Alternate strategies for alternate histories

Invitation_worldfair

^ image from http://xroads.virginia.edu/

One of my favourite sites, Today in Alternate History has announced that they are to begin selling serialised novellas from their strands of twisting timelines, with the readership dictating which will make the leap from the site to the novellas:

"When I began this site, it was with the intention of using it to test out some ideas for other, for-profit projects. With your assistance, thanks to our poll, the first such project is now available for you to purchase. Beginning today, TIAH will be selling our novels in serial format – 1/3 of a book every month. At the end of the 3rd month, the serialized parts will be replaced with the complete novel for sale, and the next serialization will begin. By responding to our polls, you will determine which timelines produce novels and which remain curiosities only available here on TIAH. The price for the downloads will be very reasonable – each serialized part will be US$1.50, the complete download will be US$5.00, and the trade paperback version will be US$12.00."

There’s something about this puts me to mind of penny dreadfuls and Charles Dickens – microcontent that plays to the cheap seats in a marvellous way. 

Timelines and What-ifs are a form of fiction I have always enjoyed greatly (I loved David Mitchell’s "Cloud Atlas" and I’m currently reading Phillip K Dick’s "The Man in the High Castle"), so I think I will be trying a couple of the TIAH novellas.

Ok.

Noodle warning … just some stuff that’s been brewing since Amsterdam and catalysed by the above…

A half-formed digression on alternate histories and future histories: do you think our*   science-fiction and science fact vision of the future is getting wider, not deeper? 

 

Perhaps as the result of the crushing g-force exacted on our
imaginations by the rate of change in our world, can we now only see
more shallowly into more alternatives, rather than agreeing on a shared
pop-vision of progress as we used to (e.g. 1939 world fair, archigram)

Apart from what this means for our shared fictions and entertainments (which Bruce Sterling has spoken about and Warren Ellis  has written about
before)  what does it mean for business and the business of design,
which has at some level been fueled by our shared notions of progress,
which it in turn, fueled. What does it mean for scenario planning and
other methods of building ‘long nows’ for business?

Shell, the daddies of scenario planning (see Matt Locke’s post also), have a terrifying bit of jargon "TINA"There Is No Alternative – which refers to a scenario or the elements within it which is essentially predestined and unavoidable. In their words: "The things you can’t duck"

But – as the Fast Company
article states – they have had to come up with alternative ways to look
at the things they thought there were  ‘no alternatives’ to.

So, has the business of building few deep shining futures gone? Given
way to doing the best to wrangle the wide and complex nets of
interdependent mini-futures. Being nimble enough as a company or
service, or fashionable and disposable enough as a product to fit the
moment.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Could we just be honest about it, and get post-rockist with our business and design thought, acknowledging complexity, becoming reflexive and reflective in our efforts. Put an end to strategy and revel in smart tactics. Knock "The Future"
on the head and check it’s pockets for anything useful. Perhaps we can
we salvage the sense of responsibility, ethics and stewardship that the
better practitioners of ‘rockist’ design had – "better living through beautifully designed X" and transmogrify it into the complexitude of swirling self-regulating autonomic just-in-time craft that is The Big Now.

From Mike K’s tubthumper of a talk at DesignEngaged:

"Life is incredibly complex, and now it’s not just the scientists at
the Santa Fe Institute and Wall Street mathematicians who know it. Many
people see it and feel it. But most don’t know what to do about it. We
can see patterns of compensation mechanisms appear. Nihilism, irony,
fundamentalism and nostalgia are all ways to simplify the world. We are
at the end of the prescriptive rationalist vision of the world and
we’re waiting for the next framework to explain the world to appear. It
has, but it’s going to take a while before it’s in full bloom. After
all, it was 300 years between Giotto and Isaac Newton.

Which brings me to my main point: It is our job as designers to
recognize this set of ideas, to understand it, to create for it, and to
name it."

To which I might add, build things that illustrate it.

What would "the clock of the big now" be like?

Anyway – enough of this utter piffle – for now – it might form into something I can act on at some point…

As Sterling said in the close of his talk at the Long Now Foundation: "the future is a process – not a destination"

—-
* by "our", I guess I mean developed-world, postindustrial, tech and media-drenched

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