BRUCE STERLING, SCI-FI WRITER
Back in the 1980s, writer Bruce Sterling, along with contemporaries like William Gibson, founded the cyberpunk movement, a literary trend in the tradition of Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and H.G. Wells that merged science fiction with futurist speculation, looking at technology in particular. Its themes resonate through pop culture expanding beyond literature into films like The Matrix and Minority Report.
Sterling, who lives in Austin, Texas, in a self-designed home with his family, is also responsible for another movement, the Viridian Greens, which proposes that industrial design respond to changes in the global climate. Viridian Greens' premise is that people caused environmental problems, such as the greenhouse effect, and it's up to people to design ways to solve the ecological imbalances they've created.
While not a Gen Xer at 50, he's clearly a Boomer Sterling is intrigued by the way demographics are changing the world, and recognizes the contributions of the younger generation in helping turn 80s sci-fi visions of the future into the world we're living in today.
His most recent book, the non-fiction Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years, (Random House, 2002) offers Sterling's prognostications, delving into the past in order to get there. He spoke with American Demographics contributing writer Susan Thea Posnock about some of the things past, present and future he sees in his crystal ball.
AD: What do you think will be the lasting legacy of Generation X?
BS: Some kind of massive industrial transformation into a more sustainable use of resources and industrial base. My suspicion is we're going to do it in some areas and fail in others. And I rate this as a colossal kind of industrial transformation. Either they get it and are able to physically sustain a globalized heavy-duty dense planetary population otherwise, we end up with not just failed space but a failed globe.
AD: Given their power and influence, do you think consumer marketers have made a mistake by ignoring Gen Xers?
BS: The problem is a category error. It doesn't really make much sense for marketers to concentrate their efforts generationally. You're better off ignoring this kind of generational tag and looking more at what ZIP code someone lives in and what particular lifestyle they choose to pursue. Not whether they're Gen X, but whether they're NASCAR moms or Volvo moms or the brie and white wine drinking district or are they upwardly mobile gay friendly people in city centers. I question whether as a marketer you really gain any market share by asking what year someone is born.
AD: How is this playing out on the world stage?
BS: I think the current administration is stupefying America. They've got a culture-war ethos toward the American intelligentsia; they don't like creatives. It's cultural civil war between the red states and the blue states. The only way American high-tech is going to stay ahead is to push America's innovative pedal to the metal, which is what we did in the '90s. The difficulty with doing that is you invent stuff that doesn't have a business model.
AD: How is this going to be resolved?
BS: There's going to be some kind of demographic shakeout. People in the red states who can think coherently are going to migrate to the blue states. People in the blue states who are sort of alienated by gay marriage, they're going to move into the red states. I think the polarization is very real, I think it's present in every religious society all forms of religion are becoming more intense, more fundamentalist, more anti-rational.
AD: How does science fiction play a part in the future?
BS: If you actually hang out with futurists, which I do, they never say there's going to be one; they always give a number of scenarios. They try to name them and get a hook on what the sensibility of a culture like that would be like. You work those out through a range of possible futures, and you look for things that would not work out across a broad range, and you try to look for an optimal strategy that will keep your options open.
AD: What will be some key innovations or changes in next 5 to 10 years?
BS: Gee whiz, everybody's got a camera phone. I tend to think they're a bigger deal than people let on actually. Those are scarily transformative.
Another big trend is the globalization of Indian and Chinese culture. I'm noticing the hipsters in Austin who are bellwether types, getting quite interested in Bollywood from India. In the 1960s, there was a sort of vogue for Indian spirituality or dcor, but this is more of a vogue for Indian popular culture and it's going along with the huge Japanese anime vogue or the Chinese Kung Fu movies.