Tag Archives: Bruce Sterling

On utopia and dystopia. Part 2.

From now on we paint only pretty pictures. Get it?

A couple of blarticles (blog-like articles) caught my eye this week. Interestingly, the two blarticles reference the same work. There was a big brew-haha a couple of years ago about how dystopian science fiction and design fiction with dystopian themes were somehow bad for us and that people were getting sick of it. Based on the most recent lists of bestselling books and films, that no longer seems to be the case. Nevertheless, some science fiction writers like Cory Doctorow (a fine author and Hugo winner) think that possibly more utopian futures would be better at influencing public policy. As he wrote in Boing Boing earlier this month,

“Science fiction writers have a long history of intervening/meddling in policy, but historically this has been in the form of right-wing science fiction writers…”

Frankly, I have no idea what this has to do with politics as there must certainly be more left handed authors and filmmakers in Hollywood than their right-sided counterparts. He continues:

“But a new, progressive wing of design fiction practicioners [sic] are increasingly involved in policy questions…”

Doctorow’s article cites a long piece for Slate, by the New America Foundation’s Kevin Bankston. Bankston says,

“…a stellar selection of 64 bestselling sci-fi writers and visionary filmmakers, has tasked itself with imagining realistic, possible, positive futures that we might actually want to live in—and figuring out we can get from here to there.”

That’s great, because, as I said, I am all about making alternative futures legible for people to consider and contemplate. In the process, however, I don’t think we should give dystopia short shrift. The problem with utopias is that they tend to be prescriptive, in other words, ”This is a better future because I say so.”

The futures I conjure up are neither utopian nor dystopian, but I do try to surface real concerns so that people can decide for themselves, kind of like a democracy. History has proven that regardless of our utopian ideals we more often than not mess things up. I don’t want it to be progressive, liberal, conservative or right wing, and I don’t think it should be the objective of science fiction or entertainment to help shape these policies especially when there is an obvious political purpose. It’s one thing to make alternative futures legible, another to shove them at us.

As long as it’s fiction and entertaining utopias are great but let’s not kid ourselves. Utopia and to some extent dystopia are individual perspectives. Frankly, I don’t want someone telling me that one future is better for me than another. In fact, that almost borders on dystopia in my thinking.

I’m not sure whether Bruce Sterling was answering Cory Doctorow’s piece, but Sterling’s stance on the issue is sharper and more insightful. Sterling is acutely aware that today is the focus. We look at futures, and we realize there are steps we need to take today to make tomorrow better. I recommend his post. Here are a couple of choice clips:

“*The “better future” thing is jam-tomorrow and jam-yesterday talk, so it tends to become the enemy of jam today. You’re better off reading history, and realizing that public aspirations that do seem great, and that even meet with tremendous innovative success, can change the tenor of society and easily become curses a generation later. Not because they were ever bad ideas or bad things to aspire to or do, but because that’s the nature of historical causality. Tomorrow composts today.”

“*If you like doing incredible things, because you’re of a science fictional temperament, then you should frankly admit your fondness for the way-out and the wondrous, and not disingenuously pretend that it’s somehow bound to improve the lot of the mundanes.”

Prettier pictures are not going to save us. Most of the world needs a wake-up call, not another dream.

In my humble opinion.

 

How science fiction writers’ “design fiction” is playing a greater role in policy debates

Various sci-fi projects allegedly creating a better future

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Defining [my] design fiction.

 

It’s tough to define something that still so new that, in practice, there is no prescribed method and dozens of interpretations. I met some designers at a recent conference in Trento, Italy that insist they invented the term in 1995, but most authorities attribute the origin to Bruce Sterling in his 2005 book, Shaping Things. The book was not about design fiction per se. Sterling’s is fond of creating neologisms, and this was one of those (like the term ‘spime’) that appeared in that book. It caught on. Sometime later Sterling sought to clarify it. And his most quoted definition is, “The deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” If you rattle that off to most people, they look at you glassy-eyed. Fortunately, in 2013, Sterling went into more detail.

