Update 2: Salon has agreed to change the headline and deck on the piece, reverting to the original title of the piece, and totally reversing the wording of the subheading to make it more accurate to the content of my essay: see the link above, versus original screenshot below. (Though it is unfortunate the permalink cannot be changed.) Many thanks to JS at Salon for being very professional and agreeable in helping the change take place. As far as I’m concerned, this closes the issue, and Salon has put things right. I never did find out what the thought process was in the original mis-titling, but I’m willing to chalk that up as one of life’s unfortunate mysteries. As long as what amounted to me being misquoted was corrected, and the CC license is followed, then things are okay. What’s done is done. Thanks to everyone who expressed their frustration about this in commiseration with me as well–although such a thing might be “standard media practice”, it was heartening to know that I wasn’t alone in seeing this as a complete misrepresentation.
Update: I’ve been informed that Salon has a reprint agreement with TNI, according to TNI’s CC license. Reprinting, of course, is in line with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. Setting aside the fact that Salon automatically violates the Non-Commercial use aspect, the question is then whether or not it is a derivative work or not. It is standard practice to re-title pieces when re-publishing, without consulting with the author. However, I think in this case, it is clear that the title and sub-heading are so different from the piece itself, to make it more of ironic piece of performance art than a real article when published on Salon. Imagine if someone wrote a piece about the positives and negatives of a particular political group, or a company, or a person. If that article was republished with the title, “X on its Last Legs”, the import of that change to the piece would be obvious. Without a judge’s ruling, this is just my opinion. So for now, I hope that Salon can see the damage they’ve caused, and simply changed the title or marks it as a derivative piece with a disclaimer.
Yesterday, while doing a standard Google self-search to find an essay I had published in the past, I discovered an essay of mine that I did not publish. Salon took an article I wrote about Burning Man that ran on The New Inquiry, and republished it without permission. Not only that, but they gave it a horrible, hatchet-title, which completely changed the meaning of the piece.
Please read my actual article at The New Inquiry if you are interested in how I was arguing, in fact, the opposite. My piece was about how through my experience, I came to the understanding that despite any particular problem or challenge of Burning Man, what people are doing there is something that is innate to their own way of life. No matter what happens to Burning Man, no matter how it changes, the people who attend it will continue to do what they do, either at Burning Man, or elsewhere. And that includes me, because I have been the last two years, and I will be there next summer as well.
So you might be able to understand how distraught I was at seeing my piece slapped up on another site with a low, attention-grabbing headline that completely misrepresented my piece. I know a little bit about the internet–stuff gets stolen, re-purposed, and borrowed, with different and contradicting definitions of what fair use is (what Salon did was in no way fair use, see below). But knowing that reality didn’t make it any easier to read the comments on the Salon page, where long-time burners dismissed the piece, my writing, and my own experience as an attendee of Burning Man. I completely understand why they attacked this posting. Burning Man isn’t something that is understood by people who don’t go because it is very complicated, and there are many different cultures and ethics rolled up into a singular meme. Media tends to send a few correspondents, who tend to report back the briefest glimpses of what actually happens there, the reality of which can never fit into 500, or even 3000 words. The limited nature of reporting on Burning Man was one reason that I was so excited to publish this piece. I wanted to break through the common conceptions of what the event is, and present the experience of a person who understood some of the events faults, but still loved it. Instead, because of Salon’s theft, this piece became another instance of what I hated: sensationalist journalism that cares more about page views than the subject matter. I’m deeply sorry to Burners who read this piece with this title, and thought that my words were meant as evidence of their cultures downfall.
I am sending Salon a DMCA takedown notice, because what they did is clear copyright violation. The New Inquiry is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License, which means that it’s material can be re-used, but only with attribution, not for commercial purposes, and with no derivative works. While Salon did provide attribution, listing my name and The New Inquiry as the source, they are using it for commercial purposes (as can be seen ads for cars and other sponsored links in the screen grab). And with the title change, they have published a derivative copy. Per my author agreement with The New Inquiry, I retain all copyright to the work, and so if Salon wished to use the piece outside of this license, they would have had to seek my permission, which they did not seek, and I did not and do not give. Furthermore, their site lists the article as “copyrighted by Salon”, and does not reproduce the Creative Commons License, which in and of itself is a violation of that license.
The unique powerlessness I feel in this situation is bizarre. I have gotten into internet scuffles before, but only on the basis of intellectual disputes. In these cases, I can respond, and even if my argument doesn’t outweigh my interlocutor’s, I can feel like I met someone on even terrain, and we were both able to make our cases, for anyone to read and judge. In this case, all I can do is send a DMCA takedown, and hope that Salon listens. I don’t have money for a lawyer. I’m simply an independent journalist. My name and ideas are being smeared by a major media outlet, and there is nothing I can do other than write a post on my own tiny site, fill out a form, and then sit here and hate it. I have no venue to respond in my own words (except here), because it is my own words that have been turned against me.
I would really like to get in touch with the editor at Salon that made the decision to steal my work in this way. The best I can hope from the DMCA takedown is that the page with my stolen work disappears. But I want to know why they did this. Was it simply to get a few page views? Did they have a quota to meet, or an assignment to publish something about Burning Man that they couldn’t otherwise complete? I want to hear from the person who thought it was okay to put an author in this position, and pulled the trigger on it. Did they think I wouldn’t care, or wouldn’t find out? Or is this one of countless thefts they make every day without really considering the ramifications? Is this standard behavior for a major media site? These are things I want to know, so I can contextualize this, and understand what this means for me and other independent writers.
Woke up this morning to a banging on my door, and a package wrapped in DHS “This parcel has been inspected by US Customs” tape, with a Dubai return address. I always expect unexpected parcels, and was just going to go back to bed, but then I figured out what it was. It was my contributor’s copies of The State’s Volume Two: Speculative Geographies.
Rahel and Ahmad put together something absolutely crazy and wonderful. Despite the rough handling given to the issues by DHS, I found one of the most innovative print issues I’ve seen. Inside a dust cover, is a hard-backed folio containing a wallet-sized map fold of each article, with color photos. If my thrill at being included as an author in such a beautiful thing isn’t already clear, I took unboxing photos, which I never have done before.
Behold, the beauty of a magnificent print object, captured through a crappy cell phone camera, on my bed room floor.
When you make zines, it is something you can never just quit forever. I’ve been feeling the itch again since Apopheniac Communiques, which I put together with help from friends last spring. Since that was created entirely with a public call for content put out on the internet and it worked out marvelously, I think I’ll do a similar thing again.
Here’s where you come in. Please send to me your poetry, your prose, your fiction and non-fiction, your research, your collated documents, your notes, your drawings, your paintings, your collages, your sound art, your music, and your video. If you send it to me, I will figure out how to use it.
The only qualifications are:
- It is awesome
- It is your original work (define “original” how you like, but let’s say it must at least qualify as fair-use under US definitions)
- That you’re willing to give me one-time publication rights to include it in a Creative Commons-Attribution-Share-Alike work (which will be assumed if you submit it).
- That you understand that if you submit your 80K novel draft or something equally long, I will most likely include it with some remixing of my own in order to make the zine physically possible. :)
This is the greatest part for me. I love being able to say to friends, acquaintances, and strangers: “I know you do awesome things. I would love for you to share some of them with me, so that I can share them with more people.” If it wasn’t for your submissions, there would be no zine. But because of your submissions, I get to make a zine. It’s a beautiful thing.
I put together Apopheniac Communiques in classic zine-style, pasting it all together with print-outs and photocopies, but with this new zine it will probably be more electronic. The format will depend on the submissions that I receive, but I’m starting with the goal of making an electronic version to go along with the printed version.
This is why I included non-printable things on the list above, like sound recordings and video. Part of the challenge for me will be figuring out how to include diverse media. There will definitely be a black-and-white, ink (or toner) on paper version of this zine. I will have to figure out how to translate music and color images to this form. Will there be QR codes? Will a DVD come with it? Will there be a small circuit that plays lo-fi sound? WILL THERE BE HOLOGRAMS?!?! There will probably be an electronic version that will give me some options, but at this point, I have no idea how it will all work. But it will be awesome to figure it out. So send me whatever.
Other Details You May Care About
I don’t sell the copies of the finished zine for profit. If I collect money, it is only cover printing costs. Otherwise, I give them away free (last time, I gave them all away free, and just paid for the printing myself).
I tell you this to explain why I can’t pay your for your submissions, even though I feel that is an important goal for publishers to have. I will, however, provide you with copies of the zine. Additionally, I will provide you with print-ready files of the entire zine, which you may use yourself to reproduce it and sell it if you like, according to the Creative Commons-Attribution-Share-Alike license. The reason I like making zines is to make them. If I wanted to sell zines, I would do that, but I don’t, and so I won’t.
Other questions? Email me. And do spread this call around, if you wouldn’t mind. We got the perfect number of submissions last time, but secretly, I would like to see what I will do if I get a hundred submissions. Give me a challenge of amazing proportions!
I haven’t seen Prometheus yet. I actually plan to, which is rare for me. I don’t think I’ve seen a new release film in the theater for over two years. I have a hype allergy–if someone is excited about a film, in such a way that it might convince me to see it, it actually kills the experience, because I’m afraid that the film won’t live up to the hype, and therefore my low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This odd cultural auto-immune disorder notwithstanding, this is the Alien saga, and so I know I’m going to see it one way or another, so I might as well go eat some overpriced popcorn while I do it.
However, until I can overcome my self-preserving inertia, I am fascinated by the Twitter conversations about it.
This is the way I normally judge whether or not I want to see a film. Rather than read reviews written by people with movie tastes based on who-knows-what, I listen to my Twitter feed. My Twitter feed is already filled with an amalgam of folks who I think have interesting opinions, but whom I don’t necessarily agree with perfectly. I set my feed up as a spectrum, shining out into the world of subjectivity with a wide frequency of light, and looking for what is reflected back. Of course, I don’t want everything reflected back, as the sea of popular opinion is a vacuous wasteland, absorbing light, rather than twinkling it back to me. But I get a good image to guide me, fine-tuned over the years.
Except, that with Prometheus, I am getting a glitched out radar image that doesn’t make any sense. Naturally, my Twitter feed never agrees on anything. There is the range of spectrum that responds well to comicbook-oriented films, there is the spectrum set that reflects on art films. There is the SF spectrum, with all its various hues. And there is the “dark art” set, that shines with a UV intensity against anything cryptic or alien. In this case, everything was coming back awry. No particular color of light was resolving into a clear image.
This is not a bad thing, it’s just weird. I have no idea what to think of this film, because I’m getting glitchy results that don’t match how the correlated data I’ve analyzed in the past.
I have a theory as to why, but not having seen the film yet, it’s just a theory. Think of people you may have met who really like Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Lord of the Rings, or something like that. When the film comes out, they most likely love it, because it is the film of the thing they love. It’s like planting a sunflower, and then, what do you know, a sunflower blooms! Everything is awesome.
Alien, in many ways, is the “film of the thing they love” for me and many other people. However, there was no book that is simply adapted into a film. It is adapting something more bizarre, more diverse and cultural diffuse, and attempting to make a film of it. Blade Runner is also a film of it. William Gibson sometimes writes books of it. There are dozens and dozens of blogs and Tumblrs about it. I follow many Twitter accounts that tweet about it. But what it is, is the hard part to explain. Again, depending on the light with which you are trying to view it, it will look differently. And yet, Alien was most definitely a film of it. We know that. That’s why for many people, it’s a classic film.
As to whether Prometheus is a film of it, that remains to be seen. What is confusing right now is that some people think that it is, some people think that it isn’t. Additionally, we are trying to resolve those feelings with the idea that it most certainly is a film related to Alien, which was part of it, and yet the prequel might not be part of it, or at least we are definitely not sure.
I wish there was a way to quantify this subjective dissonance, because I would love to compare it to the Twitter Vision glitching that happens when/if a Blade Runner sequel comes out. Perhaps there will be more consternation–or maybe, if Blade Runner is much more foundational than even Alien, perhaps there will simply be more univocal dislike.
For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been thinking about what the political component to the New Aesthetic might be. The New Politics that accompany the New Aesthetic, as part of the New Aesthetic, is going to be largely a nebulous concept. Bruce Sterling’s latest delve into the theory of the NA was basically an explanation of how a Tumblr works, that is also applicable to the NP:
How do you grasp the schauung in the weltanschauung, and the geist in the zeitgeist? Where is the boundary between the “New Aesthetic” and a new aesthetic?
So far, the best evidence that something has really changed is of this kind. Imagine you were walking around your own familiar neighborhood with some young, clever guy. Then he suddenly stops in the street, takes a picture of something you never noticed before, and starts chuckling wryly. And he does that for a year, and maybe five hundred different times.
