The Spaces of Innovation

Monday January 11 09:50

At the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium 2010, it was a pleasure to hear Steven Johnson drop a few tidbits on his soon-to-be-released book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation he described an interesting perspective on the history of ideas — or in a more marketable, business-type book-y way — the history of innovation, as coming from places and related to time and the pace of things. What I got from his short engaging talk then was a bit of a thoughtful debunking of the myth of the solo innovator, sitting alone and channeling brilliance from wherever. I’m looking forward to reading the book. There was a nice little animation that serves as a kind of networked-media-age jacket blurb in the video below.

Get the flash player here:

var so = new SWFObject(“”, “PictoBrowser”, “500”, “500”, “8”, “#EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“source”, “sets”); so.addVariable(“names”, “SCS2010”); so.addVariable(“userName”, “julianbleecker”); so.addVariable(“userId”, “66854529@N00”); so.addVariable(“ids”, “72157623066738659”); so.addVariable(“titles”, “on”); so.addVariable(“displayNotes”, “on”); so.addVariable(“thumbAutoHide”, “off”); so.addVariable(“imageSize”, “medium”); so.addVariable(“vAlign”, “mid”); so.addVariable(“vertOffset”, “0”); so.addVariable(“colorHexVar”, “EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“initialScale”, “off”); so.addVariable(“bgAlpha”, “90”); so.write(“PictoBrowser100929065753”);

Some more images from the MSR Social Computing Symposium last winter.


Why do I blog this? Mostly because I was drawn into the video, which is a cool example of these sorts of graphic note takings. There’s a bit of theater attached to it of course.

(via @jmcaddell)

Weekending 09262010

Friday September 17 18:56

Well..Most of the week was spent working on the work, enjoying the change that comes from change and new personalities and wondering excitedly about where things are going. I spent a bit of time relearning video editing and compilation tools because I still thing the visual story is a wonderful way to do design. ((We’ll be making some little films and I’m in that phase of being brain-locked when it comes to what those should be, or might be and deciding I better lubricate the chains and adjust the timing belt as a way to defer thinking about what those stories should be. Or..maybe that’s a way to think.))

Reading excerpts from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (P.S.).

Obsessing over data loss contingency and mitigation.

Brushing off photo equipment for two days of skate shooting this weekend.

Sketching more, another floor plans and possibilities for the man lodge/studio out back.

Puzzling over a book project with Nicolas.

Wishing I dedicated more time for the Drift Deck.

Attended and gave a short talk at the Future of Technology Conference at the University of Michigan.

That’s it.

Oh yeah. Got to eat a delicious meal with six new friends at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House

Continue reading Weekending 09262010

Representations of the Future with Graphs

Graphs of the Future

I collected some graphs that attempt to represent how the future comes to be while I was preparing for a talk at the University of Michigan’s “Future of Technology” conference, from which I’ve just returned. The graphs are simple ways to represent the path from now into the future and what makes “then” the future and different from “now.” I drew what I had in mind as you see above while I was teasing out something interesting to say for the talk. All along the way I was hoping to be able to show some film clips that I’ve been gathering — film clips of speculative futures and science-based fictions. The talk — it was only 15 minutes exactly — was called 9 Ways of Seeing the Future.

Here they are.

Idea, Prototype, Product

One. The future starts with an idea, and you try it out and test it, and then when it works that means you’ve accomplished something new and then you’re in the future. James Dyson is the exemplar of this kind of future-making because he prototypes his stuff insanely. ((How else do you make vacuum cleaners that suck so much?))

Up and to the Right

Two. The future starts at the origin and then goes up, and to the right, which is better/brighter/smaller/bigger/longer/faster than the origin, so it’s in the future.

Exponentially Better

Three.I got the scale on the left wrong, but this is the Moore’s Law future which goes up and to the right like Two, but it does so exponentially faster, so you get an intensely better future when compared to the normal up-and-to-the-right future.

Gartner Hype Curve

Four. The Gartner Hype Curve, where whatever the future is, it is sure to be oversold and overpromised, leading to the *trough of disillusionment and despair, after which the future sort of becomes more reasonable than the hype and slowly productizes itself. ((I’m still waiting for the Jet Pack future.))

