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* researcher in infrastructure futures and theory (University of Sheffield, UK)
* science fiction author and literary critic
* writer, theorist, critical futurist
* dishevelled mountebank

velcro-city.co.uk

orcid.org/0000-0002-3555-843X

www.sheffield.ac.uk/usp/researchschool/students/paulraven

 

Robin Hanson's _The Age of Em_ | Books | The Guardian

Early on, Hanson cheerfully says: “This book mostly ignores humans.”

This human mostly ignores economists who believe that being aware of the existence of cognitive bias makes them magically immune from it. Go back to touching yourself with the invisible hand.

 

Story of cities: what will our growing megacities really look like? | Cities | The Guardian

The mainstreaming of urban design fictions continues apace.

For the moment, we remain largely wedded to superficial visual futures. The likelihood is that the prevailing chrome and chlorophyll vision of architects and urbanists will become as much an enticing, but outdated, fashion as the Raygun Gothic of The Jetsons or the cyberpunk of Blade Runner. Rather than a sudden leap into dazzling space age-style cityscapes, innovations will unfold in real-time – and so too will catastrophes. The very enormity of what cities face seems beyond the realms of believability, and encourages postponement and denial.

[...]

Terreform One’s ideas and designs might seem wildly visionary on first glance but looking closer, they go beyond speculative concepts into proposing functioning models. “What we do is create very detailed fictive scenarios that don’t promise the future will end up this way, but rather we think about what the inherent issues are and bring these to the foreground and talk in a logical way how cities might respond.”

 

All Problems Can Be Illuminated; Not All Problems Can Be Solved [Ursula Franklin]

While producing wonderful artifacts and mind-blowing techniques, prescriptive technologies create a world in which it’s normal to do what we’re told, and to do so without the ability to control and shape the process or the outcome. They also require a command and control structure. A class of experts—the architects, the planners—and others who follow the plans and execute the tasks. This structure creates a “culture of compliance . . . ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal and to accept that there is only one way of doing ‘it.’”8 A view through Franklin’s lens reveals that, as a “byproduct” of what we call progress, we have created societies easily ruled and monitored— and accustomed to following orders whose ends they don’t question.

 

Legible Policy [Superflux]

"We strongly believe that there is a clear need for safe spaces, both physical and conceptual, where future policies can be openly extrapolated and their implications considered. An environment is needed where alternate future visions and aspirations of citizens could be expressed without the constraints of existing socio-political, economic and legal conditions that can bind them to present day lived realities. When people envision such futures it becomes easier to also envision and understand their consequences. Furthermore, they feel encouraged to create and share their aspirations, as well as their doubts around particular policies.

The practice of envisioning futures via speculative design can be a powerful tool, particularly worth considering in this context. Presented through visual aids, the proposed policy becomes a drawing board where relevant stakeholders and citizens can annotate their own suggestions through pictures, words, photographs and much more. It becomes a vehicle for creating an open and editable policy for the future, paving the way for an iterative approach to participatory governance, where policies can be publicly versioned through collaborative visioning."

 

Synthetic space(s)

3 min read

While I will probably always be gutted that someone else has beaten me to writing a history of EVE, I can at least take comfort in the fact that the person who's done it appears to get it -- the game itself is of little interest, it's the utopian economic space-for-action which the game provides that matters:

I met these two guys from the University of Ghent who created a computer model that shows what happens to economic prices in certain parts of EVE, depending on whether or not there are battles going on nearby.

In these areas where a lot of ships are being destroyed, you would expect to see the price of materials skyrocket, because everyone’s trying to build new ships and new fleets. But what they found was that, in areas where a lot of ships are being destroyed, the prices go through the floor, because everyone in that region of space starts liquidating everything. There’s an invading alliance coming, and they’re trying to get their stuff out the door as fast as possible, to make sure their stuff doesn’t get taken or conquered. They said this is similar to what you see in the real world. In pre-war Germany, the price of gold dropped through the floor because everyone was trying to liquidate their belongings and get out of the country. …

EVE is the most real place that we’ve ever created on the Internet. And that is borne out in these war stories. And it’s borne out because these people who—you find this over and over again—who don’t view this as fictional. They don’t view it as a game. They view it as a very real part of their lives, and a very real part of their accomplishments as people.

[...]

Something that I found formed very early on in EVE was the understanding among certain leaders was that people will follow you, even if they don’t believe in what you believe in, simply because you’re giving them something to believe in. You’re giving them a reason to play this game. You’re giving them a narrative to unite behind, and that’s fun. It’s far more fun to crusade against the evil empire than it is to show up and shoot lasers at spaceships.

Now mulling over the possibilities of studying the role of infrastructure in virtual economies... anyone want to picth in on a grant application?

 

Innovation is overvalued. Maintenance often matters more | Aeon Essays

Interesting piece, arguing for more attention being paid to the maintainance of existing systems than the production of new ones. Particularly liked this bit:

... focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going. Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilisation is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation. Inventors and innovators are a small slice – perhaps somewhere around one per cent – of this workforce.

A thousand times, yes! Though I'd be remiss in not mentioning having been annoyed by this bit:

... especially in some corners of the academic world, a focus on the material structures of everyday life can take a bizarre turn, as exemplified in work that grants ‘agency’ to material things or wraps commodity fetishism in the language of high cultural theory, slick marketing, and design. For example, Bloomsbury’s ‘Object Lessons’ series features biographies of and philosophical reflections on human-built things, like the golf ball. What a shame it would be if American society matured to the point where the shallowness of the innovation concept became clear, but the most prominent response was an equally superficial fascination with golf balls, refrigerators, and remote controls.

What a shame it would be if scholarship matured to the point where an entire series of books might be trashed by someone who likely hasn't read any of them.

 

Shelfie 16 April 2016

One loan, three accessions.

 
 

Most meaningful moments

2 min read

Article at the Graun lamenting the lack of 'art punks', and of an identifiable British art movement with convenient label attached; I am clearly more plugged into the art world than I thought, because all the artists I know are subversive in ways that owe a lot to punk ideals, if not neccessarily its aesthetics, and none of them get a mention. (Yes, I'm lamenting the lack of coverage of my friends in art-scene-overview journalism; this is because my friends are all objectively brilliant geniuses, and everyone should acknowledge the fact.)

Mostly linking for the sake of this passage, though:

 “Facebook has become this space where the most meaningful moments of one’s life are mixed with ‘corporate narrative’ adverts,” he says. “Personally, I don’t see the difference between them any more. They are all part of the same mush. I think it all has value. Today, with art and commerce constantly feeding off each other, it is a super exciting place to look for ideas.”

It's very hard for me to get a read on exactly how sincere and straight-faced a statement that is, given it's a snippet of an interview transcription... but even if being used as a careful artist's masque, it reveals the inescapable ubiquity of the postmodern condition, not as an abstract social-theoretical idea, but as a lived cultural experience. I don't think it is an ironic position, either, but that doesn't mean it can't still be critical; if there is such a thing as post-postmodernity or altermodernity, it is perhaps defined by its never having known that which preceded postmodernity, by its acknowledgement -- which is a different thing to acceptance -- that it's "turtles all the way down".

If postmodernity was the shattering of metanarratives, altermodernity is the making of mosaics from the broken pieces. Is it any wonder we're so cautious of being cut?

 

Science and democracy: a peculiarly British disease? | Science | The Guardian

Not peculiarly British at all, no -- though it does seem to be at something of an apogee in the nation right now. But this:

But what is going on when someone is introduced as an “evangelist” for their own technology, but then turned to as an arbiter of what the interviewer calls “stark scientific facts” about this same technology, in order to correct criticisms that are dismissed merely as “peoples’ prejudices”?

That's about as good an example of Latour's "Janus-faced" science as you could ever ask for.