That’s the New Aesthetic Tumblr. This wunderkammer proves nothing by itself. It’s a compendium of evidence, a heap of artifacts, and that evidence matters. It’s a compilation of remarkable material by creative digital-native types who are deeply familiar with the practical effects of these tools and devices.
We don’t need to romanticize the medium of the Internet any further to get that culture is not anywhere near as nailed down as it used to be. But when it comes to theories of the Political, we’re still fighting a 20th Century hangover. We still have this line of thought that dictates technological/political transitivity. If Twitter is somehow political, then Politics must somehow be Twitter. Douglas Rushkoff makes this case just about as good as anyone, and while it all sounds great (especially when you are online) it is actually not true whatsoever. Just because Politics reminds us of the Internet and uses the Internet and is found on the Internet, does not mean that it is the Internet.
And this is important to keep in mind, because while “how” a Tumblr works is important to understanding the status of the theory/politics of the New Aesthetic, the theory/politics of NA is not reducible to Tumblr. Think of the difference between new-aesthetic.tumblr.com and wearethe99percent.tumblr.com. These are very different things, while they are also very similar things. “We are the 99 Percent” is a piece of 20th Century political branding, and a pretty brilliant piece at that. It galvanized the movement, and introduced it to the world at large. Each post was a new propaganda billboard, and in place of Dear Leader’s gleaming visage, we received a pair of eyes, and the heart-tugging poverty of a hand-written sign. Now we are stuck with that haunting slogan of “99 Percent”, which curses us as much as “The People’s _____” cursed communism with its subtle but irresistible irony.
And we know that “We are the 99 Percent” was a piece of 20th Century politics, because it was easy to come up with a counter version: “We are the 53% Percent”, or whatever it was. If you can have counter-protesters, no matter how effective or silly they might be, then you are in the realm of 20th Century politics where everything has an opposite, whether it be a Right to a Left, an Authoritarian to an Anti-Authoritarian, or a Centralized to a Distributed.
But where is the “counter” to New Aesthetics? Where is the “Old Aesthetics” Tumblr? If there was such a thing, it might attempt one of these three possibilities:
1) invent an atemporal cultural genre (Steampunk, Atompunk, Dieselpunk, etc.) in an attempt to be fantastically “old”.
2) rehash a previous genre (cyberpunk, New Age, Great-Gatsby-Punk, whatever) in an attempt to be historically old.
3) it would be a list of stuff that is “normal”, in the temporally present. A photo of an iPhone on a glass coffee table. A utility pole on a regular street with exactly the expected number of cables leading to it. Something like that.
None of these are really opposites, because they don’t attempt to refute the logic of NA, they just present something that is alternative to it, and by doing so, validate the NA’s conglomerate intrigue. These alternatives are the phenomenal “field” to the NA’s blurry “shape”. These are the far-flung edges of that indescribable shape in the center that avoids the rules of Euclidean solids.
The Theory-Object of NA does not rely upon oppositional borders. But when one attempts to theoretically nullify the NA, these alter-concepts appear. This is important to remember. The Tumblr Theory-Object does not come into existence by opposing itself to a non-Tumblr Theory-Object, or by opposing itself to a Tumblr non-Theory-Object. Just as a revolution-that-uses-Twitter does not rely upon a revolution-that-does-not-use-Twitter as its opposite to bring itself into positive being, in proving the former to be a definitive case of “Twitter Revolution” in contrast to a “Non-Twitter Revolution”. This is the logic that proves that a war that uses aircraft, in that it is different from a war without aircraft, is suddenly an “Air War”. And yet, when you hold up the example of “Non-Twitter Revolution” on the edge, you do realize something different is happening in the middle, just not a binary opposite.
This binary logic needs to be left behind in the 20th Century, when it was still useful. It is an epochalizing, casuality-dependent, negative theology of time. The NA does not come “from” something, or will it “turn into” something. It appears to be spontaneous, because of its composite, non-ideological composition. It is not actually spontaneous, of course. But the Theory-Object of the NA is an assemblage of cultural objects and theoretical considerations, that once seen, like an optical illusion, is very difficult to un-see. And if you wish to make it difficult to see an optical illusion, you certain do not just stare at its “opposite”. Because what is the opposite of an optical illusion?
We are not free from the specter of 20th Century Wars, anymore than we are free from 20th Century logic, or 20th Century politics. However, a new logic and politics is emerging, for whatever reason. It is interesting by the nature of its non-symmetrical difference from these previous ways of thinking. It may or may not be really “New”, it may or may not be an “Aesthetic” or a “Politics”. But it is interesting, self-generating, and self-accumulating. Therefore, it deserves us taking a good look at it.
While the “optical illusion” metaphor of a Theory-Object is all well and good for something as cultural and neither-here-nor-there as an “Aesthetic”, for a Politics, things become more difficult. Politics, heretofore, have necessitated “doing something”, or “fighting against something”, or “standing for something”. If these “demands” are not immediately apparent, then certainly the Politics must have a good reason, and define itself in the negative to these centralized theoretical aspects of Politics, right?
Perhaps, if we are leading with ideology. If we were preoccupied with convincing others that we were “right”, then we should be worried about the terms of the argument that our Politics is going to define. This leaves New Politics open to the perpetual criticism of 20th Century politics: it is not a “real politics”, it doesn’t “accomplish anything”, it has “no definition” that would determine whether we are doing it or not. All of which are true to an extent. And, if joining a 20th Century politics actually changed anything for anyone in the 100+ years throughout which it has attempted to do so, this might actually be something to worry about.
This different Theory-Object is assembling itself. It is not an alternative to something, an occupation of something, or a dual power organization in relation to something. These are “oppositional” epochs, like a Twitter Revolution. The New Politics is much more concerned with the particular problematics of life in The Street, so to speak, than of articulating a particular banner for arenas or agoras. And there is a long, long list of these particular problematics. So many and so diverse, that they can’t be listed on a party platform, a conceptual map, or even a Wiki. Maybe some of them would fit in a Tumblr, though.
But let’s cut the theory, as I think I’ve said more than enough for one blog post. Let’s watch a video.
This video for Diplo and Nicky Da B’s song “Express Yourself” is a strong example of the New Politics, in my opinion:
What do you call this thing, from a political standpoint? 20th Century Politics labels this as “pop culture”, “socio-economic culture shock”, “performativity of sexuality”, “urban culture”, “sub-culture”, “hip-hop poetics” or any other number of meaningless categories that are not the “WOM WOM WOMWOM WOM” when the cut drops at 0:15. But this is not even about escaping from the theoretical language to a more ludic expression of art, and calling that Politics. It is about all of it, wrapped into a phenomenological assemblage of any number of potential theory angles, while also being captivated by the beat, and feeling one’s hips start to move in expressive solidarity with “what this is”.
And what is this? It is Hard Bounce, it is New Orleans, it is a DJ Hit, it is Video Art, it is Sex, it is Politics. It is freaking out (insert cultural appropriate slang phrase here) to music in a convenient store in a certain part of town. It’s me watching this, thousands of miles from New Orleans, and still feeling it. It’s putting this video in a pile of others, and watching them all in a row, or posting saving them to “Watch Later”, or posting this to a Tumblr, or embedding this in a blogpost and writing “see, this is what I’m talking about”.
And that’s all I want to really say about this particular piece of the puzzle, other than the main thing this video makes me want to do is Make Stuff, really badly. And not just any Stuff, but the sort of Stuff that might, in another decade, have been a spectacle worthy of shocking the bourgeois out of their slumber, but in this day and age is just one more thing that will be as mentally and bodily captivating as this is, that will get circulated through certain channels for a while, and then will go to sleep, until kids rediscover it some day in the future and pirate it for parts. And then I want to blast this Stuff in the streets until I get tired of it, and then make something else.
Now, this is music. But I want to do this with other things too. With buildings. With protest tactics. With water filtration systems. I want to do this with Stuff that makes the world a better place, at least for a few people. Maybe this is only me, because I have some delusional drive for being Political in my psyche. Maybe for most people, this is simply a New Aesthetic, that they will look at and then click through. But for me, this weird-desiring-to-make-Stuff feels like something that I am already doing, most of the time.
Finding weird stuff, copying it, and amplifying it as loud as I can. But for a reason. Is this any closer to anything meaningful? I’m not sure.
Here’s where I start: politics is the elephant in the room. In the portrait of New Aesthetics painted by Bruce Sterling, the glitch-captivation is a worldview. As a way of seeing the world, it has its own political aspects. But there is more than needs to be said.
The New Aesthetic reeks of power relations. Drones, surveillance, media, networks, digital photography, algorithms. This is largely about the technology of “seeing”, and how we see this new technology of seeing. But the technology is also for watching. The ability to watch someone is a form of power. It controls the flow of information. “I know everything about you, but you know nothing about me.” Or, “I know everything about you, and all you can do is make art about the means by which I know things.”
photo via Demilit Tumblr
In some ways, Bruce’s article makes mention of this problem, by noting the difference between the aesthetic appeal of certain technologies, and their actual function.
“Modern creatives who want to work in good faith will have to fully disengage from the older generation’s mythos of phantoms, and masterfully grasp the genuine nature of their own creative tools and platforms. Otherwise, they will lack comprehension and command of what they are doing and creating, and they will remain reduced to the freak-show position of most twentieth century tech art. That’s what is at stake.”
But this is more than hand-wringing over giving up our freedom, life, and death, to machines. The real danger that technology poses is precisely why we can’t “debunk” the aesthetic appeal and pretend that it doesn’t exist. You can ignore a work of art, but a drone or a surveillance array won’t be ignored. Not for long. Our consciousness is invaded and controlled via real space.
Our semiotic interest in these technologies is real. As real as the technologies themselves. So what do we do with it? What sort of actions ought we to take in response to seeing glitch-art from satellite cameras that uses not an anonymous landscape for background, but live images of our own homes? I’m not sure yet. Meanwhile, we continue to be watched.
Drones fire missiles, watching inquisitively for the flash of light. They have no sense of aesthetics. And they continue to fire, until their racks are empty. Then they reload.
This isn’t a criticism of New Aesthetics. It is wondering what the political module is that we will plug into New Aesthetics. These “Theory Objects” are made to network. They are consumer tech, and Theory Objects are as real as your smart phone and its own terrible eco-history. We are obsolete without networking in a politics, as yet uninvented.
We’re going to have to design-fiction a political module quickly. And then, worse: we must fab it, and get it into the field.
If you have ideas, do share. We need to work on this together.
Your orders have come in. You are tasked with building five thousand libraries. This is an idea that sounds reasonable to you. You get to work. You’re going to need some coffee, and about three days of ground-network time. In your head, you begin to analyze the potential mirror list. You need trusted hosting, not just volunteers. Bit Torrent and a few targeted tweets would get the job done, but not well enough. These libraries have to stay up. It may just be a single compressed file. But as they found out in Portland last week, even digital libraries can be burned to the ground.
* * * * *
You receive your orders backward, coming up to your position of responsibility from the units you command. You open the video feed, and you can see them running through traffic, the wrong way up a one way street, dark jackets dodging amid stalled cars and trucks, stopped in gridlock from the units’ action in the traffic lanes. You don’t need to read the text, because you know what’s next. There’s a term for this: Simultaneous, Epi-Navigation Street Occupation Response. You could call it SENSOR, but you don’t. Only New York Times reporters call it that. Ahead, in the limits of the jerking video feed, you see the orange glow of vapor-lamps glistening on a rising cloud of tear gas.
* * * * *
You have broken it down and set it up countless times, and this will not be the last. You plug in the extruder. You make sure the broken cable plug is fully set into its socket. You attach the heating element to the battery to let it start warming. As the bioplastic cable feeds forward, you can see the camera housing already, as you have seen over four hundred fully finished pieces emerge in the last three days, since the beginning of the Battle of the West Side. It unfolds up from the base of the printer, as the plastic builds up, cooling, slowing inhabiting the outline of the idea. In the brief pause when the extruder head comes back to rest position before starting its next run, you pluck the webcam out of the 3D printer, insert the sensor chip, attach the battery, and put in the waiting hands of one of your newer recruits. “You have a SIM card?” “Yeah.” “Well, that’s it then. Good luck.”