“Deliberate use’ means that design fiction is something that people do with a purpose. ‘Diegetic’ is from film and theatre studies. A movie has a story, but it also has all the commentary, scene-setting, props, sets and gizmos to support that story. Design fiction doesn’t tell stories — instead, it designs prototypes that imply a changed world. 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. Finally, there’s the part about ‘change’. Awareness of change is what distinguishes design fictions from jokes about technology, such as over-complex Heath Robinson machines or Japanese chindogu (‘weird tool’) objects. Design fiction attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different.” (Sterling, 2013)

The above definition is the one on which I base most of my research. I’ve written on this before, such as what distinguishes it from science fiction, but I bring this up today because I frequently run into things that are not design fiction but are labeled thus. There are three non-negotiables for me. We’re talking about change, a critical eye on change and suspending disbelief.

Change
Part of the intent of design fiction is to get you to think about change. Things are going to change. It implies a future. I suppose it doesn’t mean that the fiction itself has to take place in the future, however, since we can’t go back in time, the only kind of change we’re going to encounter is the future variety. So, if the intent is to make us think, that thinking should have some redeeming benefit on the present to make us better prepared for the future. Such as, “Wow. That future sucks. Let’s not let that happen.” Or, “Careful with that future scenario, it could easily go awry.” Like that.

A critical eye on change.
There are probably a lot of practitioners who would disagree with me on this point. The human race has a proclivity for messing things up. We develop things often in advance of actually thinking about what they might mean for society, or an economy, or our health, our environment, or our behavior. We design way too much stuff just because we can and because it might make us rich if we do. We need to think more before we act. It means we need to take some responsibility for what we design. Looking into the future with a critical eye on how things could go wrong or just on how wrong they might be without us noticing is a crucial element in my interpretation of intent.

Suspending disbelief
As Sterling says, the objective here is not to fool you but to get close enough to a realistic scenario that you accept that it could happen. If it’s off-the-wall, WTF, conceptual art, absent of any plausible existence, or sheer fantasy, it misses the point. I’m sure there’s a place for those and no doubt a purpose, but call it something else, but not design fiction. It’s the same reason that Star Wars is not design fiction. There’s design and there’s fiction but different intent.

I didn’t intend to have this turn into a rant, and this may all seem to you like splitting hairs, but often these subtle differences are important so that we know what were studying and why.

The nice thing about blogs is that if you have a different opinion, you can share.

 

Sterling, B., 2013. Design Fiction: “Patently Untrue” by Bruce Sterling [WWW Document]. WIRED. URL http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/10/play/patently-untrue (accessed 12.12.14).
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It’s all happening too fast.

 

Since design fiction is my area of research and focus, I have covered the difference between it and science fiction in previous blogs. But the two are quite closely related. Let me start with science fiction. There are a plethora of definitions for SF. Here are two of my favorites.

The first is from Isaac Asimov:

“[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 second is from Robert Heinlein:

“…realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the scientific method.” 2

I especially like the first because it emphasizes people at the heart of the storytelling. The second definition speaks to real-world knowledge, and understanding of the scientific method. Here, there is a clear distinction between science fiction and fantasy. Star Wars is not science fiction. Even George Lucas admits this. In a conversation at the Sundance Film Festival last year he is quoted as saying, “Star Wars really isn’t a science-fiction film, it’s a fantasy film and a space opera.”3 While Star Wars involves space travel (which is technically science based), the story has no connection to the real world; it may as well be Lord of the Rings.

I bring up these distinctions because design fiction is a hybrid of science fiction, but there is a difference. Sterling defines design fiction as, “The deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” Though even Sterling agrees that his definition is “heavy-laden” the operative word in his definition is “deliberate.” In other words, a primary operand of design fiction is the designers intent. There is a purpose for design fiction and it is to provoke discussion about the future. While it may entertain, that is not it’s purpose. It needs to be a provocation. For me, the more provocative, the better. The idea that we would go quietly into whatever future unfolds based upon whatever corporate or scientific manifesto is most profitable or most manageable makes me crazy.

