Welcome back Bruce Sterling. We’re ready for some tough love.

Bruce Sterling is back at NEXT - and we're ready for both his optimism and his deep insights into the problems with digital. Help us make it better, Bruce.

Don’t let our conference theme fool you: we’re fans of digital here at NEXT. Digital sucks isn’t a dismissal of the digital work – it’s an acknowledgement that we can – and will – do better with these incredible new devices we’ve created.

And that’s why I’m so glad to see Bruce Sterling is back this year. He has a remarkable ability to both celebrate dreams of the future – but also to challenge us with the problems he sees. That makes us more deeply consider what we are doing, why we are doing it — and the potential consequences of those decisions.

If you want a taste of this – here’s his challenging closing speech from NEXT13, back when we were in Berlin.

You can read the liveblog of his talk, if that’s easier – and I also rounded up the reactions to his talk.

The interesting thing about the exercise of combing the web for reactions to his speech was noting how much they focused on the negative elements of his speech – not the design fictions and other elements of futurology. As I said at the time:

My perception of the speech was that the design fiction element was as important as the warnings of the dangers of a minority of people holding the purse strings. That’s not been reflected in all the commentary that followed the Boing Boing post, though. The headline of Barry Ritholz’s post focuses on the negative: Startups Are Not Disruptive – The Global Rich Get Richer.

That last sentence – the discussion about startups – is critical, in retrospect. For the past decade or so, we’ve lived in this on-going celebration of startups and disruption – but the consequences and downsides have too often been ignored. But if we’re going to make digital better – if we’re going to truly make our world better with this technology – they we need to take an unflinching look at what really happens when we turn everything into software.

We started that process back in 2013 with the conference theme of “Here be dragons”. Four (and a bit) years on, we’re going to take a much deeper look at those challenges, so we can go home – and make digital better. 

So, Bruce: welcome back. We’re ready for some tough love again. Help us make it better.