Future Is Distributed

Five. The future that distributes over space and time — William Gibson’s *sandwich spread truism that says the future is here already, but it’s just not evenly distributed. Presumably it starts in places like Silicon Valley, although he might argue that it also starts in the back alley bar in Mogadishu or some other shit hole, seeing as how things are going these days.

Auger Possible Product Futures

Six. James Auger‘s drawing of the product future where there are many possible *technologies that will anchor themselves into a future present, as well as alternative futures that may lie off-axis somewhere. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Maybe I’ll get the chance at the Design Fiction conference.


Seven. From A Survey of Human-Computer Interaction Design in Science Fiction Movies which describes the future as a collaboration/circulation of ideas between engineers/scientists and film makers. It’s a curious, provocative paper, thin on synthesis (it’s a survey, after all). I like the diagram most of all. Even in its simplicity it provides a nice appetizer for capturing some of the rich stew of David A. Kirby’s diegetic prototypes.

Eight. Colin Milburn’s Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench is perhaps graphed dynamically in which he describes the future as particular kinds of “mods” or modifications to things that exist in the here and now. You know you’re in the future when the normal, plain thing has become kitted-out and enhanced, perhaps on the street. (link to video)

And so then I noticed that these are representations of the future that are rather flat instrumental and parametricized visions of the future and the route to it. And I’m wondering — rather than parametric and numerical and quantified representations of the futures — don’t use graphs — what about stories that avoid the problematic time-goes-from-left-to-right, or that there is only one coordinate for a specific future. An easier way of acknowledging multiple simultaneous futures, and multiple possible futures and that the future is a lived, embodied situation rather than the result of miniaturization or optimization. The future is for us and we live in experiences and stories — not in aspirations for technologies themselves.

Seeing as representations prescribe what we consider possible and even reasonable, having a richer, thicker, more lived representation to help imagine other sorts of futures — and not just bigger/brighter/smaller/lighter ones with new products that we buy to replace the old, perfectly good ones we bought six months ago — we might look toward stories about the future that you can’t graph on a piece of paper.

This is where the Ninth representation comes in — science fiction film. This of course does not exclude other strong representations of the future like science fiction writing, science and technology journalism, and all other kinds of literature I’m sure you’re thinking about. Just happens that right now I’m excited by science fiction film (err..have been for quite some time) and I’m focusing on that.

So, to close out my 15 minute talk and my 1000 word blog post, I shared a short excerpt from Volume 7 of a collection of annotated DVDs the Laboratory’s Media Theory department is creating based on representations of the near future in science fiction film. In this one I look at some of the signs and signals about The Future that are represented in some favorite films.

Why do I blog this? The main point of the talk was, for me, to think through another reason why I see design fiction as a useful idiom for doing design. What I concluded is that choosing how we imagine and represent the future is crucial — and not peripheral — to our ability to solve problems. Graphs are good, but I wanted to establish that there are other ways of productively and fruitfully representing what can be in order to materialize ones ideas. So — science fiction as much more than a distraction from the hassles of figuring out where your idea is on the productization scale, or determining when transistor counts will go up to the next order of magnitude and then never really wondering why that might be useful in a save-the-planet sort of way.

We seem to be pattern recognizers and so the templates and processes and frameworks in which our imaginations live determine to a large extent the possible things we can think of and the measures by which we judge them. ((Which, parenthetically, may be that the best thing one can learn to do is learn see the world through different lenses and from different perspectives — but maybe even more importantly is to know how and when to establish those different perspectives and then help others see — and then think — differently.))

Thanks to everyone at the Taubman College of Architecture and University of Michigan for the invitation and for enduring my hand drawn slides in a sea of luscious, expertly and painstakingly rendered 3D models of parametric architectures.
Continue reading Representations of the Future with Graphs

Design Fiction: From Props to Prototypes (2010 01SJ Biennial Catalog Essay)

Build Your Own World Catalog

Here’s my short catalog essay that appeared in the 2010 01SJ Biennial Catalog. It’s just a little thing, but I want to mark it here for my own records for when something gets lost.

