This week → The slow cancellation of the slow cancellation of the future ⊗ The aesthetics of our new fictions ⊗ Leading with slow craft ⊗ The super-rich ‘preppers’ planning to save themselves from the apocalypse
I swear it’s completely random, but this week has turned into a bit of a ‘Fiction and futures’ special. If you’ve been reading for a while, that probably won’t surprise you, since I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on futures, foresight, forecasting, the use of fiction, etc. It’s a good bit of luck though that this ‘special’ is happening this week, because on top of this interest as reflected here, over the next few weeks I’ll be jumping on two related projects.
The first one is as co-host of Speculative Futures MTL. The chapter has been operating remotely since early in the pandemic and Tuesday we’re hosting our first in-person get-together to start building an active speculation/futures/design group in town. If you are in the greater Montréal area, be sure to sign-up and join us! The second project is not ready to be announced just yet, but I can talk about it in person, so one more reason to drop by!
Comme l’infolettre, mon message ici est en anglais, mais puisque les trois hôtes sont francophones, nous allons certainement parler français sur place. Venez faire un tour!
The late great cultural theorist Mark Fisher wrote about the “slow cancellation of the future.” The author of the piece, Sam Paterson, explains it like this, quoting Fisher; “while twentieth-century experimental culture ‘was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available,’ the twenty-first century ‘is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion’, dominated by stale pastiche and a dizzying array of modes and flavours of nostalgia.”
Paterson argues, by way of William Gibson (including lots of Peripheral/Agency spoilers, be warned), Fredric Jameson, and Deleuze and Guattari, that the pandemic broke the spell around capitalism and in so doing also broke this feeling of the end of history, of the cancellation of the future. “Shaken free of old narratives, we are now able to imagine new ones. What we do with this collective feeling—and what potential futures we grow to replace the old ones—will in a very real sense determine the future that will come to pass.”
In critical futures studies there’s this idea of past futures and present futures, basically how the future was imagined in the past and how the future is imagined now. Paterson is threading similar territories here, proposing that over the last couple of years “we have been shaken free of various complacencies,” that the moment is ripe for “casting our present as some future’s past.” He goes into some detail on Gibson’s Jackpot and the apocalypse more generally, saying that they are not useful futures, as they are, to a degree, admitting defeat instead of proposing ways forward. He believes that “this strange state of affairs could be the perfect soil in which to plant counterfutures.” We are in such a predicament that rosy futures might also be counterproductive, but he’s definitely right that better options need to be imagined if ‘we’ have any chance of moving towards a future that isn’t just pain and kleptobunkers. (Via nothing here.)
This construction of the now as a past, argues Fredric Jameson, is one of the central purposes of science fiction, which characteristically ‘does not seriously attempt to imagine the “real” future of our social system’. Instead, SF’s ‘multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come.’ […]
It turns out that one side effect of living through history in the making is that it makes us nervous all the time. […]
Imagined futures are only stories, but stories run the world, or at minimum lay the tracks for its passage, without which it would move in a different direction entirely. […]
[A] 2022 in which some of us enjoy the daily use of extremely powerful technologies that emerged as direct products of those upheavals and atrocities, but with an awareness (acknowledged or unacknowledged) of the human and ecological costs at which they come.
Imagining the future is just another form of memory → I’d written this up before realising I had already featured it a year ago. Oups. Thought I’d keep it in, since it does fit with the rest of the issue, but link to my note from last year instead.
This one is a bit uneven in spots, starting with the long ‘overstating Dunbar’ quote by Harari at the very beginning, but it’s a great match with the first piece and a recurring theme here, around storytelling, fiction, and the role of stories in our lives and societies. It’s worth a look and a share for the authors’ focus on the role of visuals, using the US dollar, robots and AI in movies, country flags, and Web3 as examples of stories as social contracts.
