honeymoon objectivity

Serendipity, thy name is INTERNET. Currently in the midst of working up a big old grant application*, and what should appear but this piece from Sun-Ha Hong at Real Life, neatly filling a reference gap that’s been bugging me for a few weeks? Preach it, brother:

Fredric Jameson once wrote that science fiction has become not a place for encountering utopia, but a testament to “our incapacity to imagine the future,” and to the structural limits placed on our political imagination. Today, product demonstrations are as much an example of science fiction as any other popular entertainment. Successive generations of recombined slogans and wondrous objects help recirculate the same old futures, pulling us back to a world of suits in cubicles and aprons in kitchens, evoking that soothing mid-century dream in which we were supposedly modern, and nothing really fundamental needed to change about society.

How different, really, is the latest generation of unlikely promises? Artificial intelligence, now inflated to describe a wide variety of systems that are neither artificial nor intelligent, provides recycled fantasies of instant consumption and self-driving cars that reprise the dream of convenience as freedom. AI also forms Big Tech’s route to maintaining and strengthening its supply of military funding by reviving Cold War narratives of a technological arms race. The constant death and rebirth of words and things masks the closure of the future: If bitcoin is starting to feel old and tired, then why not NFTs? If Second Life or Google Glass didn’t cut it the first time, why not the metaverse?

In my book, Technologies of Speculation, I call this honeymoon objectivity: the incitement to fall in love with each new technology just as we break it off with the previous one, maintaining a stagnant cycle in which the next great invention, the next transgressive genius, again promises to deliver a utopia of frictionlessness and objective certainty. But this recycling of technofutures is fundamentally a conservative force, in which a highly limited selection of technical benchmarks, use-cases, and social relations are dressed up over and over again, with no thought to whether they’re worth preserving, or what could be built in their place. As Jameson hinted, to be transfixed by the future is to be paralyzed by it.

Shazam. Perfect.

[ * Said grant application is merely one of a half-dozen parallel writing projects currently ongoing, most of which are directly day-job relevant… which is one reason why it’s been a bit quiet here at the blog-homestead, for those who were wondering. It’s good to finally have some intellectual mobility, after the pandemic-isolation/broken-foot combo knocked me out for a long while… but damned if I’m not back on my bullshit, taking on too many tasks at a time. Still, it’s gotten me this far, hasn’t it? To misappropriate Deleuze’s twist on Spinoza, we still don’t fully know what this body can do… ]

Smart cities: Policy without polity

Another publication is getting close to popping out of the pipeline!

23rd November 2021 sees the formal release of the Routledge Handbook of Social Futures, in which yours truly has a chapter entitled “Smart cities: Policy without polity”. Regular readers here will likely be able to guess—and guess correctly!—that this piece does not at all celebrate the “smart city” concept, nor even attempt to (re)define it; rather, to cite my own introductory paragraph:

“I am not interested in defining the ‘smart city’ so much as in investigating its persistent resistance to definition and exploring alternatives to its problematic framing of technologically mediated urban futurity.”

My opening move is to claim that the “smart city” is a generic narrative form in the technological-utopian tradition. After that… well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, now would I?

In case the prospect of me railing against one of my love-to-hate suitcase words is not enticement enough, you should know that there’s twenty-nine chapters of social-futures fun in this volume, featuring such friends, acquaintances, colleagues and inspirations as Andrew Curry, Ann Light, Nicola Spurling, Genevieve Liveley, AbdouMaliq Simone, Lisa Garforth and Nick Dunn, among many others; the whole thing has been edited with admirable wisdom and patience under pandemic circumstances by Carlos López Galviz and Emily Spiers, whose work at the Lancaster Institute for Social Futures is a leading light in the field, if you ask me.

Now, as the title of this post makes clear, this is a Routledge title—and those acquainted even only in passing with academic publishing will know this implies that acquiring a copy will leave a serious dent in your bank account. As such, it’s probably the sort of thing that you’d be best to encourage your institutional library to acquire, assuming you are fortunate enough to have access to such a thing (and that it has the budget to do so); whoever might decide to buy it, the blow may be slightly softened by using the discount code FLY21 (as found on the flyer acting as an illustrative image for this post), which will result in a 20% reduction in the price.

Those for whom neither of these options are viable, but who would nonetheless like to see a copy of my chapter, should feel free to drop me a line; we’ll see what other options for dissemination are available.

het från pressen

Taking what feels like a well-earned and much-needed day off today, after yesterday’s launch of the above narrative prototype / experimental futures vehicle (via the second medium of a slightly kludgy pseudo-Brechtean performance of an online talk-show from 2041). If anyone had been wondering why things have been quiet here lately, getting this thing finished to deadline is one of the larger reasons!

Will likely write about it at greater length in the weeks ahead; for now, I’ll settle for a simple statement of the necessity – and joy – of having a great team to work with on the realisation of somewhat crazy ideas. Few things worth doing can be done well alone.

fritidsspråk

There’s something very Swedish about a language textbook chapter themed around sports and pastimes which features a picture of a bunch of adolescents LARPing it up out in the woods somewhere in full dark-elf rigs.

But does the chapter at any point teach you the Swedish term for LARPing? Reader, it appears it does not… unless they’re expecting you to file it under “gudstjänst eller religiöst mõte”, perhaps, which is perhaps not a total miscategorisation.

science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology