The future beyond the rusted chrome of yestermorrow ⊗ The environment is not a system ⊗ Stones that calculate — No.142

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

This week → SOLARPUNK – Life in the future beyond the rusted chrome of yestermorrow ⊗ The environment is not a system ⊗ Stones that calculate ⊗ How to talk about books you haven’t read

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.97 was Minimal Maintenance by Shannon Mattern.

A couple of things to see on the website; a short article I wrote this week, Eudaimonia Machine, co-leases, coworking, & cafes, and the End of Day posts, an irregular link drop. Each newsletter issue, articles, and EoD posts are also tweeted on the newly unfrozen Twitter account, give a follow if you still use the bird site.

SOLARPUNK – Life in the Future Beyond the Rusted Chrome of Yestermorrow

Fascinating piece here (based on a presentation so lots of visuals) by Jay Springett who sets the table by covering some memetic theory and media narratives, to then beautifully present and explain what Solarpunk aims to achieve. He presents punk and mainstream, how our interests and where we can share them was atomized by the internet, to then re-cohear on the big platforms. Pre-internet is the last time there was a more defined mainstream, so Disney and others are constantly re-hashing old heroes and cultures. They “frack” the media of the past because it is the (somewhat) common ground they can make blockbusters from.

It’s the same with sci-fi and most of the futures presented to us; they are old futures based on and extracted from the culture of those past decades. As “climate change looms over all those futures and no-one seems capable of doing anything about it,” we need better futures, extrapolated from this present, not that of our predecessors. “We need to collectively foster a new way of seeing the world” and, quoting Madeline Ashby, we need “to talk, loudly and frequently and in detail, about the future [we] want. You can’t manifest what you don’t share.”

I highlighted 32 passages from this talk so I highly recommend having a look, even if only to see his slides, it’s the best presentation of Solarpunk I’ve read, covers a lot of ground, is hopeful, and cites quite a few topics and people often covered in Sentiers.

[U]nder the logic of a capitalist cultural monopoly, commodity owners have to continually frack the past from a time when a collective cultural grammar still existed to still make money. […]

The sense of creating new immediate futures and repopulating the futures space with something entirely divorced from previous consensus futures. Solarpunk attempts to re-future all of our imaginations. […]

[I]t attempts to foster a socio-cultural environment which emphasizes individual autonomy, consent, unity-in-diversity, with the free egalitarian distribution of power. […]

It is not a genre that relies on huge technological leaps into the future, nor by taking wistful glances at the past, but by looking laterally at what’s already in the world, and projecting it forward. […]

Solarpunk then is a collective ‘Memetic Engine’. A cultural construct, or media entity that is a tool that powers and provides the ‘refuturing’ that our collective imagination needs. […]

If you want a better future, and are already involved in activism of all kinds then Become a solarpunk. Stand in opposition to the doom and gloom of our current media environment, adopt a more sunny disposition. It’s why solarpunk is punk.

The Environment is not a System

Thanks to Kristoffer at Naive Weekly for pointing to this paper by Tega Brain from a couple of years ago, it’s not a line of thought I’d seen explained all that often. It’s a good fit with the previous piece, where it spoke of re-using old media and old futures, of finding new ways of talking about new futures; here we see the importance of how we talk about things, and how we measure them. Brain shows us that too much of our understanding of nature is through the filter and language of systems, computation, and optimization. When we talk of forests and the species that live there, we think that we can understand it as a system, manage its growth like some factory. “[U]nderstanding environments to be open ended assemblages of non-humans, living and nonliving, entangled in ways of life.” Is a more humble, less human centric way of grasping nature.

A useful lens to keep at hand when reading about the fires in the American west, controlled burns, maps not being the territory, and complexity in general.

“Ecologists turned to assemblages to get around the sometimes fixed and bounded connotations of ecological “community.” The question of how the varied species in a species assemblage influence each other—if at all—is never settled: some thwart (or eat) each other; others work together to make life possible; still others just happen to find themselves in the same place. Assemblages are open-ended gatherings. They allow us to ask about communal effects without assuming them.” […]

In the last decade Silicon Valley ideology has saturated a diverse range of fields from urban design to the justice system, and this announcement is imbued with a familiar mix of solutionism and teleology, this time promising to transform “the way we are currently managing complex environmental challenges” […]

[W]e must acknowledge how deeply entrenched we are within a computational worldview that assumes the systemacity of environments and under-acknowleges the indeterminacy of environmental encounters.

