Summary of Bruce Sterling's State of the World 2021

February 26, 2021

Original thread:

Every year, @bruces and @jonl analyze the state of the world.

Along with this year's special guest (and MVP!) @m_older, the futurists reviewed the state of social media, politics, and the pandemic.

After reading all 250 posts, here are my 14 favorite takeaways about 2021.

1. People are angry at social media, but they shouldn't be.

Online interaction itself is not the problem. People should be criticizing the social media structure designed by Facebook and Twitter.

2. Content moderation is not a panacea.

We can't effectively filter nudity on the internet, so how can we expect to filter hate speech?

3. Professional trolls will weaponize terms of service.

If platforms ban offensive speech, malicious actors will still spew "almost hate speech." These posts will fall within the rules but will harm recipients nonetheless.

4. Hate speech going underground won't increase it's resilience.

Parler's ban may reduce hate speech's visibility, but it won't halt crackdowns on extremism. You can't stop what never started.

5. Machine learning algorithms can't show their work. Can humans?

Although black box algorithms may scare us, it's not clear that human work is any more transparent.

6. The Capitol Riot was a failed coup but successful cosplay.

The rioters failed to overturn the election. Physical harm was limited to property damage.

But their battleground is also metaphorical. Symbolically, they legitimized their power.

7. Trump's victory proves the Illuminati don't exist.

Any global network intent on supreme rule would never pick Trump as their agent. He's the kind of unreliable loose cannon that could put the whole operation at risk.

8. India wants to emulate China, but China refuses to export their culture.

This is the cause of their border conflict. Unlike America, China doesn't pride itself on cultural and governmental exports. They have no desire to spread Chinese technocracy.

9. Human nature denies accountability during a crisis.

People will jump through hoops to call something an act of God. No one could have seen this coming. The refrain is a subconscious urge to escape accountability.

10. Failures of imagination thwart disaster recovery.

When comms and science are at their limits, all we have left is imagination. People tend to understand their own needs quite well, but fail to imagine the needs of the Other.

11. The worst failure is the failure to learn from a disaster.

The wake of a catastrophe is the most fertile time for change. All too often, the desire to escape accountability for the past exceeds the need to take responsibility for the future.

12. Our discourse doesn't create consensus. Instead, we manufacture consent.

Building agreement in the US involves brainwashing, not debating. We can't agree on political solutions but easily indoctrinate people into relative contentment.

13. The advance of history is not marked solely by the presence of new things but also the absences of old things.

With time, we invent DVDs, but we also see VHS tapes disappear.

14. Crazy is mainstream and it resonates with the soul of America.

We've reached the limits of rationalism. More facts and more objectivity won't solve our problems.


© 2020 Connor Daly