Thursday, February 3, 2011

Foreseeing the Future through Fiction

Good fiction tells the truth about something that never happened. Good futurist fiction tells the truth about something that may yet happen. That being so, reading (or watching) futurist fiction is a valuable part of scanning and forecasting.

Here’s a great letter by futurist author William Gibson (he who coined the term “cyberspace”) reflecting on what he did, or did not, get right in his early fiction. This month marks the 25-year anniversary of the first computer virus. (Oh joy.) Gibson expected viruses to be designed and wielded by evil government and corporate entities for nefarious ends. He ruefully observes that what he failed to foresee was the absolute pettiness and banality of your average mischievous hack using code to grief computer systems.

This is one of the benefits of looking back in time (as we do in Museums & Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures): it reminds us of the pace and trajectory of change, and points out our blind spots. For example, I find it hilarious that in Gibson’s early fiction his characters, toting futuristic laptops and plugging into immersive virtual worlds that existed, at that time, only in Gibson’s imagination, run about frantically looking for a port where they can plug into the internet. He foresaw Second Life and Augmented Reality but not WiFi. Go figure.

I’m going to keep reading Gibson. Next up, the first novel in the Bridge Trilogy—Virtual Light—which deals the emergence of cyborgs—humans and human groups who have integrated technology into their bodies and their lives. With more and more visitors experiencing museums through virtual worlds, or enhancing their physical visits with augmented reality apps, sounds pretty relevant to our present, much less our future! (Besides, the novel is set in California, a state very much on my mind given all our work on Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California.)

So, budding futurists, you have your homework: buckle down with Netflix or a good paperback, and firmly tell yourself that it is not wasting time.

Please use the comments section below to share what you are watching and reading, and the nuggets of wisdom and insight you find there, with your fellow museum futurists.

1 comment:

Kat said...

I can't wait to see what others post! We need a discussion of a few titles in Houston! In Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, the "Desk" that is used by the students is basically an iPad/tablet computer.