The urgency arises in the fact that the future is moving way to fast. In The Lightstream Chronicles, some of the developments that I reserved for 25, 50 or even further into the future are showing signs of life in the next two or three years. Next week I will introduce you to a couple of these technologies.

 

1. http://io9.com/5622186/how-many-defintions-of-science-fiction-are-there
2. Heinlein, R., 1983. The SF book of lists. In: Jakubowski, M., Edwards, M. (Eds.), The SF Book of Lists. Berkley Books, New York, p. 257.
3. http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/a32507/george-lucas-sundance-quotes/
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Robots will be able to do almost anything, including what you do.

There seems to be a lot of talk these days about what our working future may look like. A few weeks ago I wrote about some of Faith Popcorn’s predictions. Quoting from the Popcorn slide deck,

“Work, as we know it, is dying. Careers and offices: Over. The robots are marching in, taking more and more skilled jobs. To keep humans from becoming totally obsolete, the government must intervene, incentivizing companies to keep people on the payroll. Otherwise, robots would job-eliminate them. For the class of highly-trained elite works, however, things have never been better. Maneuvering from project to project, these free-agents thrive. Employers, eager to secure their human talent, lavish them with luxurious benefits and unprecedented flexibility.  The gap between the Have’s and Have-Nots has never been wider.”

Now, I consider Popcorn to be a marketing futurist, she’s in the business to help brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I agree with almost all of her predictions. But she’s not the only one talking about the future of work. In a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review (forwarded to me by a colleague) Rise Of The  Robots | Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford pretty much agrees. According to the review, “Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams.” Increasingly devices, like 3D printers or drones can do work that used to require a full-blown manufacturing plant or what was heretofore simply impossible. Ford’s book goes on to chronicle dozens of instances like this. The reviewer, Barbara Ehrenreich, states, “In ‘Rise of the Robots,’ Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work.”

In another article in Fast Company, Gwen Moran surveys a couple of PhD’s, one from MIT and another who’s executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management. The latter, Mark Schmit agrees that there will be a disparity in the work force. “this winner/loser scenario predicts a widening wealth gap, Schmit says. Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace, he says.” On the other end of the spectrum some see the future as more promising. The aforementioned MIT prof, Erik Brynjolfsson, “…thinks that technology has the potential for “shared prosperity,” giving us richer lives with more leisure time and freedom to do the types of work we like to do. But that’s going to require collaboration and a unified effort among developers, workers, governments, and other stakeholders…Machines could carry out tasks while programmed intelligence could act as our “digital agents” in the creation and sharing of products and knowledge.”

I’ve been re-accessing Stuart Candy’s PhD dissertation The Futures of Everyday Life, recently and he surfaces a great quote from science fiction writer Warren Ellis which itself was surfaced through Bruce Sterling’s State of the World Address at SXSW in 2006. It is,

“[T]here’s a middle distance between the complete collapse of infrastructure and some weird geek dream of electronically knowing where all your stuff is. Between apocalyptic politics and Nerd-vana, is the human dimension. How this stuff is taken on board, by smart people, at street level. … That’s where the story lies… in this spread of possible futures, and the people, on the ground, facing them. The story has to be about people trying to steer, or condemn other people, toward one future or another, using everything in their power. That’s a big story. “1

This is relevant for design, too, the topic of last week’s blog. It all ties into the future of the future, the stuff I research and blog about.  It’s about speculation and design fiction and other things on the fringes of our thinking. The problem is that I don’t think that enough people are thinking about it. I think it is still too fringe. What do people do after they read Mark Ford? Does it change anything? In a moment of original thinking I penned the following thought, and as is usually the case subsequently heard it stated in other words by other researchers:

If we could visit the future ”in person,” how would it affect us upon our return? How vigorously would we engage our redefined present?

It is why we need more design fiction and the kind that shakes us up in the process.

Comments welcome.

1 http://www.warrenellis.com

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Privacy is dead. Is the cyberpunk future already here?

This week, a brief thought to provoke thought. Surprisingly it has been 30 years since William Gibson released his groundbreaking work Neuromancer, that ushered in a decade of artistry inspired by the genre known as cyberpunk. Just a few days ago Paste Magazine ran an article, “Somebody’s Watching Me; Cyberpunk 30 Years On, and the Warnings We Didn’t Heed.” Therein, writer Brian Chidester delineates the fascinating influence of Gibson’s work on the music of the day as well as the ripples it continues to send into the present.

With my futurist, sci-fi, cyberpunk leanings, I was caught up with the observation of how much of Gibson’s, “…near-future where computer technology was woven into our DNA—where a virtual data sphere played the dominate role in the human interface,” is already here—and we didn’t notice—or as Chidester notes, “…quietly came to pass.”

The music connection is deep and profound but it is also intertwined with the events of the days and the decades to follow. From DARPA’s creation of the internet, to post-9/11 paranoia, the Patriot Act, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Google, Twitter and Facebook, to the ubiquitous storage of cookies and individual user preferences (most of which are freely—even blithely—given), we, “…have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.”

Yet perhaps more chilling than where we are, is how we got here.

“Google, Twitter and Facebook, lauded as broadening the scope of human potential, in fact, built algorithms to drive us to predictable results. Cookies store information on individual user preferences. They have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.

Facebook has nearly a billion users, with tons of personal data on each one, proving that plenty of individuals are willing to provide private information to get something that is free and fun. Simply put: We’ve allowed ourselves to be smitten. The computer is now miniaturized, or, as Bruce Sterling predicted, ‘adorable.’ Christopher Shin, the engineer of Cellebrite, a device that aids the U.S. government in collecting information from cellular users, contends that the iPhone holds more personal information than any other device on the market.”

So if we can go from cyberpunk, science fiction, to present day future in 30 years, given the exponential growth of technology, were will be be smitten next: genetic engineering, transhumanism, synthetic biology?

Chidester concludes:

“If we stop to ask how we got here, we may look back and find the signs embedded in cyberpunk literature of 20-30 years prior. We may then wonder how we might better have heeded its warnings. But it is too late. Privacy, under the current paradigm, is essentially dead.”

What other cherished possession will be the next to fall?  Or have they all already fallen?

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Defining cyberpunk and the alignment with Blade Runner.

The debate rages. Well maybe not “rages,” but its still going strong. I saw a rant a few days ago about how someone’s photo that they posted on reddit did not qualify as cyberpunk, because cyberpunk is not a “look.” You can find these rants almost daily by scrolling around. Hmmm. I discussed in a previous post why I believe that The Lightstream Chronicles is more aptly described as cyberpunk or sci-fi noir, than a standard science fiction crime thriller, and I provided some solid back-up for that conclusion. The reddit community defines it as this:

TL;DR: A genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology. Some would say it’s the world we live in today (but remember; it’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea that our cyberpunk aesthetic is becoming a reality and forget that its a dystopic fate).

So, the group admits that there is, indeed a cyberpunk aesthetic, but it also sounds like that in, and of itself, is insufficient to satisfy—it needs the whole mélange to go with it. I have been reading a fascinating recap of the making of Blade Runner, in a book that is now out of print, entitled (interestingly enough) Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul Sammon. The author goes through almost every frame of the movie and provides comprehensive details on every aspect of the film from inception to its current cult status. Sammon (325) describes the films tie to the cyberpunk genre this way as a “a clearcut product of the 1980s”

