Video visions of aspirational futures made from the 1950s to the 2010s, mostly by white dudes with bullshit jobs.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023
Thursday, February 21st, 2019
Over on the Failed Architecture site, there’s a piece about Kevin Lynch’s 1960 book The Image Of The City. It’s kind of fun to look back at a work like that, from today’s vantage point of ubiquitous GPS and smartphones with maps that bestow God-like wayfinding. How much did Lynch—or any other futurist from the past—get right about our present?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Lynch invented the term ‘imageability’ to describe the degree to which the urban environment can be perceived as a clear and coherent mental image. Reshaping the city is one way to increase imageability. But what if the cognitive map were complemented by some external device? Lynch proposed that this too could strengthen the mental image and effectively support navigation.
Past visions of the future can be a lot of fun. Matt Novak’s Paleofuture blog is testament to that. Present visions of the future are rarely as enjoyable. But every so often, one comes along…
Kevin Kelly has a new piece in Wired magazine about Augmented Reality. He suggests we don’t call it AR. Sounds good to me. Instead, he proposes we use David Gelernter’s term “the mirrorworld”.
I like it! I feel like the term won’t age well, but that’s not the point. The term “cyberspace” hasn’t aged well either—it sounds positively retro now—but Gibson’s term served its purpose in prompting discussing and spurring excitement. I feel like Kelly’s “mirrorworld” could do the same.
Incidentally, the mirrorworld has already made an appearance in the William Gibson book Spook Country in the form of locative art:
Locative art, a melding of global positioning technology to virtual reality, is the new wrinkle in Gibson’s matrix. One locative artist, for example, plants a virtual image of F. Scott Fitzgerald dying at the very spot where, in fact, he had his Hollywood heart attack, and does the same for River Phoenix and his fatal overdose.
Yup, that sounds like the mirrorworld:
Time is a dimension in the mirrorworld that can be adjusted. Unlike the real world, but very much like the world of software apps, you will be able to scroll back.
Now look, normally I’m wary to the point of cynicism when it comes to breathless evocations of fantastical futures extropolated from a barely functioning technology of today, but damn, if Kevin Kelly’s enthusiasm isn’t infectious! He invokes Borges. He acknowledges the challenges. But mostly he pumps up the excitement by baldly stating possible outcomes as though they are inevitabilities:
We will hyperlink objects into a network of the physical, just as the web hyperlinked words, producing marvelous benefits and new products.
When he really gets going, we enter into some next-level science-fictional domains:
The mirrorworld will be a world governed by light rays zipping around, coming into cameras, leaving displays, entering eyes, a never-ending stream of photons painting forms that we walk through and visible ghosts that we touch. The laws of light will govern what is possible.
And then we get sentences like this:
History will be a verb.
I kind of love it. I mean, I’m sure we’ll look back on it one day and laugh, shaking our heads at its naivety, but for right now, it’s kind of refreshing to read something so unabashedly hopeful and so wildly optimistic.
Saturday, January 13th, 2018
From the proceedings of the Electronic Computer Symposium in 1952, the remarkable Ida Rhodes describes a vision of the future…
My crystal ball reveals Mrs. Mary Jones in the living room of her home, most of the walls doubling as screens for projected art or information. She has just dialed her visiophone. On the wall panel facing her, the full colored image of a rare orchid fades, to be replaced by the figure of Mr. Brown seated at his desk. Mrs. Jones states her business: she wishes her valuable collection of orchid plants insured. Mr. Brown consults a small code book and dials a string of figures. A green light appears on his wall. He asks Mrs. Jones a few pertinent questions and types out her replies. He then pushes the start button. Mr. Brown fades from view. Instead, Mrs. Jones has now in front of her a set of figures relating to the policy in which she is interested. The premium rate and benefits are acceptable and she agrees to take out the policy. Here is Brown again. From a pocket in his wall emerges a sealed, addressed, and postage-metered envelope which drops into the mailing chute. It contains, says Brown, an application form completely filled out by the automatic computer and ready for her signature.
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
This forthcoming sci-fi quarterly publication looks intriguing:
Each issue contains a part of a previously untranslated novel as well as essays looking at the world through the lens of different writers.
I’m loving their typeface. It’s called Marvin. It was specially made for the magazine, and available to download and use for personal use for free.
Marvin gets its distinctive voice not only from its Art Nouveau vibe but also from its almost geometrically perfect construction. Its roundness and familiarity with Bauhaus typefaces shows its roots in geometric sans serifs at the same time.
Monday, June 25th, 2012
June is about to draw to close and I’ve spent the entire month within the borders of the UK. That’s quite a change from the previous month: I was at three different conferences in three different countries in May.
First off, there was Mobilism in Amsterdam. It was, unsurprisingly, very good indeed. Mind you, I was getting a little disheartened on the first day of the conference when there was talk after talk describing how to make web apps look and feel more like native apps. The question of why exactly this would be desirable never seemed to get asked. I was beginning to worry that we were going to enter a period of making the same mistakes we did a few years back when everyone was trying to slavishly imitate desktop interactions on the web. The result is a kind of uncanny valley of interaction where apps behave almost, but not quite, like their native counterparts.
My fears were allayed on the second day of Mobilism though, particularly when Scott blew everyone’s minds. There was a veritable feast of future friendly thinking from Lyza, Jason, Brad, and Stephen too.
By the way, thank you to everyone who provided questions for my panels at Mobilism. They went well, although in retrospect two panels were maybe a bit much. Still, it was fun trying to get a statement other than “no comment” out of the Google Chrome representative on the browser panel.
Later in May I was in Belgium for Multi-Mania, a grassroots event run by students. I enjoyed myself but there was definitely a problem with having multiple tracks—the usual feeling of missing out on something, especially when some of the rooms filled up really quickly. The main stage also suffered from being directly connected to the exhibition hall which meant there was a lot of sound leakage. A shame, really.
My last speaking gig in May, on the hand, was a very smoothly-run event. I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland for Go Beyond Pixels. The fact that the conference was really well put together is all the more surprising considering it was the first time that Levin had ever organised an event! I hope it won’t be the last. He put on a great show and gave all the speakers a very warm welcome.
Oh, and Newfoundland was beautiful.
Since getting back, I’ve been enduring the English Summer. As nice as Brighton has been for a month, I’m looking forward to getting to sunnier climes.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do, starting with a trip to Barcelona in just over a week’s time for Webvisions. I’ll be doing a half-day workshop on responsive design and progressive enhancement.
If you’re thinking of coming, here’s a little tip: go to the registration page, scroll down to the bit where it says “enter promotional code”, click that link, type “KEITH”, and hit the “Apply” button …Boom! Now your conference and workshop pass has a 20% discount applied.
Alas, I won’t be able to stick around for the conference day itself. I need to get over to Austin for An Event Apart.
I’m very excited to get to Austin when it’s not South by Southwest, but I’m also extremely nervous about my talk. I’ve spent most of this month at home trying to finish up my presentation. I fear I may be trying to squeeze an awful lot of stuff into one talk. I might have to speak very fast to fit it all in …or I suppose I could be sensible and try to trim the presentation down.
Anyway, there are still some tickets available for AEA Austin if you want to see me sweat …and I’m not just talking about the Texas heat.
Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
For want of a nail…
July was going to be a busy month for me. I was going to go to New York to do the Ajax workshop. Then I was going to stick around for An Event Apart. After that, I was going to head over to Seattle to hang out with brother-in-law before heading down to Portland to speak at Webvisions.
Alas, the workshop has been cancelled. No surprise, really… I imagine that most web developers in the area are quite rightly heading to An Event Apart and I imagine most people’s budgets won’t stretch to doing a workshop as well. It’s the just the wrong place and the wrong time to be putting on a workshop.
No workshop means no trip to New York. That means no Event Apart, no trip to Seattle, and no Webvisions for me.
On the plus side, maybe I’ll actually get some work done next month.