Kelly and Eno’s Unthinkable Futures – ready-made science fiction scenarios

Paul Raven @ 26-06-2008

Depressed thinker statueMaybe you noticed it when it cropped up on BoingBoing last week, but having re-read it a few times I thought I’d point out Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno’s Unthinkable Futures. [image by fabiovenni]

Kelly and Eno used to make a game of dreaming up the unthinkable futures of the title as an exercise to loosen their minds, and this list of them was originally published fifteen years ago. It’s a fascinating read for three reasons. Firstly, for the scenarios that are even more untenable now than they were in 1993:

  • Smoking is proven to be good exercise for the lungs.

Secondly, for the scenarios that have either already happened or become inevitable:

  • Nobody wants to be a doctor. It becomes an over-whelming bureaucratic job with low status. Women and minorities become working doctors; men do medical research. [Certainly becoming the case here in the UK]
  • Video phones inspire a new sexual revolution whereby everybody sits at home doing rude things electronically with everyone else. Productivity slumps; video screens get bigger and bigger. [Nuff said]
  • A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. [Blogging, anyone?]

And thirdly, for the scenarios which are the core nugget of a great science fiction story waiting to be written – which is most of them, to be honest, though some more obviously than others:

  • Software gains allow a certain portion of taxes to fall to the discretion of the payer. John Public can assign X amount of his taxes toward one service, to the exclusion of another. It’s a second vote that politicians watch closely. [Bruce Sterling needs to write this one]
  • Traveling as a process enjoys a revival. People abandon the idea of “getting from A to B” and begin to develop (or re-discover) a culture of traveling: semi-nomadism. Lots of people acquire super new faxed-and-modemed versions of the mobile home. It becomes distinctly “lower-class” to live in a fixed location. Fast forms of transport come to be viewed like fast food is viewed now — tacky, undesirable, fake.

It’s a goldmine, go take a look. And I reckon we can play this game just as well ourselves – leave your own Unthinkable Future in the comments!

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2 Responses to “Kelly and Eno’s Unthinkable Futures – ready-made science fiction scenarios”

  1. Tom Marcinko says:

    I bookmarked that post and have been turning it over in my mind ever since. My favorite, from Brian (and yeah, I think we’re close to this):

    * News is understood to be a creation of our attention and interests (rather than “the truth”) and news shows are redesigned as “thinktanks,” where four interesting minds from different disciplines are asked the question, “So what do YOU think happened today?”

    * Later, four uninteresting minds (chosen from the pages of Ordinary People magazine) are asked the same questions.

  2. gmoke says:

    * Computer screens (both CRT and flat screens) are found to be dangerous to the health. Working at a computer is viewed as a toxic job.

    Transfer that idea to cell phones and you just might have reality, given the number of studies that seem to show deleterious health effects.