Design Fiction: From Props To Prototypes

Franz Joseph was an expert technical draftsman working in the aerospace industry in Southern California during the heady, Skunkworks days of the 1970s. He started a special project — so advanced that it taunted belief. To call it “high tech” missed the mark by a few hundred years. The designs he was creating were beyond anything that had been done before. Laboring without the aid of today’s sophisticated illustration and computer-aided design systems, Joseph created a set of technical documents from the future, diagramming the details of technology so advanced and of such sophistication that the possibility of its existence teetered between fact and fiction. In 1976, it was a New York Times best selling book.

Joseph’s Technical Manual was a DIY shop manual for the science fiction world of Star Trek. It was a service and repair guide for tricorders, warp drive engine rooms and phasers. Joseph used his practical skills as a draftsman to extend the science fiction of Star Trek, telling his own sorts of stories about Star Trek through diagrams and schematics. In his drawings he played with our minds, entertaining us by blurring the broad line between fact and fiction.

A world with a Technical Manual has complex, fragile technology like tricorders and communicators and captain’s chairs that gets used by people and breaks down and needs repair. This is where we begin to realize that even technical diagrams of science fiction props can help us imagine these devices in use. Like buried artifacts found in an archeological dig from the future, we are left to fill in the gaps and knit together the stories suggested by the peculiar objects he drew. This is precisely what the Star Trek Technical Manual does quite powerfully and evocatively — it provides fuel for the imagination, making one think of a workbench somewhere in the year 2300 where a scrawny technician is puzzling over an intermittently functioning anabolic protoplaser or universal translator. Even fantastic technology has its ordinary, broken down moments.

Making the extraordinary ordinary is a recurring genre convention for science fiction. Because of its creative elasticity, sci-fi is able to make strange, implausible ideas mundane and everyday. The Technical Manual does precisely this, making the unreal seem real, even routine and plain.

A favorite viral example of this sort of reality effect is Michael Horn’s short film “Death Star over San Francisco” in which the Empire visits San Francisco during Fleet Week. We see the almost banal spectacle of an Imperial Trooper, 10 meters up on an AT-ST, poking his head out of the hatch and coaxing a passerby to toss up something they’ve dropped on the street, perhaps the keys to start the walker. Elsewhere we see a transport making a landing on the roof of an apartment building, as ordinary as anything you might see around San Francisco. The footage is rough and un-produced, with off-camera banter about barbecues and the rustle of wind on a microphone, clearing the way for us to imagine this as the product of an everyday tourist out and about during a holiday weekend. Another example of a similar kind of reality effect is filmmaker Floris Kaayk’s fictional documentary “Metalosis Maligna.” Kaayk “documents” a disease that arises from the widespread proliferation of metal implants. Visually, it plays tricks on us, forcing us to consider the reality of this condition. By using the conventions of the documentary — talking head experts, dramatic footage of people suffering horrific metal lattices protruding from their bodies, reserved voice over commentary, and so on — we are drawn into the possibility of this slightly sinister malignancy. Our willingness to accept a strange, otherworldly circumstance is heightened by the visually compelling short story.

The simple brilliance of these short films are similar to Joseph’s specific kind of diagrammatic creative story telling. They all teeter playfully between fact and fiction. These design fictions stretch the constraints of reality by taking the genre conventions of holiday videos or technical drawing and using these conventions to unassumingly fill out the contours of a slightly real, slightly fictional world. They allows for a different kind of engagement with a speculative idea. They draw it out, specifying it “as if” it were part of the world already. The Technical Manual, like “Death Star over San Francisco” lives somewhere in between speculation and materialization, in between an idea and that idea put in the hand to ponder over and consider. The fiction comes off the screen just a bit and gets closer to reality. The props become imminent, forcing one to consider to look sideways and consider that things could be otherwise.

