That got your attention, right? Every year, my favorite science fiction author, futurologist and nostalgic thinker Bruce Sterling wraps up #SxSW. Sterling is, along with William Gibson and Pat Cadigan, the very foundation of the cyberpunk movement. “Chairman Bruce” gives the public what it wants: dark thoughts that analyze societies (current and future) with a razor sharp vision dipped in vinegar.
Bruce is brutal. Mankind is abusing the planet on which it lives, climate change hits us now, and we’re all heading towards being old and smelly people in dirty, overcrowded cities, afraid of the lightning skies. Bruce preaches hell and devil, in a completely atheistic way. It doesn’t make it any less scary.
When Sterling shifts his focus towards the Internet, his forward-looking vision got the full attention of the audience. Sterling predicts the failure of what he calls the Stacks: vertically integrated social media. “Stacks try to carve out a piece of internet for themselves, an independent ecosystem with its own rules, and its own operating system. They try to grab us into their walled garden, and try to make the rest of the internet irrelevant for you.”
Sterling refers openly to the big five: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. “They all think they’ll be the one Stack… and render the others irrelevant. And they’ll all be rendered irrelevant. That’s the future of the Stacks.”
Sterling says that people like the Stacks because the Internet scares them, and they feel more comfortable at home within a walled Stack. “Like cattle,” he said:“The Stacks do not care for prosperity, security or well-being of their human users. Except for their shareholders, that is. The internet has users. The Stacks has livestock. The Stacks think you are a dog.”
And once Sterling is on a roll, there is no stopping him. With skill, he shows how all the Stacks want is to become the one and only Stack, buying and annihilating other media. They are playing The Lord of the Stacks. In a friendly, nerdy way. But without any mercy. Sterling does not understand it. Why are we sheep? Why do we bow for young smart people that try to be Napoleon? “What if Mark Zuckerberg trips over a skateboard?”
Sterling says none of the five will succeed in herding us all in, de facto destroying the rest of the internet. Sterling has been right before… very often. I sure hope he is right once again….