I am aware that I have referred several times to ‘Design Fiction‘ on this blog without really offering any examples of what might be meant by the term. I suppose I ought to confess that I am somewhat sceptical about the definition of such a ‘genre’ or practice too, but it is a useful provocation that enables some productive discussion about how particular forms of future are addressed in design practices. Below, then, and in no particular order are some examples of what might be characterised as ‘design fiction’.
In March I gave a public talk in Cardiff as a part of the Design Wales Form event ’10 things I learnt’. The talk concerned the ways in which particular kinds of future are evoked in the design of computing systems and how these forms of anticipatory practice might be more broadly adopted. The talk was videoed and can now be watched online, see below.
Last Friday, 9th March 2012, I gave a talk as part of the ’10 things I learnt’ event convened by Design Wales Forum, held at the Welsh Millennium Centre. I was talking about ’10 things I have learned about anticipating technology futures’. I gave some short provocations based on some of my research and drawing on the work of Julian Bleecker (Near Future Laboratory). I’ll try and provide a write-up soon.
Today I received a tweet from @_auralab who has created some ‘sketch notes’ of the event. Here’s what Laura made of my talk! –
I have written anything on this blog for quite a while so I thought I’d redress the deficit (a word for our times!) of content by simply explaining what I’m up to.
I’m hoping to give a talk at the UK lab of a prominent technology company, concerning research conducted with Patrick Crogan on the economy of attention. Through meetings with key researchers at that company, the visit will also inform my research fieldwork in Silicon Valley in September/October. More of which shortly…
I will attend the Royal Geographical Society’s annual international conference in September. I’m giving two papers and serving as a committee member in the RGS History & Philosophy of Geography Research Group. The first paper, co-authored with Matthew Wilson (U. Kentucky), concerns the material practices of using location based services. The second paper addresses the tension between contemporary understandings of neural plasticity and the commodification of human attention, especially in relation to pervasive media. Both of these papers will be subsequently submitted to journals to be considered for publication. I’ll put up details on this blog as and when this happens.
During the months of September and October 2011, I will carry out in-depth fieldwork investigating understandings of the future of computing and associated innovation practices within research and development facilities in Silicon Valley (California). The research is funded by a British Academy Small Grant. This is research that will follow on from my PhD work. The exciting advance with this project is that the data gathered will inform knowledge exchange activities with the Pervasive Media Studio network of artists and small/start-up technology companies. This work will also lead to further conference papers and publications. Stay tuned!
I’ve uploaded a PDF of my PhD thesis for people to download [2.1Mb PDF ] should anyone feel so inclined. I have had a finalised version for a little while and have been meaning to make it available but just haven’t got round to it before now.
This work was conducted between 2006 and 2009, with the substantive fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2008 in Silicon Valley. It principally focusses on the ways in which those involved in ubiquitous computing research development, in a corporate context, anticipate particular kinds of future. This work remains interesting and, I would argue, important because “the future” continues to figure as a significant frame of reference in the ways in which we discuss and relate to/through technologies. I have reproduced the abstract, with the inclusion of a key quote, below. Please do get in touch to discuss this work! [ sam (dot) kinsley (at) uwe (dot) ac (dot) uk]
Practising Tomorrows? Ubiquitous computing and the politics of anticipation
Ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) research is characterized primarily by a concern with potential future computational worlds. This notion of research by future envisionment has been a feature of ubicomp discourse and reasoning since it earliest days… Such visions, however, are interesting not just for what they say about the future but also for what they say
about the present. This seems to be particularly the case when it comes to normative social relationships.
Bell & Dourish Yesterday’s tomorrows: notes on ubiquitous computing’s dominant vision
The thesis describes the ways in which technological futurity is a complex array of performative and proactive dispositions towards the future that are irreducible to normative and deterministic understandings of ‘progress’. It takes ubiquitous computing as a significant case study because the future orientation practised in ubiquitous computing research and development is emblematic of the perpetual technological forecasting in which humanity engages. While ubiquitous computing has existed as an agenda for nearly 20 years it is still largely concerned with a future that has not (yet) been realised. In the context of ubiquitous computing the thesis argues that it is necessary to make the politics of anticipation, as the particular discursive and performative ways in which future-orientation is codified and conditioned, explicit in technology development. The thesis therefore enacts a critical framework that charts a discourse of anticipation, as the multiple means for articulating proactive future orientation, internal to which are anticipatory logics that structure and rationalise how such forms of futurity are practised.
The motivation and ambit of the research is to thereby describe a politics of anticipation as the ways in which the anticipation of technological futures is codified and contested, whilst performative and multiple. Empirically, the argument is made through the discussion of interviews conducted with a range of internationally significant practitioners of ubiquitous computing research and development, which were carried out in Silicon Valley, California, in 2008. Attending to discourse, logics and emergent politics of anticipation provides a means of making explicit how our ‘knowledge’ of technological futures is produced. It is therefore argued that we should attend to socio-technical futurity as inherently situated in the living present, with all of its associated concerns, and allow for the indeterminacy of the future.