* * * * *
“Shoot him. SHOOT HIM.” The order urges in your ear. You push the inevitable emotional response backward, and you raise your weapon to your shoulder. Through the eye-piece you gaze, infrared light illuminating the target. As the police officer’s baton falls once more, you squeeze the trigger. A blaze of strobe-lighting staccatos thirty times a second from the pair of drones hovering above you, setting the officer and the protester he is beating on visual fire in the night street. Shadow is vaporized. Somewhere within your video gun, an HD light sensor writes to disk. When the shot is uploaded, the editing van will be able to see not only the QR code of the officer’s badge underneath the black marker he has used to obscure it, but a single drop of blood, frozen in the air, Matrix-style, as they used to say, ejected from the wound on the forehead of the protester.
* * * * *
The kid kicks the battery again, sending the van into darkness. Everyone groans, as the screens auto-adjust their brightness to their battery settings. “Sorry!” The lights come back on, and knowing his duty by this time, the kid slides open the door and reaches up to the roof to power-cycle the modem. While you and your fellows wait for the signal to be re-established, you stretch, and make small talk. The sound of helicopters returns, though you cannot see them from inside the parking garage. “Did you hear that DC is distributing a new distributed communication app? All the GA nets can now connect, and it runs off of satellite servers, so it can’t be DNS blocked.” “DC is distributing it? They don’t have any good developers there. None that work with consensus development, anyway. Did you check who’s on the project? It’s probably a Google co-opt play, if not a straight-up honeypot.” There’s debate, but soon the network is back up, and the voices fade, and the streams of information begin to flow again. Like water through a weir.
* * * * *
I would call these scenarios fiction, but fiction is such a dirty word. Fiction is a thing that has no possibility of actually existing, because it is created with that specific fantastical aim in mind. Fiction is a beautiful thing of freedom–the freedom to imagine what will never be. It is the domain of American dreams, in which wanting badly is somehow enough. It is the core instinct of democratic idealism, in which we are actors born on our feet in the public square, rather than as workers in rented quarters walled by constant surveillance. It is the notion that national narratives of fear and war always end eventually, so that we can close the book and go back to whatever it was we were doing before. Fiction is modernism–it is the only place where things make sense, because “reasonable” is its only construction spec. Reality, on the other hand, is no such simple circus.
These scenarios are built from facts. They are not things that have happened–not yet, anyway. But they are things that are possible. For these things to occur only requires that the elements of things that have happened come together in particular ways. These are distributed nodes of fact: libraries of digital information as mirrored political capital, distributed leadership with oscillating order giving/receiving, flash mob-like protest tactics, 3D printers, open-sourced communications equipment manufacturing, video evidence as a weapon, QR codes, crowd-piloted drones, mobile internet hubs, open-source secure communications software, DNS blocking, and so forth. They already exist, but are distributed–and have not been unevenly consolidated yet. Google search any of these, if you want to adapt these patterns into your daily life. It won’t be too long before most of your friends are using at least some of these on a daily basis.
As the arc of innovation becomes a branching, radical network rather than a cutting edge, we don’t need to look to the future anymore, but to our unfolding interfaces for things that already exist. We need not wonder if someone will invent drone flash photography–we instead speculate on when someone will get flash photography and drone technology talking to each other in a usable way. And then, possibly donate to their Kickstarter.
The downside in the ongoing human-Powerpoint slide deck that is the always-insufficient attempt to speculate on the future is that we also lose the comfort of that fiction, and gain the cold uncertainty that comes with facts. When flying cars were to be invented, it was clear that those would make our lives better–or at least, faster. What will SENSOR protests (color me a patronizing NYT reporter, needing a coined word to understand the kids these days) do for our lives? Will this be a more effective form of protest? Will this aid the fight for public free speech? Or will this evolution in protest tactics, as a response to police attacking the media and blocking whole swaths of city, merely engender a new, more brutal response from the police? Where does all of this end? Will it be better or worse? Will it prevent a worse catastrophe, or stall a better outcome? No one knows. No one even knows when it would be possible to say whether or not this technology or that tactic worked out as well as we hoped, or worse. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There are too many facts.
We might call this “the uncertain ethical implications of atemporality.” In only a few years, the span of history and the calm, orderly narratives it wove were effectively collapsed into a multi-dimensional space most closely modeled by Google Instant results after typing a single character in to the search bar. The moral futures market will never recover. In that vacuum, atemporal ethical behavior becomes consensus-based media protest tactics. The livestream of Occupy Wall Street videographer Tim Poole arguing with anarchists about whether or not to film them while filming them is not just our allegory or fable; it is the practice of ethics while attempting to determine what those ethics are, as you talk about it out loud, as the whole world watches. There is no time for symposiums. If you blink, that might have been the opportunity for ethical action that you missed.
Media seems to be the new ethical public arena. Even though it is less a public square than a multi-dimensional space, blocked in some areas and hollowed out in others. It is riven by an virtual and actual architecture of fences, smart phones, paywalls, trending topics, human mics, press passes, and politicians. In the absence of a static history, we simply press the record button. If we get it wrong, at least we got it transparent. Share the notes online, take the minutes. If you can’t be there, watch the livestream. We don’t know what democracy is anymore, since the rule of law comes to us only in subpoenas, in SOPA, in the end of a baton. But we do know, that whatever it is that this is, it’s going to be digital. Even if it takes some doing to search out where it’s still available online. In a year or two, it might take a shadow network, or a SSL tunnel. More nodes, coming together.
That our consistent drive, despite it all, to be ethical people now appears fully entrenched in media doesn’t come as a surprise. Why, for instance, are we so concerned about whether or not the revolution might be inscribed to some sort of cinematic process, and by which technology said media will be distributed? Perhaps it is because in a world where we decreasingly have any idea about what to do about the future, the best we can manage is to at least tell other people about our quandary. Expression is one of the most important of human actions. If the public square cannot be occupied for the purpose of democracy, at least the conversations of such a space have media-space in which to proliferate.
And even though it may be fully entrenched in the world of facts, it is uncanny that expression is not simply a secondary fruit of democracy, but precisely one of the most political acts we are still comfortable making. Democracy does not produce speech, but vice versa. Art, especially art that traffics in the interface of technology and media, finds it more difficult to divorce itself from politics than ever before, creating political space in the act of being art. How can a drone be a toy, if it is equipped with a camera? How can a QR code be only an advertisement, if it can conceal information? How can performance art be apolitical, if it must occupy public space in order to be performed?
And what of the parallel by opposite questions: can a videographer only be protesting, when he or she allows the camera to pause in its pan to capture an aesthetically-appealing unfurling cloud of tear gas? Where is beauty, when protesters in Tahrir are suffering from PTSD? Does it exist? And what if we are forced to go beyond expression, for the sake of politics? What lies beyond the camera? The gun? What does that mean for art? For history? For our daily lives?
Too many questions to pose, as the facts of media complicate the former, fictional “freedoms” of art and politics, that might have thought they could act alone sometime in the recent past. The innovation arc has too many potential interfaces and its surface is too fractally diluted to say that it is capable of pointing in any one direction. Mere hypotheticals no longer have a square to stand in. There is no place in the hyper-urbanization of our technocratic environment left for us to pitch such a solitary tent. There are only more scenarios, stretching on as far as the mental search engine can spin. And with them, the possible ethical imperatives spread outward. The age of atemporal, open-sourced ethics is now.
@debcha: @serial_consign I don’t detest biomimcry. But I do hate any design fiction that is more or less completely uninformed by the science.
@serial_consign: @debcha I think taking cues from natural processes is interesting, but making objects/arch look like organic forms for sake of it is trite!
@debcha: @serial_consign Exactly. I despise ‘biomimicry as superficial aesthetic’ rather than ‘biomimicry as deep influence’.
At which point, I butted in with some questions, but I won’t repeat it all because I think we mostly got confused about terminology. However, @debcha did mention an important difference that I will repeat. She distinguishes “between ‘biomimicry’ and ‘bioinspired’ or ‘organic’ as an aesthetic description. [...] ‘biomimicry’ doesn’t mean it looks like something biological.”
And this is true. As Wikipedia will tell you (as it told me, because I know very little about the subject):
Biomimicry or biomimetics is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems.
In other words, biomimicry is all about the functional aspects replicating natural patterns, not about the aesthetics: the “looks like”.
Now, I may not know much about this, but I have been thinking about it. For whatever reason, the cross-overs between nature and technology have been running think and fast of late. I was just reading this article this morning, which I actually believe I stumbled across within the same Bruce Sterling blogpost in which @serial_consign discovered the image he originally tweeted. Bruce calls it a meme, and if I was going to trust anyone on this, it would be him.
My question, that I posed a number of ill-designed ways, is this: what are we doing, in the differentiation between “works like” nature, and “looks like” nature? This is a judgement call, but an important one, because it is so specifically apparent. It isn’t just @debcha and @serial_consign’s personal tastes that makes buildings that look like seeds (for example) seem to be overblown sci-fi. Buildings that grew from seeds: I think we’d all agree that is pretty excellent. But buildings that just look like seeds: meh. Contrived? Weak? A little too Futurama? There is a defined difference there, and it is something that is easy to see.
Of course, there is a long history of futuristic architecture out there, and futurist design of all kinds. Whether it’s Googie, Modernism, or Brutalism, all of these aesthetics are meant to invoke a particular generic idea of a positive, future program. Even if the form is derived from a functional theory of that object’s mechanics (like the aerodynamics of Googie, the ergonomics of Modernism, or the efficiency of Brutalism), that aesthetic ends up taking on its own life apart from the function. We know this, because something can “affect” like one of these aesthetics, without actually being one of these aesthetics.
And if the word Skeuomorph just came to the tip of your tongue, you are quite the atemporal aesthete, aren’t you? Because, therein, is exactly the phenomenon we are talking about. “Works like” can produce a certain “looks like”, but then, even after the “works like” evolves in another direction, we keep the “looks like” our of habit or custom.
Bio-inspired, therefore, is perhaps the atemporal reverse of a skeuomorph. Because the “works like” is not technologically feasible as yet, it settles for the “looks like”. This is Bruce Sterling’s famous “astronaut luggage” example. (Can’t remember the keynote exactly, but I believe it was the well-known “Atemporality for Creatives” talk.) It works like this: you want to be a recreational astronaut, but aren’t the head of a global corporation? Well, just design yourself some astronaut luggage, and start using it. Sure, you might look a little weird carrying astronaut luggage on a boring old jumbo jet. But really, how exactly to our design signifiers work? What other way is there to show people that you’ve been to space? Are you going to whip out a moon rock to show off to everyone you pass in the street? And really, how weird is it to carry astronaut luggage? Is it weirder than the fact that the CEO of Cirque de Soliel has been into space because he came up with way to take a date to a pole dancing event for $100 a ticket?
So we have “anachronic” skeuomorphs, and we have “neochronic” skeuomorphs. The former lingers, and the latter presages. Even though, neither really “does” anything: it just “looks like” it does something.
Or do they?
The reason a doubt first entered my mind, and the reason I began asking such ill-designed questions of @debcha and @serial_consign, is that I’m not quite sure that “looks like” can ever really be apart from “works like”. And it’s not just an inspirational effect of the aesthetic. Sure, building a structure that looks like a seed might serve to somehow inspire a genetic engineer to figure out how to make a structure that grows from a seed, but the causality is specious at best. You would be much better off making sure children get a good math education if you would like to go to the moon, than simply building apartments that look like rocket ships.
And yet, everything must “look like” something, right? Just as much as it must “works like”. Think of an object: say, a lamp. Even if the lamp doesn’t look like a jellyfish, it has to look like something. Ought it to look like a platonic solid? A hat? A space ship? There is an aspect of aesthetic preference involved. If you really like icosahedrons, then you might make yourself a lamp that looks precisely like that. Or, if you really don’t care, you can just get the easiest lamp to find that seems to produce as much light as you want. Or if you don’t have much money, you might make do with a lamp you picked up on the street corner, which looks the best, because “free” is a pretty acceptable aesthetic decision maker.
And yet, the lamp will continue to look like something, even if you pick it out in the dark. You will be sitting in the room with that lamp, day in and day out, using it as a light source, and will be forced to look at it every time you turn it on our off. There is no such thing as “doesn’t look like”.
In which case, what is opposite of a bio-inspired lamp? A non-bio-inspired lamp? Okay. But it is still a lamp.
A lamp, as a light source, is always “inspired” by illumination. This is its “works like”. It’s function mimics incandescence, or florescence, by actually doing just that. It mimics the sun, and fire, and also the hearth. A lamp ought not to produce too much heat, or produce smoke (the benefit of electric over oil or gas), or be so bright that we can’t look anywhere near it, like the sun. In its functional design, it mimics certain functional characteristics which avoiding as many downsides as possible. And hence, every lamp will have a certain aesthetic. It will “look like” a lamp.
It may seem that I’m going around in circles, but I think that is the point. Even a modernist lamp, completely not bio-inspired, by being a physical object following physical laws in order to maintain its functional definition, will in a sense, be using biomimicry. “Works like” always informs a “looks like”. Aesthetics, then, are merely an effort to add additional “mimicry” inflections onto a functional element. A lamp will always function, to a certain extent, like a bioflorescent jellyfish. Whether, beyond this function, is further designed to look like a jellyfish even more than it already does, is beside the point.
Yes, I’m quibbling. Saying any lamp that illuminates automatically “looks like” a creature that fluoresces isn’t really accurate. Because a lamp could quite easily “look like” a rocket ship much more than a jellyfish, even if it “works like” a jelly fish much more. Unless we start using Titan rockets as mood lighting. (Aren’t philosophers a pain in the ass?) But figuring out what we actually mean by our genres identifications and functional chains of causality is all about quibbling. If we just go with our gut, we haven’t defined anything.
And yet, lamps still look like lamps, and lamps that look like sea creatures are still potentially cheesy. We define things as different, regardless of obscure similarities, because these noted aesthetic differences (also subjective differences, or semantic differences) in themselves become functional. Differentiating between a lamp that simply looks like a jelly fish, and a light source that actively bio-floresces is important, because one is a matter of style, and the other would be a scientific breakthrough. They are clearly not the same thing.
But here is the question I will end with: the distinction between biomimicry and bio-inspired aesthetics are easy to differentiate. But does the ease of distinction between form and function follow for other genres of design? For example: at what point is a Brutalist building not merely efficient, but simply Brutalist? At what point are aerodynamic fins not actually aerodynamic, but just look as if they were? Must we measure a building and complete engineering equations to decide if it is a skeuomorph or not? Must we use a wind tunnel to aesthetically judge cars?
Perhaps, it is not that bio-inspired design is cheesy. Perhaps we haven’t discovered what real bio-inspired design looks like yet. Because, once we do, perhaps only an expert could tell the difference.
Having uploaded this stencil design to the internet, and having told you you can do whatever you want with it (you can), I couldn’t be responsible for your own autonomous deployment of this image, wherever you wish.
I’m taking a break from Occupation Notes, because I finally saw A RELATIVELY CURRENT FILM and I wanted to say a thing or two about it.
I saw The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (I think that’s what it’s called) on the plane. It was not a good film exactly, but it was still interesting for me, albeit it in redacted-for-airplane-viewing form.
In an alternate reality, I’m writing this essay about the uncanny film experience of watching a perfectly intact aircraft sublime into a pile of scrap metal in a single cut, when a plane crash is redacted from a film intended for showing on a commercial airline flight. As if there was some juxtapositional magic in air crash repression, or some common human trope where we lapse into scrap yard dream sequences while we are safety aloft. “I leaned back in my seat, and suddenly, I was transported to that familiar site of material detritus, the scraps of polypropylene and shredded aluminum waving gently in the breeze..”
But in this reality, I’m writing about humanity and violence. Perhaps I can’t get that far from the Occupation, even if I’m in a plane, watching a bad film.
So here are some notes.
The film’s main character is not a character, really. It’s a computer-animated chimpanzee. It is supposed to be characterized, of course, but the film is not really that good: so we are left with sort of a flat-character, a walking uncanny valley creation of a chimpanzee that is perhaps a bit bigger and more upright than it ought to be, with some facial expressions that are just a bit more human than our brain is expecting. However this, in a way, makes the main character much better. The plot of the film is that this chimpanzee was exposed to an Alzheimer fighting, brain-enhancing drug, that has given him above average intelligence, and powers of language. So the chimpanzee is humanized, but only to a degree–as protagonist of the film, he struggles with the problem of living life as an “animal”, though he thinks something like a “human”. And of course, the difficulty of distinguishing the exact line between the two is what the film is about.
And this is where the flaws of the film actually become features. Because the plot lines about the chimpanzee’s “awakening” as “a real boy” are kind of specious and trite, (one of the things that makes an animal into a human is a proclivity for staring off at cities over the tops of buildings and trees, apparently) it actually, by doing a poor job at anthropomorphizing the chimpanzee, increases the liminal territory that this character exists within. I’m confused, as I watch the film, as to whether or not I believe that this animal is really a person. He seems to, pardon the expression, “ape” certain human qualities and facial expressions. But are they sincere? Do I trust this image? Is it more comparable to the people I know, or the animals I know? As the film plays its merry course across the screen, I’m actually thinking about the issue at hand, and not the idiosyncrasies of the plot.
The issue at hand is of course, a post-human one. What defines a human being? Chimpanzees have 99.7% of the same genes that we do. In that .3% difference is a great deal of physiology and behavior. And yet, many of the things that we thought were uniquely human behaviors like language and tool use are now falling by the wayside as we learn to interpret the behaviors of other animals correctly.
If you follow the plot of the film, the issue is not so much a linguistic one, but one of violence. The biology takes a back seat, and we take up the politics of The Other. Several human characters in the film exhibit “inhumane” behavior, by beating the chimpanzee and other apes, or beating up other human beings. The film poses some basic questions about human life and death, and about the limits of consciousness, but the major issue is one of ethics and violence. At what point is it okay to threaten and beat an animal? If it is dangerous? If it is not human? What if it is only the non-human behaviors that it displays that make it seem dangerous?
The uncanny valley, which the animated chimpanzee certainly fits within, is a place that tends to stimulate violence for human beings. Zombies, ghosts, robots, doppelgangers–these all are viewed as as threat, in that our perception of them and their behaviors place them outside the typical realm of predictable, sociable human behavior, and in a place. Though, through the plot of the film, one begins to wonder what sort of person it is that reacts with violence against the merest indicator of Otherness. Does anyone really think it is okay to sadistically abuse an animal simply because they are not a human? And yet, perhaps one of the most meaningful scenes in the film was when the mounted police are chasing a crowd of apes across the Golden Gate Bridge, riot clubs cocked back, a grim expression on their faces as they swing for the animals’ heads. It was meaningful because I’ve seen the same scene replayed on the Internet, but it was riot cops swinging at the heads of college students during Occupation protests. Where was the uncanny valley there? What sort of Other were college students, so that beating them for non-violent protest was justified by those police officers’ sense of ethics?
So in the end, its not about our perception of “humanity” in another creature, whether imbued by ethical action, non-Otherness, speech, or other traces of behavior. It’s simply about violence. It’s not about whether or not the chimpanzee main character was able to “earn” his humanity by wanting it badly enough, or by being smart enough, or by finally learning to speak. It was that he at the other apes were smart enough to thwart the violence. They were able to ambush and defeat armed police officers, not that those officers laid down their weapons. How we perceive the apes really doesn’t matter. It’s just a movie, and no one earns anything by us being “won over” to either their political case, or themselves and personable characterizations. Of course it is a happy ending for them, even if the unmentioned fact is that their rise is going to be our species downfall. But what is different, is that they aren’t saved by their characters, by the defeat of Otherness, or the universality of humanity. They are saved by not getting shot.
What this does, as you will (hopefully) see if you try it, is open a prompt, allow you to enter text, and then convert that text to a QR code using the Google Chart API.
This one simply converts the current URL to a QR code:
And this one prints the current screen. Which would be helpful if your current screen shows a newly-minted QR code.
The goal of all of this (for me) is to try and develop a way to reduce the printing of a QR code to a “one-click” sort of procedure. I’ve been working with a heat-activation Polaroid Zink printer, but not having a lot of success. For one thing, the Zink printer is kind of a pain. It only accepts jpgs in a particular portrait size (you might note the constraining 350 x 500 pixel variables in my code above), and the Google API only generates gif and png (adjust the “chof=” variable in the code to get a png, if you like). And while the Bluetooth on the printer works pretty well, iPhones still can’t send pictures over Bluetooth, so that means I have to drag a computer around with the Zink printer. At least until I can get a non-iPhone, but with my current budget, that will probably not be for a while.
But, one step at a time. If you find a better mobile printer, or use any other fun QR tools or tricks, let me know.
As part of my Burning Man reflections, I did a bit of thinking about what “art is”. Or, perhaps said better, is how it might work.
I actually did not realize the significance of a couple of sentences that I had written on that subject, until they were quoted back to me (thanks, Matthews Battles!). Here they are:
The purpose of Burning Man is to entertain. The art is low on poignant meaning, high on effort converted into wow-factor. But through that expression of entertainment is channeled an incredible amount of material, human resource, and hard work.
With these words still in my head last week, I went to see some of the events and installations of the Time Based Arts festival (TBA) here in Portland. Now, I always talk a lot of shit about TBA. Mostly because it provides me, as an artist, with that every so delicious opportunity to complain about his/her own art scene. And additionally, as the artists receive compensation for their work at TBA, it gives this non-paid artist another vector for being bitter, along a more materialist critique.
But with playa dust still coming out of my hair, TBA seemed even more asinine this year than ever before. It is not about the scope of the artwork. That there were no forty-foot tall burning structures or flame-belching vehicles meant that the work at TBA is of course going to be judged according to a different venue. But it was the attention of the artists to their art, or the lack thereof, that really stood out to me.
This is something that as an artist, or a person who builds or makes anything, can immediately see. It is as inimical to the work as the material out of which it is made. Once upon a time, we might have called it “workmanship”. Today it might be abbreviated as “good design”. I might describe it as the part of the worker that is abstracted into the work; and even this is a bit too materialist-philosophically esoteric to use as a description.
Instead, I would merely call it “quality”. Quality is something that can immediately be apprehended in viewing an object. It is something difficult to fake. In talking about this on Twitter Ella Dymaxion, playing the devil’s advocate, suggested that quality might just be a measure of privilege, “quantified by the amount of time one has had to devote to past art.” I think this gets at the point of quality, but specifically differentiating it from “skill”. We might have seemingly innate skills, or skills learned through excellent training, either acquired by luck, by privilege, or by hard work. “Quality” is limited to the particular work in question, and is only used as a stand-in for “skill” when the word is used to refer to something more general, such as the oeuvre of an artist, or an entire venue or thematic category of work.
There may be a threshold of skill that makes quality much easier to achieve. Or, some of the privilege representative in skill might constrain the sorts of mediums in which quality might reasonably be achieved by a particular person. However, the true factor in quality is effort. Whether it is a small drawing that took a few minutes, or a life long work, was the effort put into that thing, in creating it, sufficient to make quality apparent? Subjectivity will determine the response, but each subject should be able to easily make this determination.
My point in arguing this out is not to establish a new aesthetic criteria. I believe notice of quality already exists in our apprehension of artwork, mostly in terms of the negative. It isn’t so much that we stand in front of artwork and say to ourselves, “yes, this has quality, and I notice by this-and-this-and-these features.” It is that we stand in front of it, and say, “boy, but was that a waste of materials and everyone’s time.” Work lacking in quality is missing something. We’re looking for something expressed to us that means this is why we have all taken the time.
The work at TBA is largely of the sort that seeks, either explicitly (by the artist’s statement) or implicitly (by “taking part” in a genre or medium, as it were), to transmit meaning. The artists’ statements are designed to imply that the art itself is a statement. The work at Burning Man is the sort that does not imply a meaning, or if so, with a very light touch. The focus, overall, is on the apprehension, and hence, there is more of an opportunity for quality to come through in the immediate viewing of the work, rather than having to read a statement in order to “get it”.
But in addition to this difference lending Burning Man art to have its quality more easily observed than the work at TBA, I think this framework provides a better venue for aligning the artists towards finding quality in their work. I had an endemic sense at TBA that the work itself was “written off”, so to speak, in favor of the artist statement. As if it didn’t matter what sort of shit was slapped together, if it could be justified as quality in the statement.
I’ve heard the statement before that “art doesn’t justify bad craft”: meaning that you cannot use art to justify mistakes you made. You know there are mistakes. The viewer knows. There are always mistakes in work. But saying “those mistakes are supposed to be there” insults not only our intelligence as people who make things, as well as demeaning our notions of quality that art is supposed to invoke. We know better. We know when materials have been wasted, and when something could have been done better. A lack of quality, quite simply, cannot be justified as artistic. And that is the difference between quality and a lack of it.
I think that statement extends to saying that “meaning identified as artistic doesn’t justify bad craft”. I often complain about “gimmicky” artwork, seeking a popular appeal by easy, spine-jerking vectors. But at least a gimmick, well-executed, doesn’t leave the viewer with a sense of being cheated somehow. It doesn’t leave a taste in the mouth of ruined materials. It doesn’t give one an overwhelming urge to go recycle something. It may be cheap, but at least it does what it says on the box. There are quality gimmicks, and then there are voids of quality. At TBA, I noticed the latter, in hordes.
I told myself on starting to write this little essay, that I wouldn’t target any particular works I thought were lacking quality. But there was one so egregious, one so paramount of what I’m trying to convey, that I can’t help myself. Let me just say this: if you do a piece of work that, through repetition, attempts to represent a particular amount of “otherwise uncounted numbers of war dead”, and then put your work on display WITHOUT FINISHING THE TOTAL NUMBER OF THE REPRESENTATION, you are telling me that either those hundreds of thousands of dead that you did not finish representing are meaningless, or that your entire concept is. This example was particularly awful, because through its poor quality it negated a purportedly ethical meaning. But the general point is illustrated: just because you say the work means something, you cannot expect that it will. And quality is the brick from which you are going to build anything, meaningful or otherwise. You can say a wall will keep out the mongol hordes. But unless that wall is built from brick, it’s not going to do shit. And once you have a built a wall so high and so long, you don’t need to say anything. Because a real wall will be a wall without anyone having to say a thing.
What is the point of all this?
The point is that it is incredibly easy to develop stand-ins for the worth we all implicitly know and respect in work of any kind. It is easy to excuse a lack of quality for sake of art, entertainment, political meaning, wow-factor, or money. There aren’t many absolute rationales for anything in the world anymore. Even quality, despite all my talk of its almost sui generis qualities (and no it’s not, but it might sound like it is) is nothing like an absolute force in the world. And so, why not make a little money? Why not take a political cheap shot, or go after a gimmick rather than put in the time?
Yeah, that’s a good question. But I think the thing about quality is, we already know the answer to that. We just need to remember to speak up and say so, rather than take the easier way out.
unknown flame-effect vehicle or building or bicycle or something
A dis-jointed meditation on things learned at Burning Man
The night after we got back from Burning Man, I had a waking playa-dream.
I woke, dazed and disoriented, in the orange street light that filtered in around the curtains. The sound of the light rail going past was a non-potable water truck to my ears, spraying down the dust street outside of the enclosure of our apartment. I reached my heavy arm up from the bed, tossing covers off of me in the heat, and touched the drywall. “Odd,” I thought. “Drywall would be such a mess on the playa. But it does have a nice finish.” Who built this structure? It has a very regular cubic shape. Have they pre-made dry wall panels, and then hung them from the inside of a geodesic dome? How have they sealed the edges? There is very little dust in here. I want to meet the person who designed this structure and chat with him or her. I got off the mattress, sitting on the playa floor, and only when starting down the hallway towards the bathroom to look for a water tank did I realize I was back in our apartment in Portland, and was not in a city of 50,000 built for a week on an alkaline lake bed.
2011 was my first Burning Man, an event I’ve wanted to attend since I was about 15 and read about it in BoingBoing. 13 years later, it’s a completely different event, of course. And apparently, it is also many different events at the same time. The week of Burning Man is a tripartite collusion of drunk revelers, hardcore makers, and hippie consciousness-expansion. But outside of that week, it is something else again.
I was lucky enough, through a convoluted series of events that was never fully explained to me, to get an early access pass. These are handed out to volunteers, artists, and theme camp builders so they can get a jump start on construction before the event officially opens. The unofficial theme camp I was camping with managed to get a few of these, and having nothing else to do except drive rebar into the earth, I went along with our small build team to erect shade structures for 30 people from PVC, aluminum conduit, tarps, and silk parachute. Easy enough.
Black Rock City, pre-city
The best part of this, which I never imagined in all my visions of the event, was being there for the week immediately prior to the actual week of Burning Man. Before all the “tourists” and party-goers get there, there is a hardcore contingent of people there with one goal. Build shit. Also, I suppose, drink beer and make sexual innuendo, but that kind of goes hammer-in-hand with build shit.
So you’ve been to a Maker Faire. You’ve read about the DIY revolution in countless publications. You have a network of enthusiastic artists you know who are all involved in crazy projects to put Arduinos on Roombas or something, and have a couple Kickstarter campaigns under their belt a piece. All of this is awesome, and I don’t mean to imply it is anything less than so. But none of this really compares to the building environment pre-Burning Man.
It’s possible that I was extraordinarily lucky to be with such a particularly awesome group of people on our own build team, and I have no doubt that I was. But the feeling extended beyond our group, to the entire community. It was an notion of collectivism and altruism that I’ve only dreamed about in my most blue-sky moments. There was an overall sense that everyone was there for a single purpose, and every project and camp was an extension of that process. Resources, tools, and hands were all part of the overall effort, and were lent and asked for freely. Every task was praised and supported with helpful suggestion with a single voice. Rivalries existed, but only insofar as it improved the overall experience. There was a sense of cooperative challenge that paled team-building activities in comparison, and completely flattened the lip-service of collectivity espoused by sports.
I have no doubt that the harsh conditions of the playa contributed to this. If we were in a meadow somewhere, near air-conditioned homes and bars, disputes would result in people “stepping out for a moment”, and divisions would result. However, in the desert there is no place to go. Furthermore, the daily effect of the desert on the body means that collectivity is a survival strategy. It is a saw on the playa, that if someone is getting pissy and annoyed, the proper thing to do is to tell them to “drink some water”. It’s irritating, because people say it all the time, but after you drink water you immediately feel better because you were actually dehydrated. A “fuck you, buddy” turns into a “drink some water”, and everyone is reminded that we are in the desert together, and we are nothing but evaporative meat sacks a few liters of water from death at all times.
Camp Spinaesthesia - PVC, aluminum, canvas, silk.
This sort of hydration ethic is found in other forms. During the pre-week, there was a ubiquitous imperative to thank people for just about everything, and to be obsessively polite. Someone gives you a hand, you thank them by name. Someone gives you a piece of cheese, you look them in the eye and say thanks. If a tarp is about to be ripped away by a 50 mph gust of wind, you still take the time so say, “hey, would it be possible for you to give me a hand with this?” or “do you have a minute to help?” At first, I thought this was simply hippie sentiment, and I found it a bit obnoxious. But then I realized that the overall imperative to speak this way had the same effect as the emphasis on hydration. By reminding yourself to speak like this, it is a sub-conscious reminder that we’re all in this together, and the help you ask for is the help you will give five minutes from now. Yelling, “somebody help me now!” might be literally true, but it won’t get you the help any faster, and promotes division and aggression as opposed to collectivity. The tarp blowing away is not actually the most important thing. The fact that the tarp will continue to be an inch from blowing away for an entire week is the important thing, and that everyone works together to make it secure is the real goal.
As the event began, this sort of ethic was still present, but as the “tourists” showed up, it faded. Perhaps it was simply the number of people, or the heightened vocality of people just there to consume and not to build. But by the end of Burning Man, people in general had stopped saying thank you, and were much more interested in what they could get from people.
As the Man burned on Saturday night of the event, I remember in particular a couple of girls yelling at everyone in front of them to “sit down” so they could see. A number of people had heeded their call, and so they had the feeling that their request was valid, rather than questioning it. We did not want to sit; this was the Man burning, and a culmination of everything that we had built and lived for two weeks. But even though we were on the edge of the standing mass, and it was clear we were not going to sit, they continued to yell at us to sit down throughout the entirety of the burn. Not a single please was uttered, just a constant braying of the will they wanted to impart upon others. If there was ever an example of the “selling out” of Burning Man, this was it. It isn’t a selling out at all, actually–it is a socio-emotional mind state. It is the transferring from a state of mind of collectivity, in which each person is a functional component of the whole, to a state of mind of ego-actualization, in which each person must fight to harness others to their own particular vector. Would I ever have sat? Perhaps. But suddenly, facing this person who was negating the positive culture I had experienced up to this point, my own will turned to stone.
Trojan horse, under construction. It was burned 5 days later.
I tell this anecdote to impart the seriousness of the community, and the strength of collectivity when done right, and how quickly all of that can be negated by thoughtless violation of that network.
The point of Burning Man to me is the way in which the stark reality of the intersection between art and infrastructure is made apparent, and becomes lived experience for those who choose to take part in it. Okay, sure: dancing all night in the middle of the desert is fun too. But that was what I expected, whereas the lessons about building collectivity were a complete surprise. The purpose of Burning Man is to entertain. The art is low on poignant meaning, high on effort converted into wow-factor. But through that expression of entertainment is channeled an incredible amount of material, human resource, and hard work. The end effect is in itself a cause, because it stimulates the drive to make such an incredible human infrastructure come together. It isn’t profit, or a pay check, or even something as pedestrian and necessary as security, safety, sustainability or stability. In fact, it is mostly antithetical to all of that, and perhaps that is why what happens at Burning Man is able to ignore those everyday drives, and really step outside the standard channels work normally forms itself to, and all the petty problems therein. But as much as an outlier this experience might be, it is a hell of a model to aspire towards. Perhaps there is some sort of synthesis to be made.
Why is it that hexayurts and geodesic domes, two structures billed as fabulous advances to architecture in the real world, have taken off much more strongly at Burning Man than in the real world? Why is it that in a place practically devoid of Internet and networked devices, and stronger and more resilient social network has developed? Why is it that people spend a year’s worth of time developing projects that will last a single week? I don’t really know the answer to these questions in words, but I could kind of feel the answer happening at Burning Man. The answer itself wasn’t important. If someone had tried to answer this question, the answer might be, “I don’t know. Let’s drink some water, and then put together this hexayurt before lunch.” A pretty good answer, I guess.
Grey-B-Gone greywater evaporation rig.
“Radical self-reliance” is a term that is thrown around a lot in regard to Burning Man. I don’t know that it’s necessarily accurate, because Burning Man seems to be much more about relying on other people: the people in your build team, the people in your camp, the neighbors on your street, the Department of Public Works folks and the rest of the volunteer infrastructure, and everyone who attends the Burning Man even. I suppose though, the term kind of works if you factor in the fact that Burning Man is a radical deformation of your sense of “self”. Call it collectivity, call it an ecosystem, call it a team, or call it intentional anarchism. It is about a state of constant reminder that your self is actually pretty frail and insignificant, and if you try to do anything on your own or only for yourself, you will end up with a sloppy pile of bricks, working for forty years all alone, or simply be dead. The human is a resolutely social animal. And while we build things for all sorts of reasons, the thing we are really building at all times is our culture, with those other humans around us, whether we are close to them or not.
Back “home”, if you want to call it that, after probably one of the most enlightening and invigorating trips in a long time. I wouldn’t say that I fell in love with China, but I did fall in love with the sense of de-centering, the uncanny cultural forces cathecting in and out of everything around me, the juxtaposition of one’s culture with another that cannot be duplicated or simulated in anyway, and at the same time, the world-embracing sense of human species-hood that comes from stepping outside of one’s comfort barrier, and landing on one’s feet. I was reminded that travelling can be one of the hardest and most expensive things to do, but it can also be rewarding to the point at which it is absolutely necessary for an intelligent human being to do, at least in some degree. The rut of routine is the demon of society. Without experiencing difference of some kind, we retreat to the worst of human habits and short-circuited urges that our id can find within itself, with which it occupies the mind, praying to the brute god of undifferentiated sameness.
A good month, to cut all the It’s a Small World, Cosmopolitan crap. And now it’s the busiest August ever, with quite a lot planned for POSZU.
After I decompress and sort everything I noted, photographed, and thought about over the last month, I should have about four good posts here. There are also the things that don’t involve China directly that I’ve thought about, that I need to get on.
So no more introduction than that. Let’s stop messing around and get busy.
When I crafted a response to design-fiction from the perspective of fiction, I knew there was a good chance I was going to raise some hackles. I had decided to stand behind the line of fiction, and from there, fling over the wall a quasi-action-adventure essay, in which the noble forces of fiction were beset on all sides by the cannibalistic hordes of capitalism and design. All of which makes a good story, and a good missile. But is it correct? Or was I disingenuous, playacting with straw men, lighting off pyrotechnics without warning my audience to the presence of smoke and strobe affects in my performance?
My response was always intended as a first step: the Devil’s Advocate position. A method truly less and less reputable in this era of networked cells of concerted, street-level optimism; something somewhat out of fashion without the old grand narrative to rebel against. And yet, I wanted to turn the tables, and break down some of the current conceptions about what design fiction is, and how it works. Then, with stability shattered, propose the way forward. Which I did, but only at the very end of the essay.
But it seems that was not enough. How could it be? After I stormed in with much light and noise, how could I attempt to redeem myself in a couple of tack-on paragraphs? Could I really just set the cart back on its wheels with a gesture and depart from the room as if nothing was wrong?