In this way, the Technical Manual makes me think about new ways of making, creating and prototyping. It would be useful in the design world to prototype things in a way that help us imagine and wonder, and consider unexpected, perhaps transformative alternatives. Rather than the canonical technical prototype that operates as an engineering proof of feasibility, what about prototypes that are more like props? Material things, off the page and in the hand that help tell a story or start a conversation

This kind of prototype has nothing to prove — they do not represent technical possibility. They are prototypes that give shape and form and weight to one’s imagined idea. This is a kind of prototyping that couples the speculation inherent in design with the creative license of fiction and the pragmatic, imminent reality of fact. Tangible, materialized props that live in between fact and fiction and are both speculative and possible. They aren’t specifications for making, but they are specifications for imagining. These are prototypes that express possibility more powerfully than either fact or fiction could do if they were each left to their own intellectual and creative provinces. This deliberate blurring of fact and fiction is what we have been calling “design fiction.” Fiction borrowing from fact and thereby rethinking and re-imagining what may be possible.

Design fiction is a way to speculate seriously. It’s not quite brainstorming, nor is it ideating. It is design that tells stories. It creates material artifacts that force conversations and suspend one’s disbelief in what could be. It’s a way of imagining a different kind of world by outlining the contours, rendering the artifacts as story props, then using them to imagine. The prototyping activates the idea, giving it a few material features and some density, and forcing the refinement that comes from making something.

That in-between is what Joseph captures in his design-fiction mechanical drawings. The sparseness of words contrasts with the drawing details in such a way that we are forced to wonder about the implicit sophistication of these devices. Are they real? Where and when did this manual come from? These questions are forced upon the reader to interpret. This is the seduction of design-fiction at its best. The reader has to fill in the gaps and in the filling-in of gaps, we are made to imagine and wonder. And with these questions evolves a conversation that does not stop simply at the pragmatic, and does not dismiss as silly or impossible the fruits of imagining.

Mike Horn Death Star Over San Francisco

Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual, Franz Joseph (short link to book)

Floris Kaayk’s Metalosis Maligna

Marjolijn Dijkman Wandering through the future (2007)

Bruce Sterling’s Design Fiction Category List:

Near Future Laboratory Design Fiction Chronicles Category List

Near Future Laboratory Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction

SXSW Design Fiction Panel Audio

Continue reading Design Fiction: From Props to Prototypes (2010 01SJ Biennial Catalog Essay)

James Dyson on Engineering Designers

Dyson Quote

An interesting article by John Seabrook in the occasional “Annals of Invention” column of The New Yorker just now with James Dyson — the guy who made vacuum cleaners suck better.

I captured this above while reading it on a short flight up to San Jose last weekend, afraid that I might not come back with the magazine and not wanting to get all messy and tear it up and then thinking that if I had the image, it’d compel me to jot it on the blog rather than squirrel it away in a drawer somewhere.

This is what he says:

..he said, “I think the main thing is that our products look like what they do — the engineering leads the design.” He explained that at Dyson there is no division between the engineers and the designers, such as exists in the automobile industry, for example. “We don’t have industrial designers. All our engineers are designers and all our designers are engineers. When you separate the two, you get the designers doing things for marketing purposes rather than functional reasons.”

Why do I blog this? The point of the relationship amongst engineering and design is something I’m quite interested in — that there should be some intense entanglements between the two roles and certainly not separated, but in constant dialogue. For instance — engineers should be better at telling the stories of their ideas and embedding them into the situations and practices of normal humans’ lives. Designers would do better design if they internalized the instrumental aspects of their craft rather than the gratuitous and the surface features. I had only clipped the part of this quote that started with “Dyson there is no division between the engineers and designers..” so I only now saw in the digital edition of the magazine that he says — “the engineering leads the design.” and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I don’t think one should lead the other, although I do think that engineering has so much power and influence and hubris that it should try to humble itself and develop some really good listening skills and not expect that — just because you can think of something and it’s clever that it should be done like, for example Augmented Reality. ((Doorknobs looking for houses to fit on.))

This is a good read if you’re interested in these sorts of things. I think James Dyson has done a lot to put “wheels on luggage” with simple, left-field innovations, making things a little better than they are.

