Bruce Sterling: Design fictions and the judgement of history

Bruce Sterling has found the biggest dragon of all - and the worldwide startup culture is part of it. What will the judgement of history be on our era?

Liveblogged notes from Bruce Sterling’s talk at NEXT Berlin. 

Bruce Sterling wants to talk to us about fictions – not science fiction, like he writes, but design fictions. Design fictions can change the world. You can get a group of people together, do a viral video about it, and it’ll find its own audience and have its own social effect. You create imaginary things that look like real objects. Design fiction is a form of design, it’s about speculative objects and services.

Why are events the new magazines? When is it time to watch, and when is it time to do?

There’s a s-curve at work here. It starts in the R&D, you have the ascent, the maturity and the obsolescence. The best time to intervene is between stages, when you can offer people counsel. Futurists spend a lot of time in bereavement counselling. There’s not much you can do about the VC cash out, about founders being eased out. That’s a great time to go in and tell people about dragons. Maturity is another excellent time to show up and break to them the terrible truth:

Those who live by disruption die by disruption. 

Design fictions destabilise things. Why do you never have design fictions about stability? Well, start-ups are full of people working hard to make other people rich – baby boomer financiers mainly. That will be the judgement of history: an alliance between hacker space culture and off-shore, tax-avoiding elites. That’s your actual dragon, the big one. You know it’s a dragon, because you’re part of it; you’re its brain and nervous system. As long as you’re making rich guys richer, you’re part of the problem. Keep more of the money for yourself – but that’s not enough. When they do that, they build toy rocket ships, not civil networks.

In the 1990s the austerity kicked your ass at the end of the boom. They are not your allies. You’ve never had your revenge. They did it again in 2008. And now they’re doing it again. That’s what I hear in startup culture all over the world. You have more in common with those startup cultures in other cities than you understand – including your shared illusion.

There are some German design fictions – please send him some. He’s not hip enough to find them. Truck ’em over – he’ll publicise them. But there’s a problem – there’s going to be way too much. We need categorisation and logical organisation for techno fantasies.  A Google Glass conceptual video is not the same as a video done by a 19 year old girl at art school. All the Google Glass material was planned – it’s not just marketing, it’s a kind of mindshare.

We need a taxonomy of dragons. We need to know the good and bad and put them in corrals. It’ll suit your skills – you’re very well organised.