Bruce Sterling is one of the foremost advocates of design fiction and the use of science fiction as a tool for understanding and influencing the world, but despite yesterday’s long, positive article praising many of the projects he’s involved with, he’s skeptical of the idea that science fiction makes the future better.
Sterling’s objections are nuanced, and revolve in part around the idea that it’s very hard to predict whether a technology or social change will be good for the future, or turn out to have unintended consequences.
However, he’s still bullish on the idea of science fiction about the future being a means to think about and improve the present.
*Also, if youâ€™re a sci-fi writer and you think youâ€™re writing for â€œthe Future,â€ well, the people of the future will be reading the classics. Thatâ€™s what theyâ€™ve been reading for centuries. They donâ€™t read works specifically written for them. If they happen to read your stuff, it will be because your wrote something that achieved a demonstrable long-term value.
*This is not a counsel of despair. Itâ€™s atemporality, itâ€™s like an agnosticism. People donâ€™t really require any â€œbetter futureâ€ per se. Nobody ever receives such a thing. Thereâ€™s no possibly utopian arrangement which is better for everybody, since society is composed of radically disparate elements with orthogonal needs. People canâ€™t even permanently content their own personal selves. If a guy longs for an X-Prize and wins it, he doesnâ€™t stay permanently happy. A guy with that personality type is gonna look around in near-desperation for something else to radically over-achieve.
*What people actually need to be happy is something to be enthusiastic about. Like: you donâ€™t need your girlfriend to become your â€œbetter half.â€ If you want a functional and fulfilling human relationship, you donâ€™t need a girlfriend who can improve you in the future. If you meet a woman with that ambition for you, stay away from her. You need a girlfriend that youâ€™re genuinely glad to see in the morning. And if youâ€™re an X-Prize guy, youâ€™d better go for that frenetic off-the-wall chick who digs supersonic skydiving. Somebodyâ€™s gonna marry the lady astronaut, and it might as well be you.
*With all that said, I still write for these ventures, mostly because it makes them feel better when I say yes, and also, I know theyâ€™re temporary.
Various sci-fi projects allegedly creating a better future [Bruce Sterling/Wired]