Continue reading James Dyson on Engineering Designers

Weekending 09192010

Friday September 17 18:56

Okay. There was some more fussing about to pull together a reading list / viewing list for a new project I’ve been thinking about that is in and around augmented reality. The viewing list includes the usual suspects — Terminator 2, They Live (which I showed in the studio — and only three or four people showed up to, which is lame), Until the End of the World, Iron Man, and 2081, although that last one may be a stretch. There may also be some of the important “boot-up” moments from RoboCop that are relevant.The point is to look sideways at the topic from the get-go and not assume the outcome before things get started, which can happen very easily when the project is quite specific. ((It’s not broad at all — as a matter of fact, the name basically says what it wants to produce, which is the wrong way to do any project, I think.))

Friday September 17 17:06

I scrambled over to Art Center College of Design Friday afternoon to participate in their As If.. / Made Up research residency on a panel discussion with Norman Klein and Sascha Pohflepp, which was good fun and engaging and helpful for my own questions. I think I’m now more-or-less set on creating a catalog of genre conventions for design fiction, especially as it happens in film. Getting a copy of that book “Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know” (bleechh..these titles..)) made me think about how I might structure such a catalog and then of course I’m forced to think of why this might be useful. Part of it is just the process of forcing myself to identify what might be curious, useful or intriguing visual patterns and story telling techniques that make it possible to imagine the future, or some aspect of it. I was thinking this could make a curious DVD of some sort.

Get the flash player here:

var so = new SWFObject(“”, “PictoBrowser”, “500”, “500”, “8”, “#EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“source”, “sets”); so.addVariable(“names”, “2010 01SJ Biennial – Build Your Own World”); so.addVariable(“userName”, “julianbleecker”); so.addVariable(“userId”, “66854529@N00”); so.addVariable(“ids”, “72157625004848614”); so.addVariable(“titles”, “on”); so.addVariable(“displayNotes”, “on”); so.addVariable(“thumbAutoHide”, “off”); so.addVariable(“imageSize”, “medium”); so.addVariable(“vAlign”, “mid”); so.addVariable(“vertOffset”, “0”); so.addVariable(“colorHexVar”, “EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“initialScale”, “off”); so.addVariable(“bgAlpha”, “90”); so.write(“PictoBrowser100921100902”);

Saturday, went up to 01SJ, ran into everyone and a barricade. It was fun, engaging a little scattered and far-flung and lonely in spots and great to see many friends and their peculiar provocative projects.

Get the flash player here:

var so = new SWFObject(“”, “PictoBrowser”, “500”, “500”, “8”, “#EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“source”, “sets”); so.addVariable(“names”, “Silly Girl Pirate Bowl”); so.addVariable(“userName”, “julianbleecker”); so.addVariable(“userId”, “66854529@N00”); so.addVariable(“ids”, “72157624994149716”); so.addVariable(“titles”, “on”); so.addVariable(“displayNotes”, “on”); so.addVariable(“thumbAutoHide”, “off”); so.addVariable(“imageSize”, “medium”); so.addVariable(“vAlign”, “mid”); so.addVariable(“vertOffset”, “0”); so.addVariable(“colorHexVar”, “EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“initialScale”, “off”); so.addVariable(“bgAlpha”, “90”); so.write(“PictoBrowser100921105429”);

Closed the weekend out with a fantastic Silly Girl skate event at the secret Iguana Bowl — Pirate Bowl, for talk like a pirate day!
Continue reading Weekending 09192010

Future of Technology Conference University of Michigan September 24-25

Friday October 16, 15.04.18

I’ll be speaking at the Future of Technology conference at the Taubman College of Architecture, Planning and Urban Design on September 25th — the conference is on the 24th and the 25th. This courtesy of my chum John Marshall, who I visited last year to be a guest in his fantastic Heliotropic Smart Surfaces design studio which, if I remember correctly — John and Karl had no idea (in a good way!) what would happen other than that they would look into “smart” and the sun and surfaces. Brilliant guy, he is. That’s the way to run a creative studio. Optimism and enthusiasm and a tinge of creative recklessness.

Friday October 16, 11.34.47

Anyway. That’s where I’ll be. In Ann-Arbor.
Continue reading Future of Technology Conference University of Michigan September 24-25

The Future is a Mod


From 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. In the epoch of the $23 paperback and self-help books disguised as design and camouflaged by Bruce Mau’s palid wisdom, this is the best $9 you’ll ever spend. EVER.

Friday January 01 16:38

A mod.

