Art + Thought / AF 2004 - Javier Candeira

AF 2004 - Javier Candeira

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" -- Alan Kay.

The split between the Arts and the Sciences is a typically modern notion, born out of the specialisation that Ortega called barbaric. Leonardo was an engineer as much as a sculptor, and Newton a politician as much as a physicist and mathematician. Both represented the whole tradition of knowledge about the human and physical world.

The industrialisation of knowledge and the culture of consumption have allowed our modern scientists and writers to delegate on others some of those functions of knowledge and agency. They are those opposing intellectual elites that CP Snow railed against in "The Two Cultures". Snow noted how literary intellectuals had taken possession of the term "intellectual", which somehow could no longer be used to refer to Rutherford, to Bohr, to Heisenberg, to Einstein... If what these scientists were doing was not intellectual, what was it? And what validity could have any statement about the world made by those who vaunted their ignorance of its rules?

All historical times have had nodal points of the next era, of the paradigm shift in thought. Where the conversation changed. Renaissance Italy, Enlightenment France, and the distributed non-place where art, science, economics and technology mixed freely at the close of the 20th century. The Berkeley - SanFrancisco - Silicon Valley axis was one of the venues of that movable feast, and Linz, with its Ars Electronica, was its Harvest Festival.

The Barcelona-Madrid-Sevilla trajectory has been another of those magical ley lines where the Spirit of the Yet-to-Come has surfaced. For the last 15 years Art Futura has played a relevant role in this process of generating the new. Writers like William Gibson, artists like Rebecca Allen and Eduardo Kac, thinkers like Derrick de Kerckove and Brenda Laurel have helped make Art Futura into a crucible of technology and thought. Here the twain have melted into a platonic embrace, getting back together after their split during Modernity. During this time we have come to realise a couple of new things:

First, technology entails policy. In the words of Cory Doctorow: "The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy. It's about realizing that all the really hard problems -- free expression, copyright, due process, social networking -- may have technical dimensions, but they aren't technical problems. The next twenty years are about using our technology to affirm, deny and rewrite our social contracts: all the grandiose visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and (God help us all) the Semantic Web, are dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky, non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can't solve them with technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable the human interaction that will solve them."

Second, the noosphere is not isolated from the material sphere of the planet. As Bruce Sterling argues, next to the Ars Electronica Center Cave there is a Silicon Graphics computer the size of a boat engine, simultaneously outputting polygons and heat. It is an industrial machine, made with industrial processes, and it will not cease to be so just because there is not a big smokestack beside it. This heat is generated by electricity, and the electricity is generated with coal and oil. Oil sends us to war and emits CO2, degrading both our political and material environments. The material objects that mediate our interaction with information change the balances of commerce too, and their manufacture also pollutes. The noosphere should be sustainable, both politically and materially.

These last two offerings come from two science fiction writers that are not just fiction writers. Both write more and more about the present. One would say that the Buckminster Fuller maxim, "think globally and act locally" can be applied not only through space but also through time.
After all, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Javier Candeira is a journalist.

Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2004 catalog.
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