The conclusion of the fiction I wrote was that design and fiction ought to work together. They ought to unite their combined mechanisms and critical eyes, and proceed in alliance to creatively map the dense network of technology that defines our present and our path towards the future. In furtherance of that goal, and to not only mend the bridge but build a better one, I wish to explain exactly how it is that design and fiction work as creative acts; and then from this, show how they might work in concert. And so, let us move on from the fiction, and begin the political tract.
The So-Called Imaginary
Time, being the dimension upon which the past and future run their spectrum in either direction from the pivot point of the present, is not an easy tightrope on which to walk. Today our technology is more grandiose, and yet more intricate than ever before in history. Our position as subjects in this time is tentative at best, evolving in tandem and in opposition to the nodes of the technological web of the material world which is always changing, even the most concrete plateaus being only as stable as fluid underneath. But we have the tools to negotiate this. We are the tools to negotiate this. Our sense of history, through which we perceive and interpret the world, is as much the network of time as the tools that built it. We’ve only ever had these tools, and with them in our hands we’ve built the whole thing, as far as we can see. These tools can be used to destroy it, to fix it, to control it, and to build it even bigger.
It is difficult to begin to move forward without assessing where we are now. And it is difficult to say where we stand, without either taking a pithy few examples as the whole, or creating a generic “average” standpoint that doesn’t actually exist: the well known fictional format I like so much. But the state of things is difficulty, and it can’t be avoided. As such, I wish to imagine an average description of the popular way we might construe the current cultural state of affairs and our historical matrix: the so-called, the Imaginary.
The Imaginary as a proper noun was most notably formulated by Lacan, as a domain of his psychoanalytic theory. The Imaginary is a ghostly realm, the place of dream, imagination, and image, set apart from the language and logic we might use to describe such things. It is differentiated from the Symbolic domain of signification; the logical structure of language that organizes, compartmentalizes, and gives form to the Imaginary. The Symbolic is the means by which we express things, but the Imaginary is the font from which ideas well.
This structural differentiation will no doubt sound familiar to many, as it is a common schema found in various philosophical theories of the Twentieth Century, with precursors extending back to Classical Philosophy. It is two-part: there is the firm, formal plumbing of the Symbolic, and there is the Imaginary flux within that conduit. The structuralist metaphor fits bipartite imagery according to a number of metaphors, rendering it to our understanding quite easily.
And accordingly, we apply this metaphor to understand our technological invention. In fact, all creative disciplines are usually explained this way. That there is a flitting dream-world of ideas half-formed and interconnected from which we draw inspiration and shape this raw, creative material into actual invention seems not only mythologically relevant, but appealing to our sense of agency. Be it on the lips of the muse, through the mystic gnosis of juxtaposition and suggestion, or only as result of hard monastic study and meditation, our common understanding of the act of creation seems to fit to this notion of “channeling”. From the Imaginary to the Symbolic, we build ideas out into reality.
by Flickr user Glasseyes View
The Biologic Field of Cultural Objects
Unfortunately, this mythos does not bear scrutiny. There is an imaginary field of material that we access, but it is more real than this nebulous domain. If it was more ethereal, shrouded in the fog of sub-conscious and hidden within the dungeons of memory, it would be comfortably distant. It would be something we would not have to be acquainted with directly. And yet we regularly visit it for supplies, with the pedestrian ease of the massive suburban grocery outlet. It is a myth to think that it is both of the ethereally-beyond and simultaneously in each of our grasps. Perhaps similar, in this way, to the realities of the mega-store, disavowed by the average consumer more interested in a convenient bargain than in the dirty, often tragic mechanisms of world trade. The facts are blurred by the Imaginary, conveniently forgotten, and no less uncomfortably present when we finally clear away those metaphor-implied clouds.
If it were somehow inaccessible, we wouldn’t be responsible for an ethical relationship between ourselves and our creative raw materials. We could extract from the Imaginary at will, as if it were an endless supply, some sort of water from the rock. As a different dimension from reality, the Imaginary cannot be causally linked to reality. There is no measurable ecosystem between the Imaginary and reality. Even if one were to acknowledge they were connected, how can you begin to map the transversal connections if one half of the terrain remains obscured and conveniently unconscious? Our diagrams of the Imaginary rely on weak notions of spontaneous creativity, mythic inspiration, and the heavenly-dictate of random association. But there are real mechanisms at play in the field of “where ideas come from”, and we can’t overlook them.
This milieu from which ideas are drawn, call it an Imaginary or whatever you like, is quite real and close at hand. It is the field of Culture Objects: the pieces of media, story threads, narrative concepts, and instances of human desire that have been crystallized into that which we consume when we consume culture. There is nothing imaginary about them. They are as real as our books, music, film, art, technology, food, and everything else that we have glossed with meaning in our significant world. Naturally, their borders and divisions are in a sort of sublime flux, and that makes it difficult to apprehend them as objects. Is the folio Hamlet, by Shakespeare, reducible to the narrative of a son-murdering-his-adoptive-father? Or is that merely a major theme of that work? Or is it only an archetype found in Hamlet, among other many other instances? Is a snatch of melody a Culture Object? What about a chord? How about a particular tempo? At what point do we recognize something as an original work, a derivative work, an influence, a reference, or something related on so small as to be comparatively inconsequential for the purposes of cultural analysis? Rather than worry ourselves about the difficulty of analyzing and separating the complex web of Cultural Objects in play within our creative system, it is much easier to write it off as simply Imaginary. The fluid dynamics necessary to appreciate blowing smoke or murky water are easy, compared to the relativistic perspectives we must use order to perceive the multiplicitous nodes of the field of Cultural Objects. We are on the level of cultural biology, here. You look at a desert, and you see Nature. But describe what it is that you call Nature, and you see rocks, woody plants, succulents, the occasional animal hiding from the sun in the rocks. But look closer–inside those plants are insects evolved to live only in that one particular place. Creatures that look different than those anywhere else, in any other desert. And between the grains of sand: near-invisible lichens and bacteria, clinging to life and each other. The very sand of the desert is alive. Where do the bounds of biology fall? Like Cultural Objects, everywhere and nowhere. As a complex system, the field of Cultural Objects is far more complicated the Symbolic we so egotistically claim to master, and the Imaginary we tithe to heaven.
If we understand the Biologic field of Cultural Objects as being quite nodal, capable of complex evolution and yet simultaneously beholden to the present, we can begin to analyze how our present creativity might be able to transcend the present. We can begin to identify “The Future” more clearly. Within an Imaginary, The Future is desperately useless, as an undifferentiated blob of characteristics. But in the field of Cultural Objects, The Future is a critical, analytical technique.
If we believe that ideas are drawn from an Imaginary, a magically adjacent dimension to ours, then The Future becomes equally separate from our world. Mystically distinct from reality, we are unable to fully seize grasp of what The Future is, other than to call it out when we see it, with all the immaculate criticism inherent in a dowsing rod. If we make fiction, design, or any other creative product inspired by/for a vision of The Future, and that future is drawn from an Imaginary, where else is it coming from but out of that fog, with no bounds, no definition? “Forward-leaning” is no more a point of reference than “dream-inspired”.
It isn’t easy to isolate exactly where The Future exists in the field of Cultural Objects, but at least we have something to study, and a point from which to proceed. The Future can be a genre, much like variously distinguished classifications of historical fiction. The Future has the characteristics of seeming to be what is temporally oncoming based on our understanding of history: “the shape of things we believe are to come”. Much like electronic music, that seeks to express its creativity in terms of an generally recognized aesthetic, implied by the particular means of its creation: “the aesthetic of what sounds electronically generated”. Like desert fauna, biologically determined by a host of factors supporting the line between its life and its extinction: “the sort of animals that live in a desert without dying”. It is a pattern that we generate ourselves, pushing it out in front of us, calling it out ahead of us in our imagination, until we no longer are able to see it repeated any longer. We don’t know everything about this pattern and the means of its creation, but we know much more than we do about a perceived Imaginary, in which things move about like sprites, without systematic interaction.
The Future, in the sense of its most critical self-conscious expression regarding the things of its genre, is a critical-eye with a notion of the passage of time, and therefore not only is the aesthetic of the shape of things to come, but the means by which we understand how we recognize the shape of things to come, from amid the field of Cultural Objects. This is what we’d like to think of as Futurism, at least in its modern incarnation. It is not a holistic ethos pulled from the depths of the mind, or a merely aesthetic eye, but a way of reading, manipulating, and relating to objects on the ground, and the tools at hand. Within the genre, it is an understanding of how that genre works. It isn’t enough to create something that might exist. One must simultaneously think about why and how it might exist. Otherwise, it is merely repetition of certain cultural indicators. To speak of wireless because other instances of The Future contain wireless technology, or to consider augmentation of reality because other Future Cultural Objects might augment reality. The Future lends itself towards critical expression, because its pattern is one of constant re-definition by inventive creation, and not merely mimicry. In this way, The Future is distinctly in the present, because it must be as self-conscious of its current genre in order to patently adopt its future-tense. It’s mechanism is to functionally inseminate the present with the possible, and so it must be the technician of the relationship between these things. This is its functional operation, and is the mechanical means of the reprinting of its pattern.
The Future, insofar as it can be conceived and molded into Cultural Objects, already exists. The notion of the presence of historical objects deeply networked within our current apprehension of what is “now” has been referred to as “atemporality”. The meaning is the same. Historicity is genre. Objects create their timeliness in situ, among a network of similar objects, a pattern of the genre relevant and interconnected to a certain period of time. But this genre is always already reinterpreted in terms of the present as it is recognized. To see “old”, we must understand “new”. The ability to perceive history as being historical is dependent upon a headspace firmly grounded in the continuum of temporality, the ability to think relativistically about historicity and temporality, and the critical perspective necessary to project oneself in mechanistic concert with the functional systems that evolve over the passage of that dimension t. A tall order, to be sure.
This relevatory atemporality, the biologic field of Cultural Objects, the cease-and-desist order towards the Imaginary: it’s not just a fancy existential perspective or a genre of philosophical terminology. It is a philosophical idea, to be sure; but it is part of our evolution towards an ethics of a post-moral world. Making the sort of shift necessary to push The Future beyond an aesthetic genre and into a critical perspective is not just an thinking exercise, but a crucial mentality for any creator, in the absence of other ethical guidelines.
Morality is a many-storied discipline in and of itself, and so I’ll have to reduce and concentrate the concept as I did with that of the Imaginary. We understand the principle–a guide and assessment strategy for human action. Whether justified by philosophy, theology, humanism, or other constituent articles, we come up with a plan for interpreting good actions and bad actions in reference to a judged spectrum of general good.
Short-cutting my way out of rehashing the entirety of Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, let me just say that there are some issues with a morality that breaks down the entirety of human action into the twin poles of good and bad. The world is complex, and we end up with a spectrum of good/bad, that has points marked out for ends-justifying-means, necessary-evils, greater-goods, and a host of other qualifiers that make the distinction between good and bad so relative as to make the distinction near useless on a daily basis. Attempts have been made to soldier on without losing sleep over this issue (notably, neoliberalism) but that… well, is a subject for another essay.
But ethics, as an alternate guide for assessment divorceable from morality, remains usable. An ethical system could rely on morality, but does not need to do so. It merely establishes a point of reference as its judgement schema. “Good”, perhaps most generally, but alternately “success”, “civil society”, “sportsmanship”, or “business” would work, to list a few examples. It arranges a pattern of action and assessment in furtherance of a more specific reference point than a general morality. One might consider it utilitarian, but the utility is merely a different orientation than an indefinable “general good”. Accordingly, an ethics can align the assessment towards a terrain that still has purchase, in the void of absolute right and wrong. Our interest in ethics then, in wake of my castigation of concepts like the Imaginary, should be obvious.
Supply and Demand
The ethics of creativity haven’t aligned according to “absolute good” in some time (though some proponents of an ethereal Imaginary speak as if it did), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own poles. Currently, in most of the world, the values that sway the ethics of creativity are effectively market-based. We assess our creations and alter our creativity process according to the reference point of demand.
It’s easy to understand why. Creativity, for all of its noble features, is dependent upon economic support. And we’re not just talking publisher’s advances, royalty checks, production costs, and the other financial forces that play into the creation of Cultural Objects. Economy includes the household-totalling of many push-pull factors in addition to finances. There is an economy of creativity based on the use-value of Cultural Objects, separate from their exchange-value and any potential for capitalistic profit and loss. One can create anything that one wants to make; but if one wants to make “something”, it better be something that someone wants. The market can be as small or as large as we choose, but there must be a supply and demand market structure within it for the product of creativity to be said to exist. Creative production is merely idle work that cannot make a product, unless that product is consumed. The interests of one person act as a pull on the creativity of another. As the fruit of human expression, a Cultural Object expresses nothing unless it expresses it to someone. Even if the creator creates only for him/herself, it still satisfies that desire in order to take place.
The creator imagines, through his/her own apprehension of the complex network of Cultural Objects and the desires and feelings connecting them, a potential demand for an envisioned Object that solidifies as an idea, then which congeals via his/her labor into the actual Object: the work of art, literature, music, or whatever it is. Causality is not implied, and doesn’t have to be. The link between the supply and the demand happens from both sides simultaneously and connects both nodes into a unit at once. It is a continuum between the creator who didn’t necessarily know s/he had anything to sell, and the consumer who didn’t know s/he had any desire to buy, until they meet up one day and at the same time begin to make an offer, in a suddenly networked transaction. The cost of the transaction is also moot, and quite likely, the exchange is not made in terms of anything like currency. What is important is that the Cultural Object is given over from the creator to the consumer because the creator was able to create and the consumer was ready to consume, and it is by this relationship that the Object can come about.
If the goal is to make Cultural Objects, the goal is to find demand, and connect it with the supply. We are all “middlemen” in the field of Cultural Objects, making connections between nodes, trafficking in flows–in the same way that every organism is in a sense a symbiont, in that through its biologic transactions of all kinds with other organisms, they all constitutes the ecosystem together. More connections between supply and demand engender more Cultural Objects. We continue to create and consume, and this ethic of demand, as a pattern guiding and assessing action, furthers itself, as life begets life.
via Flickr user lifeontheedge
The Obsolete and the Profitable
But on top of this general ethic of supply and demand, additionally ethic layers can be stacked like architectural vellum, shifting the meaning of the layers below. Perhaps just as natural as the desire to create, is the urge to profit. Capitalism, for better or for worse, is a fundamental ethical perspective coloring all of our actions, whether we like it or not. Enter the agents, the managers, the marketers, the gallery owners, the publishers, the retailers, the factory owners, the advertisers, and so on and so forth. In addition to guiding the flows of supply and demand to connect the nodes, they seek to extract surplus-value from these connections, by way of reprogramming the connections in a profitable way.
The “profitable”, then, is not only a connection that is demanded, but demanded with a certain furiousness. Capitalism must seek relentless profit-taking for the foreseeable future. Capitalism has long understood the concept of atemporality. There is no such thing as “new” or “old” outside of a relative judgment–instead, the ethic directs itself based on only what is profitable. And profitable doesn’t merely mean “profitable today”, but also “still profitable”, or “potentially profitable tomorrow”. Capitalism, as the ultimate ethical regime, seeks to reduce all other means of understanding systems to its own. Time, space, goodness, creativity: all of these are redefined in terms of their usefulness in extracting and channeling flows of capital. It could be a fad, a trend, a vintage, a reboot, a retro, or whatever you want to call it. To Capital, it is only profitable or it is not profitable.
Profitability, not unlike a certain abstracted genre of The Future in the sense of the Imaginary as already discussed, is self-servingly forward-leaning. One counts the profit one makes today, but plans for the profit to be taken tomorrow. The more critical aspect of The Future in the sense of the field of Cultural Objects, and its self-consciousness and the groundedness of it as a worldview, is dangerous to Capitalism unless reduced to merely the ethic of profitability: also known as “feasibility”. The sort of historical truths and radical potentialities that critical Futurism concerns itself with, such as climate change, social unrest, democracy, radical economic or political structures, personal freedoms (just to pick a few from the bag) are distractions from the overarching ethic of Capitalism. Any sort of critical break with the current systematic support, empowerment, and ethical justification of Capitalism are dangerous and potentially costly if they are allowed to occur, in that they might interfere with profitability: the bottom line. The goal is to replicate the profitable Cultural Objects of today, and anticipate those that will make money tomorrow. The goal is forward; while change, or a more specific critical analysis of historical systems, is not. Minimizing change for the foreseeable future in order to reap a steady curve of return is what the flows of Capital specialize at doing.
The opposite of “Profitable” in the Capitalist ethic is “Obsolete”. Obsolete is what used to be profitable, but no longer is. There could very well be a demand for that particular Cultural Object, but because there is way to seriously profit from that demand, it has no use for Capitalism. The LP album is the perfect example. The CD made the LP obsolete. But it never reduced the LPs use-value. It only provided an alternate, “better” use-value from the perspective of the capitalist ethic, in that it could sell itself as an improvement. LPs continued to play music just as well as they always did. But, because there was a better product in terms of the Capitalist ethic, they were officially labeled Obsolete. LPs continued to be bought, sold, created, and played. Until then one day, Capitalism had a change of heart. The system “noticed”, as it were, that despite being obsolete, LPs were still selling. And so, the technology was de-Obsoleted. LPs are now legitimate commodities once again, having reattained their position within the Capitalist ethic as Profitable. All of which would be extraordinarily surprising to the LP, if it was the sort of thing that could be surprised. It has not changed much over the course of twenty years of being Obsolete, rotating at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute, in a similar stoic nature to the turning earth.
There is nothing wrong with making money on its face. Selling something is merely to participate in the exchange between the supply and the demand, trading value for value. But when there is a way of viewing the world and systematically understanding one’s actions that involves the flattening and reduction of all other ethics towards maximizing the flow of profit, such that the goal is to extract as much surplus-value as possible from the work of others… well, it would seem that there is a untenable situation for the long term. Legitimate use-value of the field of Cultural Objects, among a number of other important ethical considerations, takes a back seat, if isn’t run over in the middle of the road. In biologic terms, the Capitalist ethic is an invasive species: a predatory pattern that is overwhelming the rest of the ecosystem.
The Praxis of Fiction
So we take our critical-eye off the The Future as genre, and look into the atemporal distance all around us to study the mechanics and economics of creativity, rather than to simply reproduce its product. We stand up on the Biologic field of Cultural Objects, and see what is going on underneath our feet. We make our ethic firmly in terms of supply and demand as befitting our nodal networks, rather than per abstract regimes of profit and loss. We have an existential metaphysics, a politics, and an ethics. So what is it that we are going to make?
We each have our art form, our preferred medium, our home discipline, our comfortable home workshop, with our well-worn set of tools. Surely we won’t be straying too far from these. These are, after all, a fundamental element of our milieu, reference points and instruments across our own topology of the field of Cultural Objects. These constitute our praxis: our means of production, through which we engage in the market of ideas and objects with our audiences, our contemporaries, with the supply and the demand of the arena of creative human endeavor.
But is there ever a time in which it is not useful to re-evaluate, to re-strategize, to re-assess the situation on the ground, and to improve upon the plan? The praxis is always changing; the ecosystem is always evolving; the demands of our world always adjust; the terrain is always shifting and having to be re-mapped.
The map is fiction–or rather, fiction is what we draw, in attempting to map it. But we can only keep track of our creative motion insofar as we can conceive it as space. The field of creativity is our desert, which we were born to survive within. It is our ecosystem. Fiction, as the combined topology of our Cultural Objects, is the means and mechanisms by which we supply the demand of our imagination and fantasies. It is not separate from design, any more than design is separate from the world. Fiction and design are resolutely material in that they relate directly to reality, even when they momentarily retreat to the depths of our imagination. We dream in terms of the world around us, and we set our sights on what can be potentially achieved in a future connected to today.
Whether the art form is design, literature, or anything else, the praxis is the crucial test of whether we can best connect the nodes of supply and demand, for our own critical vision of the future, rather than regimes that would force us back onto the autopilot of the genre-fied Imaginary. What can we best do with our tools, that can find a place in the reality of the field of Cultural Objects? How do we already fit into the flows? What sort of creatures are we, and what sort of ecosystem is it that we inhabit? Who else lives here, and what do they eat? We must sharpen the ethical scalpel, while at the same time broadening the critical lens. These are metaphorical descriptions of creative practices, but they constitute our reality no less than any of these. We must consider the form of creativity as the means of an ecosystem, directing the flows between the nodes of means, material, ourselves, our audience, and each other: because it is. We need to stop creating products, and start evolving worlds. Because these worlds already exist.
Hearing the commotion from the hall, the designer puts down his scalpel. A security officer comes in the swinging, double doors of the lab, out of breath, as the designer stands. “No problem here, zir. One of them writers broke out of containment. It took the full charge on two tasers, but we got it wrangled now. We’re taking it back to the tank, and then we’ll be back to clean up the mess on the floor. Wish they didn’t always void their bowels like that….” The officer was gone.
The designer sits back down on his minimalist steel stool, and picks up the blade. It might be part of the realities of doing design-fiction, but an interruption is an interruption. Increasing the magnification on the goggles, the designer brings the scalpel low over the text for another slice. The page shrinks back instinctively, as the sharp edge parts its fibers…
I couldn’t consider myself much of a young writer knowledgeable about the technological zeitgeist if I couldn’t preach to a particular choir about the particular concept developed in the last five years known as “design-fiction”. Like anything else these days, the truth no doubt resists easy categorization, being multi-faceted, and having different characteristics and attributes at different times and in different settings, depending who is measuring, and from where they are looking. Luckily, abstraction is my chosen art form, and building characters that are easily readable is a skill fundamentally component to my nature, almost as much as design-sense comes naturally to those who can afford Adobe Creative Suite. Without too much beating about the bush, I’m going to weave a little narrative about design-fiction; just a couple of multi-touch gestures on our collective interface here.
via Flickr user lifeontheedge
Let me begin by unilaterally defining design-fiction as the theory and practice behind conflating design, “building things that exist”, with fiction, “making up shit that doesn’t exist”. Design-fiction–either through its own limited fictional proposition or on the back of pre-existing works of fiction–links a fictional narrative regarding a proposed object, with some image, shadow, ghost, dream, or otherwise hologrammically-real design of that object. It could be a mock up of a car from Blade Runner, it could be a functioning hologram like in Star Wars. It could be the proposed features of a cell phone that could exist, if only the technology was available as specified. Or it could be the working prototype of something entirely useful, if certain fictional conditions were true. Most generally, design-fiction take “the future” as the generic narrative for its activity, and uses only enough fictional glue as is necessary to prop the designed object up upon that plane. No doubt, the makers of design-fiction experience a bit of perceived freedom in this activity. With this tool, they can give context to design ideas that wouldn’t otherwise be taken seriously. Fiction was something that reality merchants used to avoid, but now it is a new territory, just waiting to be settled. The designers and engineers, after decades (or centuries, depending who is doing the counting) of attempting to maintain their privileged control over the domain of reality, have suddenly noticed that there is an entire new world available in the realm of unreal, and are building new colonies as we speak to tap these fictional deposits.
The resource of fiction has proven invaluable to the design community. It is a fertile land for farming new ideas. It is a forest of raw timber, just waiting to be processed into something profitable. It is a mineral resource: a treasure trove of value just underneath the soil, which the natives refuse to profit by, at least until they are put to work mining and smelting it to store and back the value of the new economy of this land, in which fiction creators are now lucky enough to participate.
We, the fiction makers, used to do simple arts and crafts. Little stories, films, and comic books. Did you know that when we used to be able to freely hunt the elk of imagination, we’d use every part of the animal? We’d use the hide for plot, the bone for characters, and the antlers would be our lifestyle. (We’d even eat the genitals, for the sexual content which we believed it imbued our fiction.) We had a true respect for the environment of fiction, when we lived in harmony with its spirits. But that time has past, and we’ve been woken up to the new economy. Now we sell to the tourists along the highway, and if we’re lucky, get a job in design-fiction’s factory lines, hopefully with enough time to still practice the fictive arts around the fire, at home in the evening. We show off the goods that we have as the designers come around on buying tours. A positive nod from a designer, a mention in a bibliography or a name-drop in a project… well, that could make a career for one of us. Our fiction could be discovered, and we could be whisked off to the lab, to have our fiction milked for years-worth of homogenized product-fantasies, and our genetic material cloned into sterile keynote after keynote. If we are good and docile, we might even find a privileged pet position as “Director of Visionary Hype” at some publicly-traded corporation. We could be the monkey that gets to go home with the scientist.
Today, the magic no longer exists in our fiction, but in what they can do with our fiction. By the manifest destiny of design, the wonders of the future have been created in real life, with the subjugation of fiction to the anvil of reality. All classes have indeed benefited from this abundance. What wonders we have, on the bleeding edge of this economic extraction! We have “cyberspace”. We have virtual reality. Augmented reality. We have billions of phones that would be no more than simple radios if not touched by the magic hand of design, transmuting them into “cyborg” appendages, and we celebrate them for the virility they imbue within us. The value of everyday things like touch-screen interfaces, environmental sensors, and vehicular transportation increases exponentially when inseminated with “design-fiction”. It is the ultimate gamification, the hand of design-fiction, turning what would be ordinary stuff into exploding, plinging, gold coins, making all of technology and fiction seamlessly function For The Win. What once was merely the artistic present, is now the valuable future.
