Note — Jan 31, 2021

Future Schlock

Jathan Sadowski with a pretty scathing attack on the “thought leaders” of Silicon Valley’s portrayal and work towards utopias that favour them. I’d rather he’d used “futures” and “inclusive” or “progressive” instead of “utopias” and “real utopias” (since they are visions, not perfect worlds) but it’s nonetheless an excellent entry in a growing collection of articles over the last few years who lift the veil on the techno optimist views’ defects, advocates for much more inclusive, progressive, and clear-eyed futures, and remind us that we need to (I’m paraphrasing Madeline Ashby here) pick the futures we want and advocate for them loudly and repeatedly.

For decades, we have been largely trapped within the boundaries of techno-capitalist futurism, pseudo-utopias that have been largely purged of any radical content. […]

But in practice this [(Sidewalk Labs)] would mean not creating a city from scratch but claiming territory where people already lived. Building the dreamscape of the future required them to first colonize the cityscape of the present. […]

To some, scuttling a smart-city project may seem defensive and reactionary — a rejection of the future. But it is only a rejection of one predetermined future. At the same time, it is a positive affirmation of a world in which decisions about governance and development are not already dictated by corporations. […]

By embedding its values and goals into concrete technologies, capital seeks to assert dominion over the future — constraining what type of social change is viable. This makes techno-politics a natural battleground for staging struggles over what utopias are imagined and whose utopia is materialized. […]

When movements do present real alternatives that would make material improvements to people’s lives — like defunding police, cancelling debt, or enacting a Green New Deal — they are often dismissed as idealistic nonsense and empty slogans.