Contrary to what this post might suggest I don’t actually spend much time reading science fiction. My first ventures into what might be described as social science fiction were in 2002/3 with Aldous Huxley and a Brave New World which depicted a society operating on the principles of mass production and pavlovian conditioning. It piqued my interests as critiques and depictions of alternative political, economic and social orders so frequently do. Possibly, though I am never sure, as a result of latent frustration inspired by the generalised acceptance of the status quo in my product design studies science fiction presented itself to me as a mechanism by which alternative worlds and societies, interactions and values could be discussed and critiqued.
Divine Endurance by Gwyneth Jones for example, posed in a post-apocalyptic setting, where a cat named Divine Endurance and a child named Chosen among the beautiful (Cho) exist in a profoundly matriarchal world makes for an interesting consideration of gender constructs and roles. Always good to think about, but rarely posed as possibility or considered, not of course that I am arguing that an entirely matriarchal society is necessarily desirable but that this piece of fiction serves as a mechanism for considering a less patriarchal perspective.
So, the collection presented in the slide deck was a result of some pondering of the role of fiction in anticipating, shaping and critiquing the future of technology, in this case post-industrial manufacture. Something I will present in an alternative form elsewhere. More than most I have spent time thinking about the possibilities of an alternative production system, the implications for consumption, economics and society. I looked to fiction, as others do to provoke wider thoughts on as yet unconsidered implications from which I would subsequently construct a grounded academic critique.
Which brought me back to thinking about science fiction as design fiction;
“[T]he 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.” (Adam Rothstein)
Much like critical design or speculative design, science fiction if we are to understand it as design fiction can serve as a mechanism of inspiring design and development of technologies but perhaps more importantly in provoking conversations about the implications of technology as embedded in wider socio-economic constructs, but do we use it as such?
Some academics and technologists do obviously, but the impact and value of this is ultimately undermined by the market and pursuit of profit and power. Interestingly, it perhaps isn’t so much about how the technologist and the academic perceives and utilises science fiction, because somewhere in the wider subconscious there is an instinctual referral to science fiction when a new (to public) technology emerges and perhaps feels uncomfortable, google Siri and Skynet for example. Though often accessible, these reference points are not often widely shared (show me the real Sci-fi consumption statistics if you wish to argue this point). So i’m questioning how knowing the appropriate reference points in science fiction might impact how a hypothetical-non-tech-me might adopt, use and understand a technology? Would this version of me use Siri or Facebook or Twitter the way I do currently if I was more clued up on the fictional implications of Skynet or Newspeak? Probably not.