“Cyberpunk also utilized many of the same narrative devices as Blade Runner; cyberpunk fiction was typically set in a sprawling megalopolis of the near, dark, and decadent future, pitted hard-edged, street-level outlaws against omniscient (and corrupt) corporations, and viewed emerging hypertechnologies with equal portions of fascination and distrust. And despite its air of superficial diffidence, cyberpunk—also very much like Blade Runner—was, at heart, essentially moral art, deeply concerned with all the flaws, compromises, and ethical choices that will always haunt humanity no matter how exotic or futuristic the background against which human dramas are played out.” 1

Yeah, baby. That’s what I call cyberpunk, and The Lightstream Chronicles is all about that. Hence, I am less of a stickler about whether or not the cyberpunk aesthetic contains the whole mélange. I think there is a cyberpunk aesthetic and it is indeed all around us. You can see what I’m talking about on my tumblr site.

Blade Runner-sm
Out-of-print, but you can still find it. If you are a movie geek this is must reading.

Sammon also wisely quotes Bruce Sterling from his introduction to his Mirrorshades anthology.

“Cyberpunk is known for its telling use of detail, its carefully constructed intricacy, its willingness to carry extrapolation into the fabric of daily life. It favors ‘crammed’ prose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overload that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock ‘wall of sound’ (Sammon 325).”

If you follow that line of thinking you can also see why design fiction clearly emerges as an offspring of the overall genre. Personally, I think design fiction is at its best when it is playing on the edge of dystopia; mainly because society lives precariously close to that edge everyday and the emerging “hypertechnologies” that Sammon alludes to only take us closer to falling over that edge.

1. Sammon, Paul. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1996. 325. Print.

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Design Fiction: More Ammunition

Design Fiction Rationale #24

There are a number of good reasons to practice design fiction. A few:

  • It’s the foresight side of design thinking.
  • It generates ideas free of constraints like, “How many can we sell?”
  • It helps foster an appreciation for the interdependency of things. 

And then there are provocations about the implications of creating any design, it’s affect on society, on behavior, on other things.

I have already written about this in my MFA thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?”, and more or less predicted it, but as it has been widely reported over the last couple of weeks, a 3D printer has produced a gun that has been successfully printed and fired. In a web article, this quote fell out:

“An undetectable firearm constructed on your computer may sound like science fiction, but unfortunately, it’s already here and our laws have never contemplated this scenario,” D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells, who introduced the legislation, said in a press release. “These weapons create a significant and immediate threat to public safety.”

I hate break it to the D.C. City Council, but laws do not contemplate anything and more often than not, laws are created to fix problems that people never contemplated. So, now we have a new problem that city councils all over U.S. will have to create laws for and governments will have to regulate.

Roll your own. Source: The Sun
Roll your own. Source: ibitimes

But let’s face it, the cat is out of the bag. You can make it against the law to do anything, which works for the wide majority of people, except outlaws, terrorists, and loose-cannon regimes.

Did anyone think about potential ramifications of a home 3D printer in the hands of a bad person? Perhaps, but as is often the case these “black cloud” scenarios are usually brushed off with the positive outweighs the negative types of comments. There’s heavy pressure for progress and precautionary types are dismissed as “Debbie Downers.” I think we build things because we can, and then think about it later.

We like to think that technology will save us, save us from destruction, from cancer, from obesity, from boredom, from death. Some folks are holding out for it. But there is always a downside, like with Uranium gone missing, or texting while driving, bovine growth hormone. In the future it may be that our perfect selves along with a 24/7 virtual fantasy in our heads will become … boring. Then there’s that death thing. What could be wrong with scientists and artists and loving wonderful people that live forever? Except, of course, for the people that aren’t so wonderful or just plain evil.

And that’s one way we can use design fiction, with our diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change, so that people can look at the possible future with this new thing or that new thing and maybe take extra time to think about the downside. Like Bruce Sterling says, “It’s important to explicitly acknowledge the drawbacks of any technological transformation—to “think the underside first,” to think in a precautionary way” (Sterling, Shaping Things, 2006:12).

Maybe the bigger question is this: If we knew then what we know now, would anything have changed? Are we even capable of stopping ourselves from building, or injecting, or releasing the next big thing because of those few minor, potential mishaps? Should we? After all, surely we can find some technology to prevent the downside from even happening.

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Sci-fi or cyberpunk? Genre wars with the web comic.

Since the beginning, I have been referring to The Lightstream Chronicles as a science fiction crime thriller, but a more accomplished comic artist than myself referred to the work as a cyberpunk crime thriller. Admittedly, through my own ignorance, this term seemed off-base. I thought of Tank Girl as cyberpunk. So, I did more research. It would appear that there are more genres of science fiction than I was aware of. I think it is fair to say that for the purposes of my thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?” that I did exhaustive research on comics and graphic novels, as well as the topic of design fiction, but science fiction is this enormous thing that encompasses a vast array of genres and sub-genres that I frankly did not have the ability to explore within the context of the thesis proper. Now, however, that the thesis is complete and submitted to the Internet database as one of a gazillion theses, I can begin to explore those areas that time and scope did not permit. Hence, cyberpunk has caught my attention and beckoned me to further examination.

As in design fiction, there does not seem to be any one authority on the subject and it has morphed in its collective understanding over the years. The combination of “cyber” from cybernetics and “punk” most commonly associated with the early 70’s and 80’s rock music genre could literally be interpreted as thinking machines with attitude. But over the years, the term now confers a sort of uber-technological society where people are not just human and machines are not just machines; there is a shared reality, or virtual reality. An explanation from the Cyberpunk Project website offers an elucidation that I like:

“This technology is visceral. It extends itself into people via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned organs. It is not outside us but under our skin, inside our minds. Technology pervades the human self; the goal is the merging of man and machine.”

"...under our skin..."
“…under our skin…”

And if you want more, Lawrence Person gives an in-depth description in his Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto. I particularly like this snip:

” It may have been Isaac Asimov (though I first heard it via Howard Waldrop) who said there were three orders of science fiction, using the automobile as an example. Man invents the automobile and uses it to chase down the villain: adventure fiction. Man invents the automobile, and a few years later there are traffic jams: social problem fiction. In the third type, man invents the automobile, and another man invents moving pictures: fifty years later, people go to drive-in movies. It is this third order of fiction, social fabric fiction, that was at the heart of cyberpunk…The best postcyberpunk moves further into third-order science fiction, the plot arising organically from the world it’s set in.”

 

To me, that is what drives the plot of The Lightstream Chronicles. If you’ve read the backstory on the web site or on pages 3 and 4 of the web comic, then you can see the social fabric fiction at work. It is interesting to note that the godfather of cyberpunk is the same guy who coined the term design fiction: Bruce Sterling. Person (from the same manifesto), paraphrases Sterling’s assessment that, “cyberpunk carried technological extrapolation into the fabric of everyday life.”

That makes for an even more interesting topic: perhaps real design fiction is also cyberpunk. Either way, and even if it’s all really just another flavor of SF, I’m convinced that TLSC play in the cyberpunk sandbox.

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Design Fiction Web Comic – Page 20

Good morning (depending on what part of the globe your are in). Here is this week’s commentary on today’s new art for The Lightstream Chronicles web comic.

Academic set up

If you are a regular follower, you already know that the impetus behind this graphic novel is my MFA thesis, When designers ask, “What if?” My thesis defense, by the way, is this Wednesday, April 3rd. For those of you who may have heard the term design fiction (it gets tossed around quite a bit in the blogosphere) but are not sure what it is, I might direct you to a previous post that gives you some additional background. The anchor definition, which  now rolls off the tongue is sci-fi writer, futurist muser Bruce Sterling‘s (2012), “…the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” (If you want to know where the “diegetic” part comes from, then that is another post.) My thesis, for an MFA in Design Development, of course, focuses on what benefit this could possibly have for anyone, much less design and designers. So I have evolved my own interpretation for the context of my thesis. Thus:

Design fiction is about the future, about change, about visualizing the change possibilities, and making it all seem real enough to us that we want to talk about it, assess it, and ask ourselves if this is really the future we want — and if it’s not — what might we do about it, how might we change it and refine it.

