Today’s Tomorrows, 2011 edition

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Apologies to Brenda for re-using the title of her column, but it’s the start of the year… and despite most of us knowing that dates (and indeed time itself) are relative, we tend to take that as an opportunity to step ourselves out of the temporal flow for a few days and take a look both backward and forward. Of course, looking backward and forward (with a side-serving of sideways) is our daily bread here at Futurismic, but it’s nice to feel like the rest of the world’s playing along, you know? 🙂

So why not pop over to The Guardian, where a collection of clever folk make twenty predictions about the next 25 years? Some are no-brainers (“Rivals will take greater risks against the US” – that’s more of a trend than a prediction, really), some seem a little naively optimistic (“The popular revolt against bankers will become impossible to resist” – I’d love to see it happen but doubt we will, at least here in the UK), and some are reheated versions of classic cyberpunk transhumanism, suddenly made mundane and plausible in the face of unprecedented technological advancement (“We’ll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex”).

They all mark what, to me, is one of the most interesting social shifts of the last year or two: namely the sudden widespread acceptance of speculative thinking in mainstream media. Sure, it’s always been there, but it seems more ubiquitous now. Strange how we had to wait until the future was all around us before we started thinking hard about what shape it would be, no?

Speaking of speculative thinking, the BBC got in on the game back in December, picking apart some old (and largely failed) predictions from the 70s and quizzing present-day “futurologists” (which I maintain is a horrible noun) about how they do their work. David Brin’s response suggests that I’ve at least got the basic methodology sussed out:

“The top method is simply to stay keenly attuned to trends in the laboratories and research centres around the world, taking note of even things that seem impractical or useless,” says Brin.

“You then ask yourself: ‘What if they found a way to do that thing ten thousand times as quickly/powerfully/well? What if someone weaponised it? Monopolised it? Or commercialised it, enabling millions of people to do this new thing, routinely? What would society look like, if everybody took this new thing for granted?'”

That’s pretty much the query-set that sits in my forebrain as I drink from the RSS firehose each morning… 🙂

And last but not least, it wouldn’t be early January without Chairman Bruce and Jon Lebkowsky taking the virtual podium at The WELL for their annual State Of The World discussion. Hell knows there’s plenty to talk about, right?

While Futurismic is no WELL (and I’m surely no Bruce Sterling, much to my own disappointment), I like the format they use there: like phone-in talk radio, but text based. So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind regular Futurismic heads that the contact page is always open – if you’ve seen something you think we should be talking about, or just have your own take on a story we’ve looked at already, then by all means drop me a line and let me know.

ConGlomeration: crowdsourcing the sf convention

Paul Raven @ 03-08-2010

Well, would you look at that. After a good few years of folk kvetching and moaning into their ale about how the internet is killing off small-to-medium sized sf/f conventions, someone’s finally decided to take the bull by the horns and make the web work for conventions. Jay Garmon, head honcho of Louisville’s ConGlomeration, has teamed up with the stalwarts over at SF Signal and turned over the programming of next year’s ConGlom to the intermatubes:

After five years as a staffer at my local convention, Louisville’s own ConGlomeration, I’ve stepped up as programming co-chair on the organizing committee. But I come at this after 10 years as an online content producer and old-school social media Kool-Aid-drinker. I believe, as Doc Searls taught us, that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. I believe that with many eyes, all bugs are shallow. I believe in black swans, tipping points, and the wisdom of crowds. And, above all, I’m looking for a few brave first followers.

I want the Internet – and especially the readership of SF Signal – to program ConGlomeration 2011.


ConGlomeration may be housed in Louisville, KY, but so far as I’m concerned, it belongs to all of sci-fi fandom – starting with everyone reading this SF Signal post. Conventions have always been labors of love, made possible by dozens or even hundreds of fans cooperating to create a shared, communal product. I see no reason why that collaboration has to be limited to people within arm’s reach. This is your con, too, and we want you to help create it.

Garmon sounds very idealistic and optimistic, and there’s a more than reasonable chance that his plan might falter for lack of enthusiam (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t). But what’s excellent about this for me (as someone who ain’t gonna be dropping by Louisville any time soon, sadly) is to see someone trying to bridge ‘trad’ fandom and web fandom without taking anything from either. Garmon’s far from being the first to do so (Cheryl Morgan is about as tireless a worker in both wings of fandom as anyone could ask for, for instance), but this is a big bold move, and I wish him the best of luck with it.

So go pitch in some suggestions, why don’t you? If you’ve never been to a convention, and you’re local enough, this might be an ideal first opportunity to get the full experience – cons at their best aren’t passive events like a movie screening, but fully participatory. Get involved, give something back to the genre you love… and you’ll get a lot more in return. Go on.

[ The caveat here is that I’m not sure the web actually is killing live-action fandom – though I only have limited experience of the con scene on this side of the pond, and none Stateside. Changing it, certainly… reinventing and streamlining it, perhaps… but killing it? Given how quick we are to say that sf itself is dying (which has been a common refrain since long before I was even born, by all accounts), I suspect rumours of the death of conventions have been greatly exaggerated… and maybe even exacerbated by the legendary conservatism and resistance to change that – very ironically – has always been a part of core fandom. Go figure. And after you’ve figured, go get involved. It’s fun. You’ll enjoy it. 🙂 ]