The relevance of "past futures"
"Technological Landscapes" by Richard Rogers is an essay about "relevant past futures", i.e the "past roads not taken", in which he invites us to re-read the history of technological culture "to inform the selection of the technological landscapes of our day":
"Historical comparison with imagery of previous technological landscapes fires the imagination. It is also the stuff of argument and defence for an idea or a project (...) The rationale to looking closely into the early history of current dominant systems relates (...) to challenging the commonplace idea that the marketplace sorts out the 'best' technology and that the consumer and society are the beneficiaries. (...) the 'alternatives paths' or 'roads not taken' historians examine the effects on society (and increasingly the environment) of having lost a potentially viable system - technology opportunity cost.
After mentioning some examples such as FM radio, Rogers goes on with:
"When new and 'better' technological systems are trumpeted, it is worth recalling these and other specific examples of lost battles, from the level of abstractions of craft versus mass production down to that of keyboard layout. In confronting better technologies of the future, the question always remains 'better for whom'?"
And then some more elaborate thoughts about how past futures are used or can be relevant:
"The Nineties [case for space exploration] also shows us how earlier models (relevant pasts) are employed as 'guides' to make current futuristic cases more compelling. To make a case for a futuristic technological project, the promoter often must finds 'usable pasts' or indeed 'usable past futures'. (...) We learn the past futures for at least two reason. They aid us in thinking through the ideals, principles and social relations which have been and could be reflected in and designed into our technologies, bringing within our grasp the ability to 'imagine alternative technological designs' and act accordingly. Secondly, comparison is the stuff of case building. Drawing the right parallel (or spotting the spurious analogy) is one step in proposing or opposing particular cases to be made for new technology and new forms of decision-making on technology."
Why do I blog this? collecting material for a project about technological failures. I am interested in the role of failures in foresight and design. Rogers describes some pertinent ideas about how failed futures can frame design, and the intrinsically political imaginary realm of this practice.