It is probably helpful to reference evolutionary geneticist and science lecturer David Kirby who coined the term “diegetic prototypes” (Kirby, 2010). It is Kirby’s assertion that scientists often use cinema to further their projects and interests. “The presentation of science within the cinematic framework can convince audiences of the validity of ideas and create public excitement about nascent technologies”(66). Kirby’s analysis included classic, technology-laden films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report, among others. In his view, scientists and engineers go to elaborate lengths to make these technologies as realistic as possible. “The most successful cinematic technologies are taken for granted by the characters in the diegesis, and thus, communicate to the audience that these are not extraordinary but rather everyday technologies. These technologies not only appear normal while on the screen, but they also fit seamlessly into the entire diegetic world”(50).
I think there are two specific variables to the answer. First, there is the perspective and intent of the creator, and second, the audience. The SF creator could be the author (in the case of literature) and the director (in the case of film). If we look at the archetypal stories of Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke, a sense of realism and plausible science make the speculative future seem more real, and believable. When Stanley Kubrick took 2001 to the screen, “Kubrick wanted absolute realism: he wanted the hardware on screen to look as though it really worked” (Bizony, 1994:81).
If you accept science fiction author Bruce Sterling’s (2012a) definition of design fiction as “…the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” then deliberate intent is specific and we would have to examine our science fiction on a case-by-case basis.
When the designer becomes science fiction author the intent of design fiction is perhaps most obvious. Bleecker, Candy, Dunagan, Dunne & Raby all fall into this category, and I submit, so does my graphic novel. Perhaps a science fiction writer (using a heavy dose of creative license) might simply decide what the world will be like 147 years from now. But in the context of this project, the designer is compelled to follow a course of due diligence before speculating on the design, the culture and the infinite number of possibilities that could affect it. Many believe that technology will have the greatest affect on design by enabling designers to imagine things heretofore unimaginable. That technology and the subsequent advancements in biotech, artificial intelligence, medicine, energy and transportation will send ripples into politics, religion and humanity.
Though there are perhaps as many definitions of science fiction as there are science fiction authors, most would agree that, in the final analysis, it is about people.
“[Social] science fiction is that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance on human beings.” — Isaac Asimov, Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin, 1951 1
The use of diegetic prototypes can suspend disbelief about the future scenarios, and through an examination of culture and context, individuals can contemplate present-day decisions that will affect the future on an individual basis.This brings us to the remaining variable: the audience. If design fictions can engage the average person-on-the-street to dialog about the imminent future, then perhaps individuals will become more aware of their ability to engage in discussion and thereby help to direct the future rather than being directed by it.
So, whether it is design fiction, science fiction or both, it is important that we not lose sight of its ability to make us think, and perhaps accept our responsibility to do so.
Bizony, P. (1994) 2001 Filming the Future. London: Arum Press Limited, p.81.
Kirby, D. (2010) The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating
Real-world Technological Development. Social Studies of Science, 40 (1), p.41-70.
Sterling, B. (2012a) Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling Explains the Intriguing New Concept of Design
Fiction. Interviewed by Torie Bosch [radio] Tempe, AZ, March 2, 2012.