<a href=""?@bruces pointed out this curious paper called Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench from Colin Milburn, who sits in the Program in Science and Technology Studies that our old UCSC History of Consciousness school chumJoe Dumit heads. The paper takes a go at describing the entangled, multivalent, contentious and complex relationship between science, fact, fiction and the future. The interplay between all of these — and throw in fan cultures, society at large, politics, money, power, knowledge and authority..heck, lets just say “technoscience” and be done with the litanies — is a tricky thing to describe and always seems to make people hot under the collar lest capital-s Science feel it looses its authority as the canonical, go-to guy for where knowledge about the world comes from.

What Milburn might say — what many who appreciate the fun to be found in the rich layer cake of knowledge production — is that the interplay between fiction and fact is actually a good thing. He would say that the assumption that scientist, their ideas and their divinations in the form of science facts about the natural world is not only wrong, but it does a disservice by discounting the productive contributions that other idea-generating mechanisms can bring to the game of knowledge-production. And for Milburn, curiously — games provides a fruitful framework for his way of describing the interplay between science fact and science fiction. He uses the game “mod” — or modification — as a metaphor for the way that science fact and science fiction produce knowledge and materialize ideas.

“In many ways, the day-to-day activities of laboratory science resemble some of these fan practices: sampling from and building on the work of others, taking what was successful in one experiment and applying it elsewhere, proceeding through imitation, eclectic opportunism, bricolage, and so forth. So with such fan practices in mind, I would like to suggest that our understanding of how science fiction works at the bench would be greatly improved by seeing scientists as cultural consumers like any culture consumers, perhaps even in some cases as science fiction fans like any science fiction fans, but having at their disposal the tools and the resources for making science fiction and other cultural materials actually usable for science — and vice versa.”


A rough circulation model for the movement and influence of ideas between and amongst science fact and science fiction in entertainment. From A Survey of Human-Computer Interaction Design in Science Fiction Movies by Schmitz, Endres and Butz.

This is an intriguing perspective for its simplicity, which is good. The simplicity should be contrasted with the oftentimes baroque offerings of explanation delivered by critical theory (and worse..philosophy) when brought to bear on the world of science, or epistemology of science. By drawing from more contemporary ideas about fan culture and then saying — hey..scientists can be science fiction fans, too, Milburn is stating what would seem obvious. (Obvious, but breeching the perimeter of scientists’ secret lair can be dangerous — cf the “Science Wars
” — and “The Science Wars” that waged in the 90’s amongst about 300 got down-right nasty! could write a movie script from the back-biting, the misrepresentations, the gaffs and punk’ngs — the whole FBI thing interviewing historians of science at their annual conference about the where-for of the Unabomer? But..only 300 people would go see the movie..still, exciting for a clutch of Ph.D.s.)


Milburn is stating that scientists should not be exempt from fandom and the larger influences of the ideas that are heavily circulated in various forms of science fiction cultures, entertainment even as they are distilled and decanted through various means that themselves may not be categorized as “science fiction.” It’s not like they ignore their imaginations, which might have caught wind of — or even been inspired by — say..Star Wars or Minority Report or Raumpatrouille Orion or Space 1999.

Milburn then goes on to say that the idea of the “mod” — the modification like the game mod, or the music mash-up, “fanfic” style grassroot storytelling that responds to the desires of fans and so on — all of these *ways of circulating and generating new music/stories/conversations should perhaps suggest that the same can happen with science when fact and fiction engage each other. Milburn describes three kinds of mods for science fiction that make it fruitfully usable by technoscience (in other words — he’s not dissing science but rather seems to be suggesting that science fact becomes better for being able to push itself beyond its own institutional limits by engaging science fiction productively): blueprint mods, supplementary mods and speculative mods.

Blueprint mods translate a specific, discrete element of science fiction and attempt to materialize it as a technical reality. The relevant example he gives is of Linden Labs using Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash as a model for their Second Life as described in the book Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life. The blueprint mod goes beyond using the science fiction as an influence or inspiration — it wants to make something that is quite specific in the text, “extrapolating and inventing a distinct technical dimension..disregarding any necessary integrity or organicity of the fiction.” Milburn mentions the seemingly endless fascination of this form of “mod” with entire book series and Wiki pages devoted to “The Science of..” show/movie/book.

