This week → It’s time to reimagine the future of cyberpunk ⊗ Same old ⊗ Bogdanov’s secret history of Martian socialism ⊗ Regenerative by design ⊗ The future of urban tech
A year ago → A favourite in No.153 was The Modern World Has Finally Become Too Complex for Any of Us to Understand by Tim Maughan.
Excellent piece by Madeline Ashby for WIRED where she considers the mainstays of cyberpunk and provides a well thought out reasoning, much beyond the common one-liner, on why we are basically living in a cyberpunk dystopia. One can’t really keep writing novels about the future if they’ve already come to pass, so it’s time time to go from a genre often centered on labor, bodily autonomy, and warnings about capitalism's cancerous late stages to ones about how we can “make ourselves a more survivable species.” As I’ve quipped on Twitter, quoting Octavia E. Butler is the new quoting William Gibson, and it’s probably also time to change topics and genre.
An aesthetic movement and a commentary on capitalism, it can be a genre, a subjectivity, an adjective, a political approach, a time period. […]
Some of the most influential texts in the genre are about labor and bodily autonomy. Blade Runner is a story about runaway slaves, and Blade Runner: 2049 is about the reproduction of slaves. Neuromancer is about a man selling his hacker skills to earn back the full function of his body's nervous system. Akira features government experimentation on children's bodies so they can better perform militarized work. Snow Crash presupposes a Los Angeles populated with precarious gig workers delivering pizza. Ghost in the Shell wonders who truly “owns” a cyborg body if an employer pays for its upkeep. The Matrix operates on the premise that all human bodies can be “grown” into batteries whose primary purpose is to keep artificial intelligence functioning. […]
“The struggle is to hold it together, keep it alive, and teach it to be and do its very best.” [Butler “summarizing Mother Olamina’s ongoing mission, but also describing the 21st century in searing detail.”]
From Gibson’s to Jetsons, this time Sun-Ha Hong at Real Life wonders “what is the point of imagining new technologies without new ways of living?” Hong looks back at various retro technofutures and argues that beyond the gadgets, too many of them just re-ash the same “unchanging, uncritical view of society itself.” New ways of working without questioning the need and forms of work, new ways of automating the home without reflecting on age-old gender roles.
The one angle I’d disagree with, as I often do, is in this view that seems to stop just short of wondering about conspiracies. If the “reduction of certain kinds of housework was accompanied by rising expectations elsewhere.” And if “childcare norms, for instance, became far more demanding in the postwar years, requiring more and more of the housewife’s time,” who made those choices? Not the makers of washing machines. Focusing on how unimaginative corporate technofutures are might also obfuscate the fact that society moves very slowly, in part because ‘we’ don’t spend enough time thinking beyond what’s sold to us.
These recurring technofutures perpetuate a familiar equation in which convenience equals freedom — and to be free is to have things for free, not just in terms of the dollar cost, but the erasure of time, space, and human labor. In this vision, we are invited to be the “greedy” user that can have their cake and eat it too: maximally served by technology, and maximally insulated from its consequences. […]
In reality, the promise of automation provides crucial cover for outsourcing, underpaying, and otherwise externalizing the real costs of technology to the most vulnerable workers in the chain. […]
[T]his recycling of technofutures is fundamentally a conservative force, in which a highly limited selection of technical benchmarks, use-cases, and social relations are dressed up over and over again, with no thought to whether they’re worth preserving, or what could be built in their place. As Jameson hinted, to be transfixed by the future is to be paralyzed by it.
Fred Scharmen for Jacobin with an extract from his book Space Forces, which is about the radical history of space exploration from the Russian Cosmists to Elon Musk. Scharmen discusses how “Alexander Bogdanov used science fiction to hold up a mirror to our own world, depicting intelligent beings on Mars and the highly advanced socialist society they had created.” Aside: I’m going to need (maybe that’s his book) some kind of reader contrasting Bogdanov, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (which feels Martianish to me and adjacent to Bogdanov), Robinson’s Martian trilogy, and Corey’s The Expanse.
This conceit allows Bogdanov to use his novel to serve one of the primary functions of science fiction and utopian literature in general. His Mars is an opportunity to create an outside from which to examine the givens that are taken for granted on Earth. […]
Firstly, there is no profit motive on Mars; in the second place, all consumer goods are free; and finally, participation in this statistically regulated workforce is entirely voluntary: The tables are meant to affect the distribution of labor. If they are to do that, everyone must be able to see where there is a labor shortage and just how big it is. […]
The Martians believe in a creed that equates the existence of each tiny part and particle with the existence of the totality. “The meaning of each individual life,” one says, “will vanish together with that faith, because the whole lives in each and every one of us, in each tiny cell of the great organism, and each of us lives through the whole.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, words get appropriated and strip-mined of meaning I’m sure ‘regenerative’ will get deformed in the same way but one thing I like about it is that it’s focused on the planet that sustains us, not our habits. This piece at SPACE10 is a really good introduction to regenerative design, what it entails, why it makes sense, and how it overlaps and can learn from Indigenous and ancestral ways of building with nature. Notice active hope, the diagram for a symbiotic relationship, and the list of resources at the bottom.
We can apply regenerative philosophy to design and ask: how can we put life — human life, the planet, and everything it sustains — at the centre of everything we do? […]
‘We’re seeing more and more examples that natural ecosystem regeneration actually works, and it doesn’t take millennia — it takes decades, sometimes years,’ says Pagnier. This should be more of an incentive to start acting now. […]
Thinkers such as Julia Watson are calling for a ‘new mythology’ in which we see the human-built environment as part of the natural environment, not separate from it, and re-evaluate Indigenous and ancestral ways of building with nature. Because what nurtures nature, nurtures us.
I quite liked this report by the Jacobs Institute’s Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech which presents as an horizon scan plotting possibilities in the field of urban tech. Their provocations are grouped in six big stories, each split into a number of trends considered along three axis, and then represented by a number of signals.
No.199 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤯 🤩 🤓 🧱 🎥 This might be the best LEGO building video I’ve seen. Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car. “In this video, a simple Lego car is repeatedly modified to navigate more and more difficult obstacles until it can climb up and down almost anything. This fun exercise also doubles as a crash course in engineering and how to build a capable all-terrain vehicle as it ‘demonstrates what you need to consider: wheel diameter, gear ratio, 4-wheel drive, tire grip, breakover angle, weight distribution’”
- 👏🏼 🖨 Excellent! Hackers Are Spamming Businesses’ Receipt Printers With ‘Antiwork’ Manifestos. “Dozens of printers across the internet are printing out a manifesto that encourages workers to discuss their pay with coworkers, and pressure their employers.”
- 🍄 🗺 World’s vast networks of underground fungi to be mapped for first time. “Underground fungal networks can extend for many miles but are rarely noticed, though trillions of miles of them are thought to exist around the world. These fungi are vital to the biodiversity of soils and soil fertility, but little is known about them.”
- 🤔 👍🏼 🦋 💸 Moth Minds: Fund individuals doing work you believe in. “I believe both human and insect moths are frequently underestimated. They're just as smart as butterflies (or an AI, for that matter), beautifully complex up-close, and driven by a magical intrinsic force: agency. ”
- 🇫🇷 📸 🌸 Infrared Light Enhances Versailles, Provence, and the Beaches of Normandy with Dreamy Shades of Pink “The magical series documents the rolling lavender fields of Provence in watermelon hues and Versailles’s landscaped terraces or the Gothic abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in bright, saturated tones. Pettigiani shoots each location with a full-spectrum camera that unveils otherwise invisible wavelengths and enhances the trees, grasses, and stone surfaces that reflect infrared light with varying shades of pink.”
- 🧫 👍🏼 An AI Finds Superbug-Killing Potential in Human Proteins. “A team scoured the human proteome for antimicrobial molecules and found thousands, plus a surprise about how animals evolved to fight infections.”
- 🇺🇸 🤔 🌖 ☢️ NASA plans to put a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2031. “Specifically, they want proposals for nuclear systems capable of producing 40 kilowatts — about how much 30 households use over the course of a decade — while operating autonomously from the deck of a lunar lander or rover.”
- 🛩 Bullet-shaped plane promises to slash air travel costs. “This resulted in a plane with a teardrop body, a propeller in the rear, and long, thin wings. Designed for private use, the plane has room for six passengers, a projected top speed of 460 mph, and a range of 4,500 miles.”
- 😍 📸 Beautiful! Extreme Macro Photography of Eyes.
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