The last viridian note


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The last viridian note

  1. 1. The Last Viridian NoteKey concepts: summaries, farewells, Papal_Imperial sermons, the end of a design movementAttention Conservation Notice: This is the last one.Links:A new steampunk manifesto. Wow, steampunk is a LOT older than Viridian, andlook how lively steampunk is now. This implies a Viridian revival someday –"Neo-Viridian," "retroviridian"... "greenpunk" even. Lo, it was ever thus. events have clearly established that the character of the times has changed.The Viridian Design Movement was founded in distant 1999. After the yearstranspiring – various disasters, wars, financial collapses and a major change inpolitical tone – the world has become a different place.It remains only to close the Viridian episode gracefully, and to conclude with a fewmeditative suggestions.As I explained in the first Viridian speech, any design movement – socialmovements of any kind, really – should be designed with an explicit expirationdate. The year 2012 would have been the extreme to which Viridian could havepersisted. Since the course of history has grown quite jittery, this longer term wasspared us.Some Viridian principles can be lightly re-phrased, buffed-up and likely made ofpractical use in days to come. Others are period notions to be gently tossed into thecultural compost. I could try to describe which are which – but thats a proper jobfor someone younger.Im following current events with keen interest. Theres never been a better time formajor political and financial interventions in the green space. However, ViridianList is about design interventions, it was not about politics or finance, so a decentreticence is in order at this juncture.
  2. 2. I would like to cordially thank Viridian readers and contributors and advisors fortheir patience and their generous help over nine years. I hope you feel you derivedsome benefit from it. I did my best with the effort, I learned a lot by it, and Impleased with how it turned out.I cant say what Viridian may have done for you; thats up to you to judge. Sincethis is last Viridian note, however, Id like to describe what Viridian did for me.Since the halcyon days of 1999 my life has changed radically.Rather than "thinking globally and acting locally," as in the old futurist theme, Inow live and think glocally. I once had a stable, settled life within a single city,state and nation. Nowadays, I divide my time between three different polities: theUnited States, the European Union and the Balkans. With various junketselsewhere.The 400-year-old Westphalian System doesnt approve of my lifestyle, although itsincreasingly common, especially among people half my age. Its stressful to liveglocally. Not that I myself feel stressed by this. As long as Ive got broadband, Imperfectly at ease with the fact that my position on the planets surface is arbitrary.Its the nation-state system that is visibly stressed by these changes – its freakingout over currency flows, migration through airports, offshoring, and similarphenomena.I know that, by the cultural standards of the 20th century, my newfangled glocallifestyle ought to bother me. I ought to feel deracinated, and I should suffer fromculture shock, and I should stoically endure the mournful silence and exile of awriter torn from the kindly matrix of his national culture. A traditional story.However, Ive been at this life for years now; I really tried; the traditional regret isjust not happening. Clearly the existence of the net has obliterated many formeroperational difficulties.Furthermore, my sensibility no longer operates in that 20th-century framework.Thats become an archaic way to feel, and I just cant get there from here.Living on the entire planet at once is no longer a major challenge. Its got itspractical drawbacks, but Im much more perturbed about contemporary indignitiessuch as airport terrorspaces, ATM surchanges and the open banditry of cellphoneroaming. This is whats troublesome. The rest of it, Im rather at ease about. Unless
  3. 3. Im physically restrained by some bureaucracy, I dont think Im going to stop thisglocally nomadic life. I live on the Earth. The Earth is a planet. This fact is okay. Iam living in truth.Another major change came through my consumption habits. It pains me to seecertain people still trying to live in hairshirt-green fashion – purportedly mindful,and thrifty and modest. I used to tolerate this eccentricity, but now that panickedbankers and venture capitalists are also trying to cling like leeches to every lastshred of their wealth, I can finally see it as actively pernicious.Hairshirt-green is the simple-minded inverse of 20th-century consumerism. Likethe New Age mystic echo of Judaeo-Christianity, hairshirt-green simply changesthe polarity of the dominant culture, without truly challenging it in any effectiveway. It doesnt do or say anything conceptually novel – nor is it practical, or aworking path to a better life.My personal relations to goods and services – especially goods – have beenrevolutionized since 1999. Let me try your patience by describing this change insome detail, because it really is a different mode of being in the world.My design book SHAPING THINGS, which is very Viridian without coughing upthat fact in a hairball, talks a lot about material objects as frozen socialrelationships within space and time. This conceptual approach may sound peculiarand alien, but it can be re-phrased in a simpler way.What is "sustainability?" Sustainable practices navigate successfully through timeand space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is abouttime – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to materialpossessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physicallyclosest to you. Time and space.In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. Theywere rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Withoutimportant material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, acoach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substanceto your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier,you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmaticsense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keepup with the Joneses.
