death of the futurist?

Yesterday I attended a workshop designed by architecture firm zeroplus around the topic of what the next generation of the built environment will look like.

The conversation was open ended leaving room for each participant to share their interests and perspectives. Technology was a focal point.  A question was asked about what processes futurists use to envision the future, William Gibson was mentioned for getting the future right.

Gibson holds my attention.

In 2010 prior to the release of his book Zero History, Gibson spoke about how the idea of “the future” is not what it used to be.

Here’s an excerpt:

“…Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture.

The Future, capital-F, be it crystalline city on the hill or radioactive post-nuclear wasteland, is gone. Ahead of us, there is merely…more stuff. Events. Some tending to the crystalline, some to the wasteland-y. Stuff: the mixed bag of the quotidian.

Please don’t mistake this for one of those “after us, the deluge” moments on my part. I’ve always found those appalling, and most particularly when uttered by aging futurists, who of all people should know better. This newfound state of No Future is, in my opinion, a very good thing. It indicates a kind of maturity, an understanding that every future is someone else’s past, every present someone else’s future. Upon arriving in the capital-F Future, we discover it, invariably, to be the lower-case now.”

This stuck with me.  At the time he said this I was working on a team envisioning the future. Prior rumblings in the back of my brain were about how much the world had changed in the 10 years working in the field, and how our work could reflect that. It wasn’t business as usual, and Gibson brought clarity to that. He has a super natural ability to see patterns in the world and then relate them relevantly and articulately to our present, past or future. He brings an immediate shift, and the emperor has no clothes.

So if the future is now, how is Gibson responding in his work?

Gibson has said he doesn’t have ideas and then generate them as narratives. He finds ideas through the narratives. In describing his process, it’s not something that would likely be successful for others, imagining this to be true for most individual futurists. (Futurist groups are different story… )

From a NYT book review on Zero History. “Gibson used to write about an imagined future; now he writes about a half-imagined, half-real present in which it is almost impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.”  Heh.

Back to the workshop…

The day ended with some ideas captured for what the next generation of the built environment will look like. They’d like to get to a single idea of something they can build.  Yesterday’s discussion just scratched the surface and there will be more workshops to help reach their goal.

The workshops are being held at The Project Room (TPR) and is part of a series called “solutions” which discusses creativity as an act of problem solving.  TPR is open to the public and engages the community to use its space as a platform for further discussion.

Here’s the audio from the talk mentioned above.

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Technology is a means to a future end. A good story is needed first.


death of the futurist?