A Viridian post-mortem, plus the rhetorics of futurity

“Three things make a post,” the saying used to go — so here’s three things.

First up, my first solo paper (“The future’s four quarters: Proposing a quadrant methodology for strategic prototyping in infrastructural contexts”) has finally wended its way through the tangled corridors of the academic publishing system, and is now in press at Technological Forecasting & Social Change. It’s basically an attempt to retool the nascent field of sf prototyping into something more than an unreflexive flight of solutionist fancy, but also to scale it up in order to explore systemic issues, rather than merely reiterating the Gernsbackian gadget-story mode with exploratory research findings and pretending you’re doing something other than R&D wish-fulfilment. (If you don’t have institutional access but would like to see a copy nonetheless, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.)

Secondly, I wrote an essay for Tim Maly’s 5 Viridian Years thing on Medium. Tim’s project was to rake over the coals of Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design movement, five years after the Chairman decided to fold it up ahead of schedule. I won’t even attempt to sum up the collection, as the viewpoints and angles are gloriously various, but I definitely get an underlying vibe of “mission unaccomplished”; the Viridian problems haven’t gone away, even if the method had its moment and missed the mark. So here’s my take on the whole thing, which is basically that hairshirt-green primitivism and technological solutionism are both equally untenable answers to climate change and its related super-wicked problem set.

Thirdly (and related to both the secondly and the firstly), Sterling has a wee piece in Wired UK where he talks about the rhetorics of design fiction. Here’s the important bit:

“Suspending disbelief” means that design fiction has an ethics. Design fictions are fakes of a theatrical sort, but they’re not wicked frauds or hoaxes intended to rob or fool people. A design fiction is a creative act that puts the viewer into a different conceptual space — for a while. Then it lets him go. Design fiction has an audience, not victims.

The implicit point here is that there are a lot of things that use the techniques of design fiction without having that internalised ethics: political manifestos, corporate brochures, lifestyle-tech ads, transhumanist discourse, the list goes on. Some forms are deliberately hoaxy and/or seductive (cf. Dan Abelow’s hypergeneric “intellectual property”), while some are simply passionate people enthusiastically dining out upon their own delusional dogfood. If you recall my Improving Reality talk on infrastructure fiction, you’ll perhaps remember that I pegged Elon Musk’s Hyperloop as an unintentional design fiction; in Sterling’s terms above, of course, it’s not a design fiction at all, but I hold that understanding how design fiction works will furnish you the tools with which to take other futurist narratives apart and understand how they function (and what they’re really saying, which is rarely what they appear to be saying).

And given the proliferation of narratives of futurity, hoaxy or otherwise, a critical framework is much needed… so I’ll be working up a paper I gave back in the summer into a series of posts here at Futurismic, which will lay out my early efforts and let the public poke them with sticks. Watch this space, yeah?

2 thoughts on “A Viridian post-mortem, plus the rhetorics of futurity”

Comments are closed.