  4. 4. That era is dying. Its not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form ofmaterial culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you fromwant, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with aMcMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has nowlearned at great cost.Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours youwaste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, thoseare hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically,you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidityand vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, yourfriends, your society, yourself.Its not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that youGENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in theworld. The rest is dross.Do not "economize." Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane.Even its champions are terrified by it now. Its melting the North Pole. So"economization" is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntarysimplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal,boring goods that dont seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones.They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. Its inyour time most, its in your space most. It is "where it is at," and it is "what is goingon."It takes a while to get this through your head, because its the opposite of thelegendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be thebest-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend toomuch money on a bed – (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact Ido not). Youre spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might besagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to thatsituation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. Seeit. Replace it.Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos,beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts
  5. 5. from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take themoney, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things.The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action. Bad chairs can seriouslyinjure you from repetitive stresses. Get a decent ergonomic chair. Someone mayaccuse you of "indulging yourself" because you possess a chair that functionsproperly. This guy is a reactionary. He is useless to futurity. Listen carefully towhatever else he says, and do the opposite. You will benefit greatly.Expensive clothing is generally designed to make you look like an aristocrat whocan afford couture. Unless you are a celebrity on professional display, forget thisconsumer theatricality. You should buy relatively-expensive clothing that isergonomic, high-performance and sturdy.Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority. Shoes arenotorious sources of pain and stress and subjected to great mechanical wear. Youreally need to work on selecting these – yes, on "shopping for shoes." You shouldspend more time on shoes than you do on cars, unless youre in a car during prettymuch every waking moment. In which case, God help you.I strongly recommend that you carry a multitool. There are dozens of species ofthese remarkable devices now, and for good reason. Do not show them off in abeltpack, because this marks you as a poorly-socialized geek. Keep your multitoolhidden in the same discreet way that you would any other set of keys.Thats because a multitool IS a set of keys. Its a set of possible creativeinterventions in your immediate material environment. That is why you want amultitool. They are empowering.A multitool changes your perceptions of the world. Since you lack your previousuntooled learned-helplessness, you will slowly find yourself becoming morecapable and more observant. If you have pocket-scissors, you will notice loosethreads; if you have a small knife you will notice bad packaging; if you have a fileyou will notice flashing, metallic burrs, and bad joinery. If you have tweezers youcan help injured children, while if you have a pen, you will take notes. Tools inyour space, saving your time. A multitool is a design education.As a further important development, you will become known to your friends andcolleagues as someone who is capable, useful and resourceful, rather than someone
  6. 6. who is helpless, frustrated and visibly lacking in options. You should aspire to thisbetter condition.Do not lug around an enormous toolchest or a full set of post-earthquake gearunless you are Stewart Brand. Furthermore, unless you are a professionalemergency worker, you can abstain from post-apocalyptic "bug-out bags" andomnicompetent heaps of survivalist rations. Do not stock the fort with tiresome,life-consuming, freeze-dried everything, unless you can clearly sense the visibleapproach of some massive, non-theoretical civil disorder. The clearest way toknow that one of these is coming is that the rich people have left your area. If thatsthe case, then, sure, go befriend the police and prepare to knuckle down.Now to confront the possessions you already have. This will require serious designwork, and this will be painful. It is a good idea to get a friend or several friends tohelp you.You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories. 1. Beautiful things. 2. Emotionally important things. 3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function. 4. Everything else."Everything else" will be by far the largest category. Anything you have nottouched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in"everything else."You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makersmarks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, forsome weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital picturessomewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-centraldigital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.Then remove them from your time and space. "Everything else" should not be inyour immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing youropportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.
