I’ve Never Seen Blade Runner

Yesterday I tweeted that I had “never knowingly read any science fiction”. I was quickly, and entertainingly, proved to be very wrong, but I stand by the “knowingly” part of that sentence. I have never knowingly picked up a book and read it because I thought it might speculate about the future.

In fact, I’ve spent most of my reading career stuck in the past, excavating evidence about obscure lady novelists, hanging round the Charing Cross Road and, latterly, ordering unloved paperbacks from Abe Books. I’ve not become a wholehearted ereader yet, because lots of the things I want to read aren’t available there – and I probably won’t until I can digitise my own library and hang around the second-hand Kindle stalls. In short, I’ve got a reading crush on the minor novelists from the mid-20th Century that I don’t feel inclined to cure.

But yesterday, I was working at my dining table, listening to the echo of the Playful Twitter stream. Someone was talking about the way my generation has been shaped by 70s sci-fi – jet packs and hover boards. And there was I, sitting at home surrounded by book cases filled with the hundreds of books that an English graduate collects along the way, and I couldn’t – until it was pointed out to me – think of a single book that I had read that might fall into the category of sci-fi.

Despite the fact that I was born in 1973, the thing I liked most about the Star Wars trilogy was the Ewoks. I was probably nine or ten when I saw Return of the Jedi, and I thought those bears were really cool. But I stopped caring about bears shortly after that – by 1985, I was putting up Michael Jackson posters and learning the words to “Get in to the Groove”. It just didn’t hit a sweet spot. If I’d spent my teens mooning over the Ewoks, it would have been likely that there was something wrong with me.  So that was that. I moved on.

And during my teens I read books by the bucketload – consumed the contents of my local library in an attempt to find out who I might be, did a degree that surveyed English literature from 1300 to the present day. So it turns out that I’ve read lots of the classics of future gazing – I’ve even sweated academic blood over Mary Shelley’s futurology – but the thing I’ve found attractive about them has never been the glimpse of the future they’ve shown. It’s been the turn of a sentence, a sentiment, an idea, the world (filled with people) they have created.

The reason I mention this, is that I spend quite a lot of time feeling puzzled by the Hipster Tech that emerges from the offices round Old Street, made by young-ish men preoccupied by Making the Future Now. And I’m aware that there’s a reference point I don’t share – a reference that I imagine comes from the pages of Neuromancer or the mind of Philip K. Dick.

And I’m bothering to write this down because I think I’m one of the many. Perhaps not one of the many who seeks out inter-war comedies of manners, but one of the many who doesn’t spend their life gazing into an imaginary future-past. And if we’re supposed to be making the products of the future, they need to be things that matter to people who’ve never seen Blade Runner. So I guess what I’m saying is that Hipster Tech is the imaginary future of the few, and there’s another – more useful – technology that is the future of us all.

(And yes, you did read that right. I’ve never seen Blade Runner.)

5 thoughts on “I’ve Never Seen Blade Runner

  1. Ah, then you have a treat in store. Blade Runner isn’t about the future at all, or the past. Like all the really great science fiction it is just about us. What doesn’t change. It’s set in an imaginary future to throw all that into relief.

    I’m suspicious of hipster technology too. And like you I’ve spent an awful lot of time reading literature 1300 – 1960ish. But I am interested in the line where that kind of experimentation meets artistic uses of technology. Which I might vaguely start to define as seeing the technology as a medium, then doing really interesting things in it, informed by critical ideas and some form of tradition. Or something. Stuff like what stml is doing, anyway, or Janet Cardiff, Joseph de Lappe, people like that.

    PS – Ewoks rock.

  2. Many would argue that stating the highlight of the Star Wars films for you was the Ewoks is irrefutable evidence that you have no interest in Science Fiction. The inclusion of the Ewoks is frequently cited as marking the point where George Lucas stopped making character and plot driven & started making merchandising & FX driven films. I always quite liked them though.

    As regards being out of step with other people’s cultural references, I am always surprised by the number of seemingly universal cultural touchstones on comic/sci-fi websites and blogs that are completely obscure to me because I never really played many videogames.

  3. Aha. But who says sci-fi is the preserve of the few?

    Star Wars is [probably] the most popular movie ever made. Science Fiction was the one and only genre that appealed to every age demographic in BBC audience segmentation when I was working there. Syfy’s audience usually hovers around 51% female.

    If the “hipsters” (and naturally I think I know who you’re talking about and would staunchly defend them as visionaries, myself) are referencing sci-fi of the past, I would argue that they’re not the minority, but the avant-garde.

    Rule of thumb: where ultranerds go today, the mass go 10 years later.

    • Alice – sorry, I phrased that badly, I didn’t mean that sci fi was the preserve of the few. Star Wars, for instance, is obviously now a massive part of all Western culture. But there is a undeniably a (big) niche of people who like sci fi a lot who also make things with technology. In that niche, there are some people who (as you say) are very often visionary. And there are quite a lot of other people too, both in and out of that category.

      The ultranerds are totally blazing a trail that I think will be taken on by early adopters and the kids of today and tomorrow. But I’ve seen a few things lately that I just don’t get. There could be a load of reasons for that, some of them include: they might be too cool for me and I’m dropping behind the curve; they might be special interest or depend on a shared store of knowledge that I just don’t have; or they might not be all that.

      And that’s what I’m getting at. But the better thing is to make stuff, rather than moan about it! So that’s what I’m going to do.

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