How important is realism and what makes it real?

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This week, the governor flashes a rosary and crucifix, and while our team may be trying to conceal their surprise, we can see that they are more than a bit shocked. If you haven’t read the backstory on the government’s stand on religion, you can find it here, early in chapter 1, and in the chapter 2 prologues. I’m going to let you sort that out for now.

Kristin Broulliard's silent commentary.
Kristin Broulliard’s silent commentary.

Today I thought I would center the discussion on realism. 

The future of The Lightstream Chronicles is built with “artifacts” that, by virtue of the narrative, become infused with meaning. At the same time, they are intended to provide a sense of realism and increase engagement, as well as foster discussion and debate. Because design permeates culture, and is an inextricable part of daily life. Design and technology quickly blend in, and the people living in, and with it, don’t particularly take notice of it.

There has been a document floating about that I came across while stalking the pages of Carnegie Mellon’s Design Fiction and Imaginary Futures blog, called the Critical Engineering Manifesto which appears to be co-written by a group from Berlin in 2011. The team, Julian Oliver, Gordan Savičić, and  Danja Vasiliev, have put together a rather ominous truism of the power of engineering and design in our culture today and especially in the future.

If we assume that the critical engineer shares at least some definition, in principle, with critical design popularized by Dunne & Raby, then its purpose, is a critique on engineering and perhaps technology and their affect on culture. As Dunne & Raby help to define critical design, it “uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.”

The Critical Engineering Working Group and their manifesto share a similar spirit. Number 5 of the 10-point manifesto reads:

     “5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.”

As I have written many times our smart phone, is a prime example: a designed technology that brings with it new efficiencies, and at the same time, engenders new behaviors. It has undeniably engineered us as well.

Therein lies the role of the diegetic prototype for design fiction. iPads, smart phones, vibrating reminders, 160 character thoughts exchanged with total strangers are likely just the beginning. But, to fully absorb the impact of our creations that have begun to create on their own, we need to think. Somehow, our speculative design needs to break through and become real enough to provoke us to think about the future and become more engaged in it.

Realism, I believe plays a significant role in this breakthrough objective. Realism, however, can be achieved in many ways beyond the most obvious, material fabrication. Indeed, the realism that made 2001 A Space Odyssey, Minority Report, or even Her so memorable, was not real at all, it just seemed that way. Yes, these artifacts from the future — the devices and technologies made scientifically plausible and logically designed — were so believable that they blended in, but what made them seem most real was how commonplace they were to their users. It was the way the characters interacted and behaved with these devices.

The Lightstream Chronicles quite obviously stops short of material fabrication, and leans heavily on the realism that can be conveyed through CG. But though the digital forms of these artifacts have dimension and virtual physicality, the emphasis is on how they can go unnoticed. Just as with our present-day artifacts like smart phones and laptops, they blend into the scheme of everyday. They are ubiquitous in the culture, yet they serve to influence social interaction and individual behavior.

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.

Indeed, I believe that realism is key. It is important to examine what makes it real to us and ask how real it needs to be to actually provoke us to think and encourage us to engage in our future.

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