So, Futurism Really Is Just Shilling Product?
Things can be remarkably bad or remarkably good. If futurology wants to make a contribution as a discourse and a project it needs to show how its interdisciplinary vantage and empirical standards and historical awareness make a unique contribution to progress -- which I would define as sustainability, democratization, and an ever more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technodevelopmental change to the actual diversity of stakeholders to that change. One can debate those criteria for progress, but at least that is a discussion about substance. What is it to be "remarkable," finally -- to make noise, to grab attention, to hobnob with the movers and shakers and gurus of the moment? To what end, exactly?
I came to The Futurist as a critic of the more extreme sub(cult)ural futurologists in the transhumanoid, singularitarian, nano-cornucopiast, and techno-immortalist sects of the Robot Cult. These absurd formations function as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of prevailing deceptive and hyperbolic marketing and promotional norms and forms that suffuse our catastrophically unsustainable, extractive, exploitative, consumer-fetishistic society -- and I always assumed that futurology simply arose as a byproduct of the emergence of speculative futures markets inter-woven with the development and then prevalence of the techno-utopian science fiction conceits of the US post-war plastic-atomic-petrochemical-computational imaginary. This piece is exactly what my prejudices would lead me to expect, one in which even those outcomes you name which I would agree are positive are highlighted because they presumably have "buzz" or "edge" whatever else they accomplish. You rightly deride the one who attracts attention by running naked in the street, but how are you really proposing anything to put us in a position to distinguish such spectacles from actual accomplishments? People actually live in cities, people overcome problems in cities (and create new ones), cities are not properly stage sets in which egomaniacs can make bigger splashes through deliberately exacerbated instability, insecurity, precarity.
The ruinously costly, never practical, never actually profitable, taxpayer subsidized boondoggle of environmentally catastrophic, air polluting, noise polluting, fuel guzzling, local ecosystem obliterating, concrete moonscape Airports with pharaohnic monumental terminal buildings and the fraud of convenient cheap air travel is something every futurist should be condemning as a matter of course. High speed transcontinental passenger rail and a turn to low energy-input local organic permaculture would not only be "remarkable" but good for reasons futurists should be uniquely able to communicate and attainable by means that futurists should be uniquely qualified to explain to policymakers and taxpayers. This won't let you indulge the fantasy that you are a bleeding-edge gizmo-fashionista on the Royal Road to cyborg sooper-powers, but it has the benefit of good sense and civic-mindedness.
I have been pleased to discover a measure of skepticism here for Robot Cultism, far more than I expected, a respect for actually warranted consensus science as a recourse for the solution of actually shared problems, a belief in policy outcomes accountable to expertise and stakeholders and long-term impacts. There is a difference between being a visionary and making a spectacle of yourself. The Futurist has roots that lead back to Kennedy's splendid New Frontier but also to the irrational exuberance of the dot.bomb and fraudulent Long Boom. I came here expecting to find everything was wrong but found instead a conflict of visions that needs naming and a real struggle to overcome.
Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Futurological Gauntlet Thrown
I posted the following comment to a post by professional futurist Thomas Frey, entitled Building Remarkable Communities in the Future at the World Future Society. It actually isn't the worst post by any means that I've read there, but I think it typifies mainstream futurological discourse in a way. This Frey fellow is clearly quite connected to industry muckety-mucks and perfectly immune to harm from anything I might say, so his post seemed a worthy site for intervention. As I said, I don't think it's the worst thing you would likely read over at WFS, it isn't even worst thing Frey has written since he is not averse to blithering in Robotically Cultic tonalities about uploading and sooper-AI when he is not doing this sort of cocktail weenie circuit stuff for stuffed shirts at the Chamber of Commerce I'm responding to here. Anyway, believe it or not, part of what I'm doing in this cantankerous little growl is testifying to my unexpected enjoyment of publishing for the folks at WFS who have turned out to be more interesting and sensible than I expected, since I thought them more or less a more timid sect of the Robot Cult or a kind of low-rent arm of the pop-tech publishing crap empire. There is too much of that there, but there is more going on there, too, and I think that whatever that more is should become more conscious of how it differs from the rest in a bid to become potentially more useful in the world. Hence, my intervention. You should read the piece to which I am responding here and to which I may not be entirely fair by way of making my point, which goes a little something like this: