An introduction to metamodernism ⊗ Jeff Bezos’s vision of the future is Blade Runner ⊗ The dark side of the Nordic model — No.107

This week → An introduction to metamodernism: the cultural philosophy of the digital age ⊗ Jeff Bezos’s vision of the future Is basically Blade Runner ⊗ The dark side of the Nordic model ⊗ It’s 2071, and we have bioengineered our own extinction.

A year ago → The ‘Future Book' is here, but It's not what we expected.

A busy week and an annoying head cold made this one a bit of a hassle to bring together, so even though I’ve been making an effort to write longer more thoughtful notes for each article, this week they’re mostly pretty succinct ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Second, this issue will be the last of 2019, I’m taking a three week break, see you in 2020! (Except if you’re a member, then expect at least one Dispatch this week.)

An introduction to metamodernism: the cultural philosophy of the digital age

I linked another, longer piece on metamodernism a few months back, Metamodern Values for a Listening Society. I’ll have to give another read to see how the two align but the one above is quite interesting in how it goes over modernism, post-modernism, and now meta. Basically this version boils down to “it’s a remix culture” but there are still a few good quotes in there, and you could kind of make a parallel with the concept of atemporality where everything exists at the same time.

[M]etamodernism “can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.” For the metamodern generation, “grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed” explains Vermeulen. […]

While modernism is about creating something completely new (which you could argue is an illusion); postmodernism is about deconstructing the past and rejecting the future; and pseudo-modernism is about mindless online consumerism—metamodernism is about creating something new with what was created before, while acknowledging the inherent ephemerality of the human condition. […]

While Tarantino—who is considered a postmodernist—famously said that he steals from everyone and didn’t have any consideration for “high art” (please note that I’m actually a Tarantino fan), metamodern movies such as Interstellar and Arrival recycle classic sci-fi tropes to explore a plurality of realities, subjectivities, and boundaries. […]

At its core, metamodernism is about ambiguity, reconstruction, dialogue, collaboration, and creative paradox. It’s about allowing yourself to be many different people at once. It’s about speaking through the work of everyone who you are sampling from in order to amplify their voice. It’s about being a curator with a unique creative vision. … Explore, combine, collaborate.

Jeff Bezos’ vision of the future is basically Blade Runner

The facts the author cites are pretty well known, but a fun read (can it be a fun read if it’s about dystopic ideas?) nonetheless, making a parallel between Bezos’ vision, especially the horrendous working conditions in Amazon fulfillment centers, and the language and actions of one Niander Wallace, of the Wallace / Tyrell Corporation.

Bezos is convinced that humanity will fall prey to “stasis and rationing” if we remain on Earth. The Jeff Bezos brand of never-ending growth will require constant population gains, increased energy use, and more resources than our planet can provide — so, into the stars we must go. […]

Like Wallace, Bezos wants humanity to grow to a trillion people, but beyond the thousands of “Mozarts and Einsteins” he imagines, he has little to say of the consequences for the hundreds of billions of people who won’t make it to the top of their fields. […]

Handheld scanners double as instruments of surveillance, with workers’ every movement timed, including bathroom breaks. Conditions are dire, with the company opting to have medics on standby rather than fit warehouses with air conditioning systems. With all the scanning and walking on concrete floors, injuries are common. Who needs Replicants when you can grind down the working class in the pursuit of your grand vision?

The dark side of the Nordic model

Nobody and certainly no country is perfect, Jason Hickel reminds us that as much as “the Nordics” are a model for many of their social policies, they are still a group of western countries eating up wayyyy too much resources.

The Nordic model stands as a clear and compelling contrast to the neoliberal ideology that has strafed the rest of the industrialised world with inequality, ill health and needless poverty. As an antidote to the most destructive aspects of free-market capitalism, the egalitarian social democracies of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland inspire progressive movements around the world. […]

It is time to update the Nordic model for the Anthropocene. Nordic countries have it right when it comes to public healthcare, education and progressive social democracy, but they need to dramatically reduce their consumption if they are to stand as a beacon for the rest of the world in the 21st century. […]

A recent study by a team of environmental scientists lays out a detailed plan for how Nordic countries could cut their material footprint by nearly 70 percent: scaling down fossil fuels, shifting to plant-based diets, retrofitting old buildings instead of constructing new ones, requiring consumer products to be longer-lasting and repairable, and improving public transportation. In Finland, scientists have rallied around similar measures as part of a call for “ecological reconstruction.”

It’s 2071, and we have bioengineered our own extinction

Another op-ed from the future in The New York Times’ ongoing series. This time Jeff VanderMeer (Annihilation, Dead Astronauts) imagines what happens when “the micro- and macro-organisms that saved humanity from our climate crisis” begin changing us in return.

But in the years that followed, we ignored the dangers of what we created, in part because, in the early days of biotechnology, ethical concerns about our right to manipulate complex organisms were given short shrift. We did not consider whether these organisms might have an opinion about the poor quality of their lives — that they might have a point of view. […]

The panicked and haphazard conditions under which we engineered such creatures has given them a form of autonomy that we do not yet fully understand. […]

It is possible that the majority of humans have experienced something similar, a kind of possession in which their bodies have been taken over and used to set the stage for some sort of rebellion.

Open Tabs

It’s really a shame I ran out of time because these looked like strong contenders to be included but no point in waiting until after the holidays: “Degrowth is about redistribution by design, not by collapse” (17 min read by Mark Minkjan at Failed Architecture); Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Menace? (26 min read by Charlie Stross); What Green Costs (10 min read by Thea Riofrancos at Logic Magazine); and What the Internet Can Learn From the Printing Press (8 min read by Cullen Murphy at The Atlantic).


  • How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real Since this piece on Gibson for the upcoming release of his latest, Agency, was already flying around left and right, I decided not to feature it (and haven’t read it yet) but I couldn’t not link to it!
  • 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019. It doesn’t always feel like it but yet, there is quite a bit of good news amidst the crazy, Future Crunch has 99 of them in Conservation; global health; living standards; peace, safety and human rights; energy and sustainability.
  • ? How facial recognition works. Excellent 10 min doc at Vox by Joss Fong. “[T]he massive bait-and-switch at the center of facial recognition technology.. how our photos have been retroactively and irrevocably transformed into biometric identifiers by computer vision engineers…. “Facial recognition is probably the most obscurity-eviscerating technology ever invented.
  • ? Time Chooses Disney CEO Bob Iger as Businessman of the Year “In reality, Iger agrees with Scorsese’s observations, because they are observations about the business of movies. Iger is reproducing mass producing risk-free nearly identical products, rebooting franchises to ensure profit and control to boost share prices. Scorsese sees this strategy as way to tailor creative expression to the needs of concentrated capital, as does Iger.”
  • ? ? How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice). (There’s also a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the domestication of wolves.) “[H]umans have actually domesticated cats two separate times, once in southwest Asia ~10,000 years ago and in Egypt ~3500 years ago. They were probably tamed by being around human settlements for the source of food.”
  • ? Said the Gramophone: BEST SONGS OF 2019. I know few things about music but I know to download this every year. Plus, there are Spotify and Apple Music playlists this time around.
  • ? Lovers in Auschwitz, Reunited 72 Years Later. He Had One Question. “At first, she didn’t recognize him. Then Mr. Wisnia leaned in close. ’Her eyes went wide, almost like life came back to her,’ said Mr. Wisnia’s grandson Avi Wisnia, 37. ‘It took us all aback.’”

Header image: Surreal Scenery by Stuart Lippincott.

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