knockoff of a commercial product. Wikipedia is not like anything else. A wiki is like nothing known to mankind. Collaborative web-filters are very spooky things; they are without historical precedent. Websites that throw their API’s open and turn themselves into platforms rather than sites… it is a little hard to explain the significance of that to everyday people who are not techies and programmers, but that is a major development. The net community is no longer hanging on the coat-tails of Gates. That monopolistic chokehold, that did so much to reduce innovation, and to introduce global criminality to hapless Windows users.

Only in the United States do dying phone companies lobby the government as if they were indian casinos.

As you may or may not know, I am spending a lot of my time in Europe, after spending a year in California. I get to see America from the outside now. I get to see America as 94% of the planet sees America. And I look at wireless spreading in London and the spread of broadband in Korea. I’ve got broadband in Serbia where the phone companies are literally run by criminals in exile. And my broadband in Serbia costs $20 a month. And it works.

It is decadent, it is sclerotic. It looks like the Soviet Union. …they are turning the USA into a banana republic with rockets. Not just politically backward, technically backward.

The twenty first centry is definitely fertilizing my cyberpunk excentricities.

People ask me “have you moved to Belgrade? Is this permanent?” No, it’s not permament. Just that, some of my shoes are there, and a closet… I live out of my laptop now. That’s how I live. And so do increasing numbers of my collegues.

The twenty first centry is definitely fertilizing my cyberpunk excentricities.

It’s a world of diaspora and globalization. Gypsies and jetsetters. Refugees and tech pioneers. And the differences are that thin.

I no longer need to be a resident of any particular city. I don’t make any money in any foreign state. Nothing enters or leaves Belgrade except for ones and zeroes. That’s all. I never stay there long enough to become permanent. I don’t even DO permanent. National borders? They’re like speed bumps.

This talk is well composed. It is shot through with diamond bullets of poetic insight. Sterling’s own voice and clearly communicated emotion turns this from a discursion on the quirks of Eastern Europe’s up and coming intelligentsia into a full-blown harangue on the nature of the world as we find it right now in 2013, from the view of someone looking ahead in 2006.