Bruce Sterling on “Atemporality”

In a lecture at Transmediale, Bruce Sterling introduces the idea of “atemporality for the creative artist”. To introduce the topic, he quotes the physicist Richard Feynman who once, speaking on the topic of intellectual labor, described these three steps:

1. Write down the problem, 2. Think really hard about it, and 3. Write down the solution.

Sounds simple enough, right? Read More…
Well, we live in an ‘a-temporal’ world now, thanks to a number of things like “network culture”. To describe how the ‘a-temporal’ Feynman would now approach intellectual rigor, Sterling suggests the following methodology. I’m pulling the transcription from BoingBoing:

Step one – write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already.
Step two – write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys.
Step three – write my problem in Twitter in a hundred and forty characters. See if I can get it that small. See if it gets retweeted.
Step four – open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I’ve been able to get, see if the community takes it any further.
Step five – start a Ning social network about my problem, name the network after my problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem.
Step six – make a video of my problem. Youtube my video, see if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem.
Step seven – create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it.
Step eight – exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media.

Well obviously this stands out to me because it’s really in line with how I approach my own work. I’ve often criticized normative contemporary-art models of distribution and discussion. I think of it as something of a snake eating its own tail––too much of an inside conversation and overly concerned with maintaining an aura of exclusivity. So Sterling’s unpacking of the network-cultural approach to ‘solving the problem’ is tremendously appealing. I’ve often used these techniques in my own work: exhibiting work on web sites, open-sourcing and making instructional materials out of my work, etc… It’s nice to see that others feel the same way.

The other interesting point of the talk, for me, is Sterlings discussion of forgotten futures. Using things like the Steampunk aesthetic as an example, he discusses the tradition of revisiting, recycling and re-imagining strategies and technologies from now-defunct production methods and adding on to them as though they progressed into the near future. Even though steampunk is lacking in a sort of intellectual rigor.. the strategy is fascinating. And Sterling goes on to talk about how one might discuss the future with the tone of something that has already happened. Some memorable quotations:

The pre-distressed, antique futurity. (William Gibson)

Gibson was saying, if you have a genuinely avant-garde idea… something that’s really NEW, you should WRITE about it or CREATE about it, as if it were being read 20 years from now.

Strip away the sci-fi chrome; the sense of wonder. You want it to be antiques before it hits the page or the screen… Imagine that it was 20 years gone […] Just approach it from that perspective; No longer alow yourself to be hypnotized, by the sense of technical novelty. Just refuse to go there. Accept that it’s already passé, and create it from that point of view; Try to make it NEWS that stays NEWS.

Refuse the awe of the future. Refuse reverence to the past. If they’re really “the same thing” you need to appraoch them from the same perspective.

So basically, the first half of his lecture describes that last project I did, and the second half of his lecture describes the project that I am currently embarking on (shhh). Amazing!

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