What we are calling “fictions” here are social contracts—money, ethics, laws, countries, religions, flags, totems, fashion, music, arts— rules we create to be able to agree on social norms and expectations. […]
Power both creates and depends upon the shared fictions of the monoculture. Power self-perpetuates through control of these fictions, which must be coded as legitimate and immediately recognizable through their symbolism, language, and design. […]
The process of questioning, antagonizing, and creating new fictions is natural, but the scale, speed, and intensity of social media radically changed how quickly this process takes place. […]
“We are in the midst of a major social transformation — moving many of our day-to-day activities from physical places to information-based places that we experience on our phones and computers. The central question here is: How can we design these information environments so they serve our social needs in the long term?” (Jorge Arango)
From the latest issue of the always intriguing Branch magazine, Nate Hill mixes together leadership, craft, nature, paying attention, and more, in a short thesis on why “we all need to slow down, be mindful, truly observe and interrogate natural processes, and then incorporate them into the way we approach everything we do.” (Includes lots of pictures of his art, the making of which brought him to this thinking.)
One of the greatest challenges our planet is faced with is that much of the human species somehow believes they are separate from, superior to, or not part of the natural world, and that these systems are somehow manipulable by us rather than a complex, balanced set of rules that we all must respect, listen to, and work within. Slowness helps me to listen. It helps me understand my own place, and it shows me what I can influence and what I should allow to influence me. […]
As a leader at the helm of a nonprofit organization, observing natural processes gives me inspiration and guidance as I consider organizational structure, the sustainability and growth of new or existing program areas, and the speed and priorities at which different tasks should be done.
I mentioned ‘kleptobunkers’ in my summary of the first piece, here they are. In this excerpt from Douglas Rushkoff’s next book, Survival of the Richest, he takes us along at a meeting with some rich white guys trying to plan out their endgame, including how they might convince their security detail to stick with them when the rest of us come a knockin’. I’m pre-enjoying the schadenfreude I’ll feel when their plans crumble. I just hope I’m around to see it.
These people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society. Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch. Will it be Jeff Bezos migrating to space, Thiel to his New Zealand compound, or Mark Zuckerberg to his virtual metaverse? […]
The Mindset also includes a faith-based Silicon Valley certainty that they can develop a technology that will somehow break the laws of physics, economics and morality to offer them something even better than a way of saving the world: a means of escape from the apocalypse of their own making. […]
They were working out what I’ve come to call the insulation equation: could they earn enough money to insulate themselves from the reality they were creating by earning money in this way? Was there any valid justification for striving to be so successful that they could simply leave the rest of us behind –apocalypse or not?
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Wakanda Technology Design Case Study Lots and lots of details about Perception design lab’s work on Black Panther. ⊗ Introducing: R&D Futures at BBC R&D “[W]e’re interested in methods for spotting and extrapolating trends in our audience’s worlds, and how we in R&D and the BBC can plan for those trends.” ⊗ Systems fiction: a novel way to think about the present. (2016)
- 😃 💬 Now here’s something I didn’t expect but like a lot, Meredith Whittaker is now president of Signal.
- 🤩 🤔 🤩 🤔 William Gibson’s novel comes to vivid life in first teaser for The Peripheral. The fact I’m not disappointed yet (other than the fact that it’s at effing Amazon) counts as praise at this stage. Looks fantastic and nothing jumps out as utterly wrong.
- 😍 😍 😍 ☁️ 🇸🇪Climate Layers. “We know that the climate crisis is happening — but how do we comprehend its global effects? We have created the exhibition Climate Layers to visualise how climate stressors are affecting our shared home, the planet.”
- 🚲 😍 🎥 🇳🇱 Traffic: conflict or a dance? Cycling Professor invites you to re-think the meaning of mobility at CRBAM. “Minimize the machine, let humanity thrive.”
- 🤔 🐁 🇨🇳 What could possibly go wrong? CRISPR fully reprograms mammal genome for the first time. “Chinese researchers say they’ve successfully reprogrammed the genome of the common lab mouse — rearranging its genes and reducing its number of chromosomes from 20 to 19.”
- 🥵 🇪🇸 City of Seville in Spain Using 1,000-Year-Old Technology to Fight Climate Change. “The city is using every other strategy in the heat adaptation playbook — installing public fountains, planting 5,000 trees a year and switching to construction materials that reflect heat. Because extreme heat requires extreme measures, earlier this summer Seville became the first city in the world to name and categorize heat waves in the same way the US or Asian nations name hurricanes and typhoons.”
- 🤩 I haven’t dug in yet but CW&T are among the winners and I love them. 2022 National Design Award Winners. “… honor innovation and impact and recognize the power of design to change the world.”
Join thousands of generalists and broad thinkers.
Each issue of the weekly features a selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures.