Google Glass and design fictions for the present-future


A useful concept and an amazing talk… 

One thing we learned from Google’s I/O conference is how far Google Glass is from the promotional video that the company put out for its product, long before a usable protoype was available. The video was called “how it feels”, but was of course speculating about “how it would feel” to have something like Google Glass worked really well.

Time was when this sort of thing was called “vapourware“. In these strange days we could call it design fiction, a kind of prototype, a thought experiment, a projection of what will be or what might be.

Google Glass is not vapourware – it’s sort of here (just not evenly distributed). Glass is eliteware (or elitewear): an object of veneration by those who can almost grasp a pair and derision by everyone else who are either terrified by the realisation of , experiencing present-future shock or just jealous. It’s an odd, slightly pointless and profound conversation at the same time – there are important things wrapped up in it, but much of the noise is without usefulness. (Still it gave us White Men Wearing Google Glass, which is a joy…)

Google Glass may not be all that the ads made it out to be, but it is what is coming just a little way down the line. It’s what technology wants – to be attached to our faces and feeding live images into the machine, and useful signals right back to us… That or something – some things – like it.

In his brilliant, brief address to the start up community gathered at the NEXT conference in Berlin last week, Bruce Sterling talked about this idea of design fiction. His speech was intoxicating and disorientating, a bit like the present-future he keeps telling us we live in. By turns punching-you-in-the-gut and then telling you that the future, future-present belongs to them.

Design fictions are these thought-experiment/prototypes that try to incite insight or provoke adoption and rejection in the audience.

Sterling calls them “the deliberate us of diagetic prototypes to suspend disbelief.” Still getting my head around that one.

Referring to the theme of NEXT this year – “here be dragons” – Sterling also called design fictions “a process of creating dragons, letting them loose and seeing if they disrupt anything.”

I urge you to watch the whole of his 15 minute talk – it’s bloody brilliant – by turns inspiring, terrifying, clarifying and confusing. Feel the discomfort and curiosity in the room (and yourself) when he calls out the “tacit alliance” between the tech start-up sphere and the “off-shore financiers and money launderers who want to destroy the nation state and the middle class”…

There’s more here than you can fit into one blog post – much less this one.

“I’m not a political activist, I just know what’s going on,” he says… I think the power of what Sterling is doing here is asking the right questions, or pushing us all into asking them.

Further reading

Bruce Sterling cited these groups as using design fiction:


Also take a look at the NEXT blog post about reactions to talk with some links to really interesting posts about elements of his talk…

Via Adam Tinworth’s ever-thought provoking blog.


By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google