Cue the Disney-produced GM animation. Or rather, cue the Vimeo cut. Or even better, just play the entirety of Minority Report. Or, let us crowd-source a film version of Neuromancer, so we can slip once more into a sweet visual fantasy dimension, of endless flowing tides of VC and Kickstarter love and dollars.
I stretch the truth a bit, of course. Because I am a writer, and this is what I do. I make stuff up, at least to a certain degree. I invent worlds that don’t exist, for other people’s amusement. I simplify and I abstract to make a point, and to write something hopefully concrete and understandable. I draw the lines that no one else is willing to draw, and then give it away free: my own little bit of folk art. To get these bothersome ideas out of my head, and onto the web. Just doing my part, as a serf of fiction. Carrying my little crowd-sourced bag of fictional dirt up the wall of the pit mine that is the internet.
But I must answer for my quota of cotton; I need to bring you something for re-sale, and not just my little straw men. I can’t just spin fiction off into the wind, and so it must mean something. So I must ask, seriously: when it comes to the reality of design-fiction: what is it that we are doing here? How is it–and why is it–that fiction is actually being taken “seriously” when it is conflated with cool little technological gadgets, with visionary architecture, with high-profile names in the design world? Why is it only now that “fiction” is allowed to become almost “real” when printed on a design pamphlet or wired to an Arduino board, minted into the coinage of design-fiction? Should we who create fiction accept this colonization? What was fiction before design-fiction? Is design-fiction merely the modern extension and the next prototype of fiction: the future of fiction?
It seems that many people thought books and literature were only ever entertaining side-pursuits in our cultural history; that literature only came close to science in the form of library science. But fiction has always been a part of historical reality, long before design-fiction so kindly discovered the power of future-affirmation to it. Fiction has a very human purpose: it is the singularly important task of assembling, what I would call, a “mechanism of desires”. Fiction expresses the raw, chaotic power of human life through its material components. Through its own technology of imagery, thematic archetype, language, and other media forms, fiction expresses the depths of our species’ life in the continuum of past, present and future, and indeed, it is the only way we ever have. We talk about ourselves via the form of literature, or fictive writing, and also in music, film, art, and any other expression in which we might be able to conceive or perceive a narrative. Sure, often it is, strictly, “made up”. But this is the creative element–in order to better express those dark human desires underlying our societies, to project the hard-to-define emotions that pulse within our living existence, we must not be constrained to the plane of reality that those in the physical sciences hold themselves within. And in this way, fiction is entirely real–as real as emotion and thought, as real as our egos, as real as the mutable species-entity known as “humanity” that unites all of us with a similar genotype. It utilizes as its energy the chaotic reality of human life, and constructs a branching, cultural pipeline for this energy to flow within. And all this time, you thought you were just reading words!
Apart from this deep, underlying function, fiction is also useful for a great many other things as part of its expressive nature. We’re aware of the general humanistic good of consuming fine literature, of the entertaining feature of films, of the social aspect of music. Fiction can motivate and inspire humans to “real-life” activity in a variety of arenas, and physical design and technological invention is surely one of these. But over and above inspiration, design-fiction’s functionality has what could be considered to be a more insidious mechanism.
What is the purpose of attempting to design a cyberspace deck? What do we gain from building a Minority Report display interface? Why work on a product that only will ever exist within a story, pre-existing as separate narrative, or written specifically for that gadget? When we assume the design-fiction mantle of Future-Vision, what is the motivation? It is four-fold: 1) We believe these devices would be cool or otherwise meaningful in real life. 2) We believe they would perhaps be successfully marketable products, if they could be created. 3) We want to see if it can be done. 4) We buy into the fictional fantasy world of generic future-tense, and we commit to design-fiction as a way to express our mental investment and solidarity with that forward-leaning worldview. These reasons all have a common thread: once a technological gadget can be identified in a fictional way, a part of us wants to port this fiction to reality.
These are the reasons behind the majority of design-fiction, and as such, design-fiction is no more than steampunk. I don’t intend to drag steampunk through the mud by association, either; steampunk is a fine hobby. There is no reason not to port fiction to reality, as a prop. Play-acting is a form of fiction consumption, and always has been. A prop, just its progenitor the classical theater mask, is simultaneously real and not real. But design-fiction is kidding itself if it believes it can simply make the fictional real, to make it less than a prop. And that to do so is any more than gluing gears to vests for sale on Etsy, to sell shit by calling it Shinola.
Play acting is all well and good, but when the props are treated as real, there is a psychotic sort of commodification underway. The psychosis is a disavowal–a forced rejection of the entire fictional mechanism except for that one value point, “to make the future real”. It is a cauterizing excision of a segment of the fiction, cut out and fused into an independent object with only one quantifiable dimension. Ripped out of its context, the purpose of fiction as a whole is conveniently forgotten, and the gadget object is reduced to a commodity, existing only in terms of its market value. The expressive component of play-acting is dead. Design-fiction is a fetish pushed to the point of absolute objectification; it is no longer a node of pleasure, only a dried and homogenized portion of the original fiction, ready to be sold in consumer-ready packages. The future is no longer a vanishing point of progress in a real-unreal network of invention and art, but a quantified MSRP. It is to reduce all speculation to the assumption that what could exist must exist, and would, in existence, be valuable. It is to make this supposed value the end-all of all creativity. You can hook a disembodied dog head up to a blood pump, and watch it try to live. But why would you do that? Design-fiction has such questions to answer.
We don’t celebrate Neuromancer because it contains the idea of cyberspace; we celebrate the idea of cyberspace because it is part of Neuromancer. Neuromancer is less about the actual proposition of a virtual realm called cyberspace accessible through communication technology, and more about the feeling of micro-gravity. It is about the human wish to fly. Cyberspace gets the press, because it is an easily identifiable term, and not a more ethereal thematic concept. The coined phrase is its own commodity value. We recall that the end of the book take place in earth-orbit, as the cowboy of the virtual space is forced by physical circumstances to take his metaphorical combat into the world. The book is about dimensions that are unreal, and no less real. It is about manufactured space in general, and the new physics that we must learn to live within. It is about the new thermodynamics of information, and such immutable laws that would birth the sublime triple point of black ice. It is about the life that develops in unreal physical environments, life that is both human, and non-human. In the time since the book was written, the Internet has come to life. Cyberspace is now an actual thing, different than the cyberspace in the book. But the human desire, and ultimately, the need to fly through our invented territorial realms is still real, both in reality and the original fiction.
Design-fiction reduces the mechanism of fiction to one more corporate R&D department, convinced that it’s products are something more than just products. The fictional, thinner-than-thin, design-fiction smart phone is a product of dimensional flattening, reducing the real environment of information technology and communications to point at which it is just another virtual icon, that we flick across the surface of our real phones despondently: the killer app of the week. Such so-called “fiction” downsizes the network assemblage of human creativity and desire-engineering, replacing it with the boring repetition of the start-up model. How it works and what it does is less important than how quickly it can be pushed to market, or more likely, to the blog. It minimizes the desire that drove creativity to express itself through dynamic fiction into no more than a meter of quantitative investment and click-through interest, that can be channelled as is liked for best returns. So you’ve stimulated the nerve endings with desire for a phone that will never be sold. It’s creative output is made-you-look. The fiction might as well have never existed, and all that was manufactured was the lie. It’s thinking you don’t have to feed your dog as long as you keep ringing the Pavlovian bell. It’s inventing the Happy Meal toy before the shooting the film. At best, it’s bad fiction. At worst, the most you are affecting your audience with is lead poisoning.
Design-fiction would have you avoid the vast mechanism of real fiction, and invest in what is made up as a secondary commodification. It would have you forget about the book, and concentrate on the deck. It would sell you an Ono-Sendai T-shirt, not to bring the book to life, but in order to brand you into the fan club. The book is alive already, and its position as a classic work of fiction is the proof. If there was a cyberspace deck, it would be a piece of memorabilia to put under glass on a shelf. Something to sell online, if you were lucky enough to have an actual box to ship. What would be the purpose of a cyberspace deck today? We already have the interfaces that best conflate our needs to connect to our networks with the technology we have available. Design, without the fiction, is already delivering on the dream. It may be an interesting exercise to consider why we have smart phones rather than cyberspace decks–but this is a theoretical exploration between the work of fiction and reality, and something for writers to bother themselves with, rather than designers.
And then on to the next one. Remake each book into a film, and each film into a phone. What can you quantify the rights to, and convert into a design-fiction option? How about Minority Report? The Minority-Report-Interface (MRI) is now a completely isolated, flat piece of fiction separate from the fiction from which it is derived. Amputated from the work of fiction, in which it is an important image of the thematic import of the work–a larger theme of truth, evidence, and the foreseeable future–the device itself is now only a milestone about technological progress. When will we have the MRI? When, when, when? And how much will it cost? The future will only be here when we can gesture in space and construct a narrative of the future at our whim. But this forgets the point of Minority Report as a work of fiction: the idea of the work is that the future cannot be predicted, and cannot be constructed at our whim. In our manic gesturing towards the gadget-of-the-future, we’ve missed the whole point. The reality of fiction has been replaced by an urge towards false, isolated commodity.
Are objects pulled into the “real” world and isolated from the assemblage which invented them, even to be considered real? These simulacra of fiction seem to double down on the fakery. In fact, the entire woven mechanism of fictional meaning from which these objects grew before they were harvested like clones, the question of the worth of technology as an element of human existence from which have the fruitful discipline known as Science-Fiction seems more real. In open speculation and the intricate programming of fiction, I see more reality than in the commodification of potential-product. What is more real: the cyborg in the horror film, or the hardwired, uncanny horror that causes us to invent cyborgs in fiction, to keep us looking even though we wish we could turn away? What is more alarming–uncanny human subjects, on the border point between humanity and object, or uncanny objects, on the border point between creativity and capitalistic exploitation?
But let me call curtain. Enough with my own play-acting here, and philosophical slight-of-hand. Let me end this fictive fantasy I’m spinning, and return to reality. These post-colonial memories–they aren’t yours. This was a nightmare, from which we all can easily wake up. Fiction and object design are both equally real. They are all real, but only together, united as they always were.
I’ve been giving design-fiction an especially hard time, trying to seed its practitioners with a horrible dream, in which they are the enemies of the future, rather than its saviors and heralds. As the brainwashing super-villian in this narrative, I speak for an a-vocal, imagined constituency against a trumped up enemy. Us designers of fiction (not designers of design-fiction) are, in general, so pleased to finally be taken seriously that we almost forget to take our newly discovered importance as an insult. And so, I’ve lobbed the perceived insult playfully back towards my characterization of the design-fictioners, if only to have them finally look up into the sky for what might one day actually condense in reality with enough weight to hit them in the face.
Behind this little bit of territorial posturing, the relationship between the real and the fictional is the same terrain that we’ve always traversed. Our ideas, both of fiction and of physical invention, grow as nodes in the network–starting independently, connecting, separating, and eventually fading in importance. The lasting effect of anything, technological or artistic, is its ability to network with everything else in a connecting, transmitting relationship, rather than as a cancerous, pooling sink of resources. Both fiction and reality are simultaneous. Isolation and consolidation of nodes will occur, and there is nothing wrong with picking particular pieces of fruit as they grow. But reality only occurs simultaneously amid real-world praxis and the extensive networks of the creative production of fantasy. Keep your hammer in one hand, and your dreams in the other.
And in the end, recognition of this truth is my fantasy of the future. We who create fiction don’t have to view the design world as an expropriating, gentrifying force. We can work as a team with the designers. The designers are no doubt just as interested in our characters and the overall fictive headspace as they are in our marketable gadgets. And the world of engineering can be the same fertile ground for creativity, as fiction can be for design. They can let us into their studios and laboratories just as we let them into our heads. This was the origin of Science-Fiction, of course; and it is the continuing legacy of speculative fiction of all categories. Writers, artists, and creators of all media continue to be informed by the world around them just as we inform it with our work, and in this society of continual connecting networks, we ought to turn up the bandwidth, and upload as much data to the commons as we realistically can.
But in that effort, design-fiction: I urge you to remember who constitutes reality in this relationship. I may write on a computer, and access the cloud through the prouduct of your brilliant, visionary interface. But your imagination, your creativity, your humanity–you read these inscriptions off of the broad back of fiction. This world and its aspirations were built by fiction, and fiction keeps it. Remember, design-fiction, that when you dream, you are in our hands. We are you, while you sleep.