In today’s post of The Lightstream Chronicles, Col. Chen does a little snide face-slapping of his investigative team. Perhaps he’s just having a bad day. Nevertheless, it appears as though nastiness has not taken a holiday in 2159 and, despite all the transhuman enhancements, we really haven’t risen to a more enlightened state. But, really, did we think that technology could actually change human nature? I think that might be a bit naive.
The assumption strikes at the heart of this science fiction/design fiction story. It looks as though I will be discussing this topic in Copenhagen this August, at the seventh International Art of Management and Organization Conference where I have been invited to present. There are a number of legitimate motivations for pursuing the design fiction, but I see it as a form of future research. Through the use of diegetic prototypes, we can use future stories to look a possible futures and, make it 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, refine it, or avoid it altogether. These scenarios come to fruition within science fiction storytelling, and 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.
Sometimes these visions become uncomfortable or dystopian. Sterling (Shaping Things, 13) sees a role here for design fiction. “Design thinking and design action should be the proper antidotes to fatalistic handwringing when it comes to technology’s grim externalities and potentials for deliberate abuse.”
As we look at our possible enhanced selves three generations from now, I submit that there will always be a Col. Chen: adversarial, confrontational, insulting, or worse. It would be naive to think otherwise. Does technology fix it or just make it more insidious to deal with. Instead of imagining that technology will be the magic pill to solve the ills of humanity, design fiction can help to acknowledge our humanness and our propensity to foul things up. Design fiction embraces the art critical thinking and thought problems as a means of anticipating conflict and complexity before these become problems to be solved.
Think about it. That’s the whole idea.