Sci-fi futures on hiatus
"What happened to the science-fiction future?" by Katherine Mangu-Ward is a very good piece from Reason. The article is about sci-fi futures that never happened, technological innovation and user's pragmatism. Some excerpt I liked:
"Fanciful futurist visions can obscure all the neat stuff we’ve accumulated, once-wild innovations that are far cooler and more functional than jetpacks. (Microwave ovens, anyone?) They also make it easy to forget that the ultimate responsibility for choosing which technologies fill our lives lies with us, the ordinary consumers, more than any rocket scientists. (...) Small boys everywhere will always doodle Ferraris with wings when they’re bored in class, but the actual lived “future” is not something that leaps off an engineer’s drawing board or from a novelist’s visions. It emerges from complex, unpredictable interactions between visionary inspiration, technological limits, and consumers’ insistent pragmatism. (...) In another recent book, The Shock of the Old (Oxford University Press), the British historian David Edgerton posits that technological innovations don’t matter as much as we think they do. We tend to consider scientific and engineering breakthroughs themselves as the important thing, he says, when what really matters is how we fit them into our lives. Edgerton disparages our high hopes for each new innovation as “futurism,” a disease that led us to believe in a new world birthed by engineers, where electricity would be “too cheap to meter,”"
Why do I blog this I definitely like this topic, and working as a UX researcher in a tech school makes really buying the things that are described here. The article gives intriguing examples (skyscrapers, jetpacks, roads-that-must-roll and underwater dwellings) about techno-push futures that have troubles finding their way to users acceptance... and it's not because there is a tech breakthrough that a product is there, acceptable, usable and successful. The last bit about the role of science-fiction is also interesting considering the recent books/short stories by Bruce Sterling or William Gibson:
"we—shouldn’t read science fiction to get a sneak peak at as-yet-unseen innovative technologies. Rather than as a blueprint for what should happen, we should read it to imagine the ways humanity will figure out how to use whatever shows up, or to tweak the impressive tech that’s already lying around."