Design fiction and harmless genetic upgrades. It’s all good, right?

Page 46

If you were wondering whether Sean Colbert was dead or alive, the technical answer is, alive. The story has not yet revealed what state the young prodigy is in, coma or conscious, vegetative state, or permanently damaged. All in due time. There was lots of activity this week beyond teaching Design Foundations and feverishly writing lectures. I spoke to a small group of design grad students this week about my research, the idea of design fiction and how, it can participate in future thinking and foresight. I was gratified to see the excitement level and how these topics, specifically from The Lightstream Chronicles online, digital graphic novel and webcomic helped to raise these issues. The discussion included such provocative topics as the prospect of immortality, digital implants, surveillance and security, privacy, mental telepathy, the perfect human body, and technological Darwinism to name a few. Unfortunately the discussion ended just as we got to the real meat of the design fiction future and that is what our role will be in it, not only as designers, but as human beings.

Are you looking into the future?
Are you looking into the future?

The question came up as to why everyone in the story is so perfect, muscled, slender and good looking. I covered this in a previous blog, but it bears some additional discussion. As I mentioned back then,

“…In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion. Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.”

But the short answer would be, “Because they can.”

This is an opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of our fictional characters. Take a couple of newlyweds who are trying for their first child. If the technology existed for a couple of non-invasive genetic alterations to prevent your child from ever having a “weight problem”, would you sign up? Pretty harmless isn’t it? And of course, every other couple is doing it so if you opt out, your child could be a pretty significant stand out from the status quo. As you think this over, you ask yourself, “Do I really want to saddle my child with a weight problem?” So you give pause, however brief, and then opt for the miracle of technology.

The next question would probably not even raise and eyebrow. Now that everybody is walking around and looking pretty darn good, it goes without saying that monitoring your body chemistry, and the weight gaining hormones would only make sense. Since a seamless implant or patch will do this for you, why not?

This is how technology subtly changes culture,society and behavior.  As society makes these seemingly harmless adaptations eventually we have The Lightstream Chronicles. Is that bad?

That is the whole idea behind my research into design fiction. These scenarios can bring cultural legibility to representations of the future and thereby provoke discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and encourage individual foresight and participation into the implications of today’s decision-making; perhaps a glimpse into, and examination of what gets made and how it will affect culture and humanity, rather than to simply wait and see.


Other news

There are currently 6 chapters in The Lightstream Chronicles, and I’ve been working away on the conclusion of chapter 2, struggling with rendering physically correct glass, and the resulting expense that it causes in render time and set up. Of course, most people probably don’t study the way real glass looks, unless you’re a CG artist, so most people wouldn’t notice if it was dead-on or just close. And I’m not sure it matters. Part of what makes up my day.

When chapter 2 concludes we will be at page 84 and my renderings are getting close to this landmark. That leaves about 130 to 140 pages until completion. Sound daunting doesn’t it. Eh! No stopping now, in fact, I’ve just envisioned a new scene to insert into chapter 4, probably 4 to 6 pages.

Let’s get some dialog going. Comment damn it.  I say that in the nicest possible way. 🙂


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2 thoughts on “Design fiction and harmless genetic upgrades. It’s all good, right?”

    1. Those questions are at the heart of the plot for The Lightstream Chronicles. If this was a movie, then we have seen the first 15 or 20 minutes of exposition, and even though we have not met all the characters, we have witnessed the “inciting” incident that establishes the rest of the story. Very soon, we will find out what exactly happened to Sean, but who did that to him and why is what the rest of The Lightstream Chronicles is all about. Stay tuned!

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