måndag 21 mars 2011

Cities on the Edge, notes for the futurists

When I and Anders Sandberg wrote Cities on the Edge, we also wanted to make the books accessible for readers that were not interested in role-playing games or Steve Jackson Games' Transhuman Space setting. People should be able to read about city life in the future, and get some interesting ideas from the present's scientific and technological developments. Interestingly, Cities on the Edge has already seen some media attention in Sweden.

Transhuman Space took a step away from the rather stale concepts of cyberpunk, and takes a look at what would happen if paradigm breaking technologies would be introduced. The result would be something quite different from a 20th century city just with more technology added. The often assumed distinction between dystopia and utopia, was lacking in favor of a world where people led regular lives with regular issues (if transhuman in nature).

As Anders Sandberg notes on his blog, there are a few scientific and societal changes that we would have liked to reflect, from the time when the first draft was submitted. The Transhuman Space setting was, after all, drawn up in the previous decade. Still, we managed to get the right tone of 99 was our 68, and write in continuity with what previous authors in the Transhuman Space series had written, while keeping on the edge.

Ninty years is a very long stretch of time (just think what developments the future held in 1921), and it is easy to become stuck in preconceptions. Our first contact with a country or a city tinges our view of it and with a distance it is assumed to stay frozen in time. For instance, many Americans still see Sweden as prime minister Olof Palme's welfare state of the 1970's while Swedes often still see the United States as the freewheeling Silicon Valley of the 1990's. Views of the characters of Paris and Berlin are still affected by the strong images of their style in the important 1960's and 2000's, respectively. But cultures, as well as cities, do change significantly over time.

When we were writing Cities on the Edge, we assumed that there is no straight line to the future. Attentive readers will notice our descriptions and hints at developments, ideas and technologies that fell out of the way during the setting's development. That leaves out some of the understanding of the present. Sometimes the losers do write the history.

Straight lines are often assumed in planning, with scenarios being built on examining one factor. Cities have often not been built for the people who will ultimately live there, but for the people the developers wished would live there. Developments might also become affected by ideas, and city developers substituting the ”what works” with the ”what sounds good”.

We try to reflect this in Cities on the Edge, showing a different take on how scenario planning could be done, by playing it through and allowing for sufficiently good outcomes or even diverse outcomes.

Waldemar Ingdahl, Stockholm 20110321

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