Therefore, The Lightstream Chronicles is a story that portrays a speculative future heavily influenced by technological change and enhanced with visual prototypes with the ongoing objective to both entertain, fascinate and provoke thinking. Because of it’s obsessive detail, it also makes the journey and interactive one that invites the reader to zoom-in and explore each image. Granted, not your average web comic, but enough of that. About

Page 20

On page 19 we began a long dolly shot into the penthouse of one of Hong Kong 2’s many towering buildings. From the exterior markings you have surmised that this is the headquarters of AHC (Almost Human Corporation) and that this logo (for the more observant) was also emblazoned on the body suit of Sean Colbert on pages 17 and 18. So, if you guessed that we might be bringing the camera in through the window of Sean’s lab, you are correct. On page 20 we are now through the glass, so to speak, and down to the personal level.

Here, we see Dr. Colbert’s private exploratorium where he has engineered the wildly successful and profitable N-Class, D-Class and now, T-Class synthetics. The prodigious, eighteen-year-old Colbert was awarded his own lab earlier in the year as a perk for making AHC a small fortune over the past decade. You can read more about Colbert and the synthetics on the cast page. In this scene, Sean has turned from his work, a torso that is floating on a levitating work table (presumably his next creation) to communicate with a face on a floating virtual screen (a diegetic prototype). In the background there are super alloy skeletal structures, and a selection of synthetics in stasis containers. One of these creations, we have already met. This lab environment took about 10 days to construct and each of the scene/panels is at least a few hours, and sometimes a few days.

Though the identity of the character that Sean is conversing with is not yet revealed, it soon will be. Comments and questions are welcome.

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Evangelizing Design Fiction and topping it off with Syd Mead and Blade Runner

The last two weeks have been rapid-fire. I presented my thesis research at two different universities as part of the interview process for Assistant Professor design positions. The last one was, coincidentally, was in the precise location of the 2013 Emerge Conference. I had nothing to do with planning it this way it’s just how things worked out. In fact, I was so buried in the preparation for these interviews that the Emerge Conference dropped completely off my radar screen. So, as I am presenting on one part of the campus, about the idea of design fiction as a serious area of design research, Bruce Sterling and Brad Allenby, pivotal voices in future thinking, are presenting in another. It just seemed weird, especially since I had no idea it was going on until I got into town. Sterling, of course, is credited with creating the neologism known as “design fiction,” and though he probably has no idea that I exist, I think we are watching closely from similar perspectives. Note the similarities with his recent blog and my post from a few weeks ago.

It was an exhausting day of meetings and presentations, so I was anxious to get back to the hotel and decompress. Despite this I could not pass up the opportunity to trek across campus for a 6:30 screening of the digitally remastered 1987 classic, Blade Runner, in an awesome little theater with a shake-your-chair sound system. After the film, who else but Syd Mead shows up to field questions. Mead, complete with sunglasses, says he’s 79 years old, but there are no signs that he’s slowing down. He’s sharp as a tack and a bit feisty. Mead said that he is quite comfortable with revising his concepts or with ideas being outright rejected, as long as he gets paid. I think that some of the students saw his ‘show-me-the-money’ attitude as a bit arrogant, but Mead is a design and concept-art legend, he’s been working in the profession for a long time, and knows the way great designs and great art would rarely come to life without free enterprise. So, while some students may see the idea of commerce as a tool of capitalist oppression, Syd gets paid. Good for him.

All that being said, the presentations over the past couple of weeks went well, I think. I’m thinking that close to 100 turned out for my last one. Most of the comments were positive and encouraging. I may even have a few more converts to the web comic, but after the rigorous interview processes I have no idea where all of this will end up. Maybe none of it will turn into gainful employment, but they all add up to great experiences and the chance to share ideas with smart people.

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