Stones that calculate

Quite an interesting “collection of resources about post-digital materiality.” For a few reasons;

  • The topic: “Digitality promised us immaterialness, equality and disembodiment. It never came to be.”
  • The format. An examination of a research field, where the authors explored the “digital conditions within materialist discourses” through three topics (material of the digital, power and geopolitics in the digital, and bodies of the digital) and derived sixteen aspects, which they present here.
  • The website itself as the artefact of that exploration.
  • The sharing of all their sources, which are integral to the presentation. It’s Creative Commons licensed, and they made it available on Github.

The appreciation for the materialistic aspects of technological infrastructures goes hand in hand with the discovery of temporal dimensions beyond anthropomorphic and anthropocentric reductions. Whereas we cannot get rid of the former, as we always conceptualise time from our bodily perception, we can at least expand our temporal notion to the geological realities of our environment. […]

The idea of the Anthropocene as the new geological era assigns humanity a special role in the Earth’s ecosystem. This insight is undoubtedly important, but humanity is not the measure of all things. On the contrary, a view directed solely at humanity is blinding for larger systemic connections. […]

Platforms form new economic entities by providing infrastructures. These intermediate position profits from network effects, which strives for monopolies. This phenomenon is often described as platform feudalism as it concentrates power in private hands. This is especially alarming as few (ever-expanding) companies control critical technologies and services such as AI, social networks and shopping.

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Maria Popova at Brain Pickings with lots of quotes and her own comments on Pierre Bayard’s How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read and I just absolutely love what he’s saying. I might start using his “notation system for the different levels of non-reading and subjective interpretation” which, in a way, reminded me of the known-unknown quadrants.
(Via the reliably insightful Jay Owens.)

[T]his taboo subject that makes a case for reading not as a categorical dichotomy but as a spectrum of engaging with literature in various ways, along different dimensions — books we’ve read, books we’ve skimmed, books we’ve heard about, books we’ve forgotten, books we’ve never opened. […]

As cultivated people know (and, to their misfortune, uncultivated people do not), culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books as a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others. The interior of the book is less important than its exterior, or, if you prefer, the interior of the book is its exterior, since what counts in a book is the books alongside it. […]

Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught. […]

More → So far I’ve only skimmed Andy Matuschak’s Why books don’t work and I’m not sure I agree but looks interesting. Also; Shelf worth – how shelving became the status symbol of 2020.


  • Gadget Realism. “Where ‘magic realism’ is the contextualisation of supernatural or magical phenomena in a mundane setting, reaching all the way from Borges to Mieville’s ‘new weird’ when a ‘highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe’ gadget realism examines, usually through design fiction, the weirdness of gadgets and their strange effects on the world, often centering them as characters. In magic realism, the ‘magic’ is usually outsize and off-screen, it influences the characters but rarely has fully explored motivations.”
  • ?? ? ? ? Bryan Boyer is now director of the Urban Technology at University of Michigan and writing a newsletter about the process of establishing the program. The “Mail Call” answer in the linked issue is worth a read. “One reason we created this program is because Uber (and similar) may be nice for the privileged few, but we need to make sure that cities work for all. The Urban Technology program will give you the perspectives and skills to do so. It’s a mix of understanding how cities work, having enough technical ability that enables you to prototype new ideas in code, and the design skills to research and imagine new apps, services, and organizations.”
  • ? ?? ?? ? ? New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States. “Taken with other recent research showing that the most habitable climate in North America will shift northward and the incidence of large fires will increase across the country, this suggests that the climate crisis will profoundly interrupt the way we live and farm in the United States. See how the North American places where humans have lived for thousands of years will shift and what changes are in store for your county.”
  • ?? ?? ? ⚓️ Tired: nature is healing. Wired: nature is charging. Scientists baffled by orcas ramming sailing boats near Spain and Portugal. “In the last two months, from southern to northern Spain, sailors have sent distress calls after worrying encounters. Two boats lost part of their rudders, at least one crew member suffered bruising from the impact of the ramming, and several boats sustained serious damage.”
  • ?? ? IKEA Envisions the Home of Tomorrow. “But after an era of outsourcing daily activities into the city and the prospect of facing future isolating situations, many are now rediscovering the need to create a comfortable space in their homes.”
  • ? ? Alternate Histories and Societal Complexity. Short interesting post by Samuel Arbesman, make sure to check out the two links at the bottom, to collections of alternate history maps.
  • ?? ? The deal that saved Seychelles’ troubled waters. “In the five years since, the Seychelles has progressed from protecting 0.04% to 30% of its national waters, covering 410,000 square kilometres (158,000 square miles) of ocean – an area larger than Germany. Fishing, oil exploration and other marine development has been banned or severely restricted in the MPAs. Anyone who carries out illegal activities in these areas faces a hefty fine, or, in some cases, imprisonment.” (Via Future Crunch who always have a “good news” section in their newsletter.)

Header image: Nanhui New City is a planned city under construction in the Pudong district of Shanghai, China.

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