Supplementary mods attempt to approximate a science fiction concept. This means that what sounds cool but is taken to be technically impossible will be worked on to create a scientifically viable alternative. There has been work on invisibility shields that fall into this category of supplementary mods. For example, this invisibility cloak that is evocative of the cloak that P.K. Dick’s Agent Fred wears in A Scanner Darkly. I saw this device at Ars Electronica in 2008 — it is definitely an approximation but tips into this sort of supplementary mod. It seems to say — this is a very cool idea. We know it is technically intractable, but we’re going to push forward anyway with this project that begins to activate the imagination and inspire further modding.

Speculative mods is where science fiction is used in science writing and technical papers as a way of describing possible futures and the extrapolation of today into tomorrow. This is a form I find quite often — the “it’s like the ray gun in Lost In Space” sort of thing. Milburn acknowledges that that historians and cultural theorists of technoscience appreciate how science speculation, “forecasting”, futurological narratives, road mapping and so on play a role as “scripts” in the laboratory and R&D agendas. But, he says —

“..we have yet fully to take on the manifold ways these practices interrelate with the predominant mode of speculative narration in the modern era — namely, science fiction. Its generic traces can often be discerned where scientific probabilities or expectations for the future are rendered as discourse, as a now quotidian way of speaking about the consequences of scientific or technological change: the everydayness in postindustrial societies of what..has been called ‘science fiction thinking’..”

Why do I blog this? This is a great short essay that captures some of the themes of the design fiction conversations that are swirling about here and there. There’s some useful reinforcement of things that David A. Kirby has described as the “diegetic prototype” — which I think is kin to Milburn’s idea of the mod, insofar as it allows for the circulation of ideas and does not explicitly prioritize either fact or fiction.

What I find interesting is the use of the idea of the mod — a form of circulating and layering cultural forms to create something that builds upon some underlying stories and characters and worlds that are ostensibly fiction to make something material and tangible that is ostensibly fact. And then when you understand the rich ways in which ideas blur together and you stop prioritizing the fact/fiction binary — you begin to see new possibilities for imagining and creating and materializing ideas that avoids those silly cat fights over who done what first or who was the originator or an idea.
Continue reading The Future is a Mod

Weekending 09122010

Saturday August 21 14:29

Last week was mostly spent in a here-and-there state in the studio. Cleaning things up from a busy prior week in which a very exciting, thoughtful bit of work — about three or four months — went out to be shared. It’s got a good story, a good set of principles behind it and I just love it to death.

There was some preparation for two new-ish projects that sit at the core of what people do when they and one design fiction-y project — or a project that’s super techie in principle and name and all that but that I’ve pretty much decided I’ll take more of an art-historical start at it. It’s basically a take on “augmented” reality and I’ve made my initial reading/viewing list as provocations to get things going, which consists of:

* Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century (October Books)

* The entirety of “They Live”
* Scenes from “Terminator 2”
* Scenes from “Robocop”
* Scenes from “Until the End of the World”

Part of that is to push away from the knee-jerk obvious directions that this could go if it was taken as one of those projects where the name basically tells you what to do. And I think we should stretch our imaginations.

Just a process note to remind myself about why I got a little prickly along the way. If I remember I lost focus — there’s an entry in the increasingly relevant book “101 Things I Learned in Architecture School” that I keep forgetting to look up properly — but the entry basically says the thing you learn from good work in a good studio is how to do good work. It’s less about what gets tooled and manufactured; less about what gets built and all that. It’s learning how to do what you do better than before. I don’t know how that gets captured and how it gets turned into something tangible. Maybe it doesn’t in a pragmatic sort of way. But, especially working in a small studio in an enormous battleship that is in some aft-chamber, out of sight, under the bilge — your perspective changes and your expectations shift upwards toward, like — clarifying, simplifying and translating big lofty ideas. Why did I get prickly? Well — it’s just eagerness and earnestness and excitement bumping up against the need to be patient and remembering to be satisfied that, at the least, we’re doing all the right things.

Think that’s it. There’s more, but that’s it for now.
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