The Bruce & Cory Show

Sterling and Doctorow debate scarcity, or the lack of it

Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow (an Internet activist) debated the "future of scarcity" in a raucous keynote conversation that ended this year's SXSW Interactive on Tuesday. Sterling started things off by explaining that he was taking the suave, bitter, and drunken role of Dean Martin, while Doctorow was given the role of twitchy supergeek Jerry Lewis. Sterling gave vent to several rants that ran in different directions and then out of steam. They were countered by Doctorow's unvarying Open Source optimism.

Among Sterling's speculations: Napster-style technology will not only destroy the music industry but the incentive to make music, leaving the 21st century to content itself with the 20th century's backlist; that the techno-imperative argument -- either we build it, or somebody else will build it, but it will be built -- tramples on our rights as consumers, and is, p.s., fundamentally undemocratic; and that IP will be about protecting scarcity in the future.

Doctorow countered with an upbeat view of Napster ("70 million downloads in the first six months looks like a popular movement to me"), an evolutionary argument for technological improvement ("order makes itself more ordered"), and the comment that the social rule seems to be, what is crappy but available trumps what is beautiful but less available.

Sterling ended the session by reading gleefully from a news report about a riot in Chiapas that started with a raid by the police on some vendors of pirated software, hinting perhaps at real consumer price wars in our future. Doctorow ended with a comment on media industries, like Disney, and how they will make it in the age of Open Source. Disney will have to rely on its theme parks, for one thing, Doctorow asserted, since physical locations can't be downloaded.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

SXSW Leaping Online With 2021 Dates
SXSW Leaping Online With 2021 Dates
Confirms conference, film fest, and Edu

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 22, 2020

ATX Television Festival Goes From Small Screen to Big Screen to Small Screen Again
ATX Television Festival Goes From Small Screen to Big Screen to Small Screen Again
How the celebration of TV is leading the way in streaming fests as it becomes ATX TV ... From the Couch!

Richard Whittaker, June 5, 2020

More Screens
Pressing the Flesh
Pressing the Flesh
The world's leading adult toy manufacturer for men wants to take the stigma out of sex

Dan Solomon, May 11, 2012

Get Schooled
Get Schooled
James Franco-produced Web series tracks UT Film students

Kimberley Jones, April 13, 2012

More by Roger Gathman
Nellie Blog
Nellie Blog
Why modern-day muckraker Ana Marie Cox couldn't care less about her critics – or even, at times, her audience

March 4, 2005

State of Affairs
State of Affairs
The current political season is reflected equally in an angry Iraq analysis and a soapy novel with a Sirkian sweep

Oct. 22, 2004


Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, SXSW Interactive, South by Southwest, SXSW, Open Source, Napster, IP, Disney, the death of scarcity

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle