Thursday, May 30, 2013

Works wanted: science fiction for serious economic research

As a fan of science fiction I have often been disappointed how poorly the genre has explored economics and social change. Although, I have to say William Gibson fills in the socio-economic world better than most.

Nevertheless, I increasingly feel that we are beginning to live in the future. Being inspired by Intel's Tomorrow Project, I have been thinking wouldn't it be great if some science fiction writers or really good 'economics' communicators could take up the challenge of writing short stories about the near future focused on jobs and industries. I know that this may sound like scenario writing but the difference is good fiction writers I think would be better at the story-telling and by starting at level of individuals it may provide a richer set of ideas from which to work rather than the rather macro scenarios.

FIRST, academic writing by its nature simplifies down the externalities so that it can concentrate on a single phenomena for analysis. This is necessary. BUT, academic writing can never then reverse back out of the pit to integrate. In this way the writings are rather abstract, dry and difficult to apply.

SECOND, fiction writers focus on people and and their relationships - they naturally focus on networks of people, organisations and technologies (and always have). The rise of academic network analysis is rather late to the scene (just e.g. read Agatha Christie). Further, it comes naturally to fiction writers to think in terms of how technology gets used - its social context. This I am afraid is a challenge for many academics and even more so for engineers.

THEREFORE, fiction writings could play the role of integrators, helping us connect abstract thinking about trends and patterns and what that means for the lives in real people's lives..

Now, okay I'm not very good at this, but here is a couple of starts....

What might the life of a 'tasker' be like in 2028 (15 yrs away)?

John lives with his family in a small condo in a typical North American city, he used to be a taxi driver, but there are no taxi drivers now that taxi companies have all adopted auto-piloted vehicles. It is hard for him to make a living, there are very few full time 'jobs' anymore and both he and his partner gave up looking years ago. They make a living from being 'taskers'. In many ways it is similar to being a taxi driver. There is lots of work but you have to bid your price for any particular piece of work and then wait to for notification of which work you got. It is challenging because you can cost yourself money - something that you learn with experience.

You also need to specialise, just like in the 'good ol days'  there is a huge variety of tasks so getting good at some is important. There are office taskers and computer software taskers, home help taskers and many more varieties. However, the new apps that facilitate the ranking of quality work has made the process easier. If you have a good 'star' ranking you can bid a little more than those who don't get good marks, still you don't want to over-price yourself. ..........

What might a journey work look like if we don't solve the energy problem?

Its 2035 and despite the promises that a fix for the fuel shortage was coming just around the corner it still hasn't arrived. In European cities with mass transit systems people can still cover large distances to cross town. However, in North American cities with vast distances between home and work the dysfunctions are becoming greater. Unlike Asian cities where the populations have returned to the bicycle, cities like LA, Chicago and many others are just too vast to be viable. Far too much space was devoted to the now disused roads.

Ranjeeta and her husband work from home, a remodelled tower block in what was once one of the outer business districts.  They are both software engineers that do contract projects mainly for Indian IT companies that  outsources their work all over the world.

As cities have begun the fragment and self destruct somewhat, working from home and community provided office space has been the only alternative for many. The return to local communities has been a dramatic shift in time. Cities are quickly becoming a vast set of villages centred around schools and shops but which butt into each other.  Downtown cores, once the core agglomerations of jobs have been rapidly renovating buildings into apartment spaces. The Vancouverisation of North America has been rapid. More people live downtown than ever before.....

Ranjeeta .......

Okay, so I won't make a living writing science fiction but we need to make the abstract more real. What are 'logics' of for the big decisions of today.

1 comment:

  1. This is interesting. I just saw that Futures vol 50 is all about fiction writing.

    Abs "This special issue (SI) explores the use of creative fictional prototyping to motivate and direct research into new high-tech products, environments and lifestyles. Fictional prototyping combines storytelling with science fact to explore a wide variety of possible futures. We define what a prototype is, then outline the design challenges. Commentaries are presented on each fictional prototype. Finally we highlight the significance of this SI by making reference to similar studies published in Futures"