Practising tomorrows? – Sam Kinsley’s PhD Thesis [2.1Mb PDF ].
[Originally posted on the DCRC website: http://www.dcrc.org.uk/blogs/william-gibson-zero-history-waiting-great-dismal]
Last night I attended William Gibson’s Bristol Festival Ideas talk. This blog post represents some reflections on Gibson’s relationship with futurity as it came through in the question and answer session.
William Gibson’s appearance at his Bristol Festival of Ideas talk was delayed by an unanticipated train incident, an apparent ‘anomoly’, as Gibson quipped, for trains are ‘never’ delayed in the UK. This was a fittingly unanticipated eventuality – for the evening proved to focus on the characterisation of the future. Launching straight into a reading of an entire chapter from Zero History. In an unexpectedly high pitched and quite raspy voice, Gibson recounts a section of the character Milgrim’s story. Expressing his witty and insightful eye for detail, in the world crafted by Gibson for Zero History, Cafe Nero is ‘a tasty alternate reality Starbucks’. Gibson’s protagonist is investigating military fashion on behalf of global marketing company, ‘Blue Ant’, not least because ‘military contracting is essentially recession proof’. Indeed, the author proclaimed, the bulk of the 21st century street fashion for men is the fashion of the middle of previous century’s military. This forms a part of the basis for the book’s narrative.
Continue reading William Gibson: The Zero History of waiting for the Great Dismal
Queue for iPhone 4 in Liverpool, photo by Flickr user: newtc_uk
Today sees the launch of the Apple iPhone 4. As we have come to expect, there are/were queues snaking from the doors of the fruit-themed purveyor of techno-chic’s shops. Indeed, as Wired UK, have pointed out – people turn up and camp overnight to be in the queue. Two years ago, in sunny Palo Alto, California, I observed with fascination the concretisation of a trend – the cultural event of queuing for the new Apple [insert shiny new product here]. At that time it was the release of the iPhone 3G:
The release of a hotly anticipated product, especially one created by apple, now seems to provoke a trend: the hardcore turn up one or more days in advance and camp (literally) outside the shop, others arrive at dawn and join the throng. Media coverage ensues and many wonder what on earth the fuss is about. In conversation with other spectators and with some of those who have queued, it seems to me that the purchase of the device itself is only a part of the motivation – it is also, substantially, about being a part of an event. The experience of queuing for these prized item, and the stories one might attach, appears to have become culturally significant.
Today is no different. The phenomena of the queue remains and it seems it has, if anything, grown into the production of events that appear to hold some sort of cultural significance for a significant minority of the population. As Gene Becker tweeted:
So all the cool kids are standing in line today, it seems. How retro-charming. iPhones are the new Grateful Dead tickets?
Why do I blog this? Its interesting to observe how material things, ostensibly created as ‘tools’, can be invested with so much desire and enchantment that their cultural value becomes tied to a sense of anticipation. What’s the significance of these events? Will people continue to queue for future techno-baubles? I haven’t decided if I need answers to those questions…
I will be giving a talk at the Pervasive Media Studio on Friday 14th May entitled ‘A brief history of the future of pervasive media’, which is broadly derived from my PhD research. The talk will be open to the public, so please feel free to come along! Here’s the bumpf:
Pervasive media, and the various forms of computing from which they are derived, stem from a tradition of anticipating future scenarios of technology use. Sam Kinsley’s PhD research concerned the ways in which those involved in pervasive computing research and development imaginatively envision future worlds in which they’re technologies exist.
This lunchtime talk examines the ways in which future people, places and things are imagined in the research and development of pervasive media. Examples taken from prospective pervasive computing research and development in the last twenty years will be explored as emblematic of such future gazing. The aim is to provide a broad means of understanding the rationales by which technological futures are invoked so that pervasive media producers can critically reflect on the role the idea of the future in their work. Such an understanding is important because a history of computing is in large part a history of places and things that were never created – a history of yesterday’s tomorrows.
I was checking out the very engaging ‘Milestones‘ timeline on the PARC website and came across an image that evoked a sense of deja vu. The other place I had seen something very similar was in a Microsoft ‘Future Vision of Manufacturing‘ video. Here are the images:
The first image depicts the Xerox PARC ‘CoLab‘ collaborative workspace and tools research conducted in the late 1980s. Two people are working on the same sketch from different sides of the screen, which are actually located in different places. The second comes from the aforementioned Microsoft video. Two business men on different sides of the world discuss a wireframe of a proposed car seat, to be manufactured. Interestingly the Microsoft video came about 20 years after the PARC project documented in the first image.
Technology futures are not always novel, what is envisaged can have a significant heritage. Yesterday’s tomorrows can easily become today’s tomorrows with some deft recycling. As Picasso said: ‘good artists copy…’