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.
[ * 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… ]