Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bruce Sterling looks at the Steampunk Sub-Culture

Just stumbled across this great essay by Bruce Sterling, who some would credit with birthing Steampunk, (though he is humble enough to credit earlier influences), on where Steampunk came from, and where it just might be going.

Ruskin wrote an extremely influential and important essay which changed the world. Everything Ruskin says in that essay is wrong. The ideas in there don't work, have never worked and are never going to work. If you try to do the things Ruskin described in the spirit that Ruskin suggested, you are doomed.

However. If you try to do those things in a steampunk spirit, you might get somewhere useful. Steampunks are equipped with a number of creative tools and approaches that John Ruskin never imagined, such as design software, fabricators, Instructables videos, websites, wikis, cellphones, search engines and Successful steampunks are not anti-industrial as Ruskin was. They are digital natives and therefore post-industrial. This means that they can make their own, brand-new, fresh mistakes -- if they understand the old mistakes well enough not to repeat them.

Steampunk's key lessons are not about the past. They are about the instability and obsolescence of our own times. A host of objects and services that we see each day all around us are not sustainable. They will surely vanish, just as "Gone With the Wind" like Scarlett O'Hara's evil slave-based economy. Once they're gone, they'll seem every bit as weird and archaic as top hats, crinolines, magic lanterns, clockwork automatons, absinthe, walking-sticks and paper-scrolled player pianos. ...

The past is a kind of future that has already happened.

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