  7. 7. It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you. You werent born with it.You wont be buried with it. It needs to be out of the space-time vicinity. You arenot its archivist or quartermaster. Stop serving that unpaid role.Beautiful things are important. If theyre truly beautiful, they should be so beautifulthat you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should besharing their beauty with others. Your pride in these things should enhance yourlife, your sense of taste and perhaps your social standing.Theyre not really that beautiful? Then theyre not really beautiful. Take a pictureof them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.Emotionally important things. All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we cantbear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply provoke apanicky sense of potential loss – they dont help us to establish who we are, or tobecome the person we want to be. They subject us to emotional blackmail.Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with yourfriends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter asemotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?Think about that. Take a picture. You might want to write the story down. Then –yes – away with it.You are not "losing things" by these acts of material hygiene. You are gainingtime, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your daily life will certainlysoar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter – inthe everyday.Not in Oz or in some museum vitrine. In the every day. For sustainability, it isevery day that matters. Not green Manhattan Projects, green moon shots, greenNew Years resolutions, or wild scifi speculations. Those are for dabblers andamateurs. The sustainable is about the every day.Now for category three, tools and appliances. Theyre not beautiful and you are notemotionally attached to them. So they should be held to keen technical standards.Is your home a museum? Do you have curatorial skills? If not, then entropy isattacking everything in there. Stuff breaks, ages, rusts, wears out, decays. Entropy
  8. 8. is an inherent property of time and space. Understand this fact. Expect this. Thelaws of physics are all right, they should not provoke anguished spasms of denial.You will be told that you should "make do" with broken or semi-broken tools,devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty,do not do this. This advice is wicked.This material culture of today is not sustainable. Most of the things you own arealmost certainly made to 20th century standards, which are very bad. If we stickwith the malignant possessions we already have, through some hairshirt notion ofthrift, then we are going to be baling seawater. This will not do.You should be planning, expecting, desiring to live among material surroundingscreated, manufactured, distributed, through radically different methods fromtodays. It is your moral duty to aid this transformative process. This means youshould encourage the best industrial design.Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get thegenuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issueby imagining yourself to be serenely "non-materialistic." There is nothing more"materialistic" than doing the same household job five times because your toolssuck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes ofmechanical dysfunction. That is not civilized.Now for a brief homily on tools and appliances of especial Viridian interest: theexperimental ones. The world is full of complicated, time-sucking, partially-functional beta-rollout gizmos. Some are fun to mess with; fun in life is important.Others are whimsical; whimsy is okay. Eagerly collecting semifunctional gadgetsbecause they are shiny-shiny, this activity is not the worst thing in the world.However, it can become a vice. If you are going to wrangle with unstable, poorly-defined, avant-garde tech objects, then you really need to wrangle them. Get goodat doing it.Good experiments are well-designed experiments. Real experiments need a theory.They need something to prove or disprove. Experiments need to be slotted intosome larger context of research, and their results need to be communicated to otherpractitioners. Thats what makes them true "experiments" instead of privatefetishes.
  9. 9. If youre buying weird tech gizmos, you need to know what you are trying toprove by that. You also need to tell other people useful things about it. If youare truly experimenting, then you are doing something praiseworthy. You may bewasting some space and time, but youll be saving space and time for others lessadventurous. Good.If youre becoming a techie magpie packrat who never leaves your couch – thatsnot good. Forget the shiny gadget. You need to look in the shiny mirror.So. This approach seems to be working for me. More or less. Im not urging you todo any of this right away. Do not jump up from the screen right now and go reformyour entire material circumstances. That resolve will not last. Because its notsustainable.Instead, I am urging you to think hard about it. Tuck it into the back of your mind.Contemplate it. The day is going to come, it will come, when you suddenly findyour comfortable habits disrupted.That could be a new job, a transfer to a new city, a marriage, the birth or departureof a child. It could be a death in the family: we are mortal, they happen. Momentslike these are part of the human condition. Suddenly you will find yourself facing ayawning door and a whole bunch of empty boxes. That is the moment in whichyou should launch this sudden, much-considered coup. Seize that moment on thebarricades, liberate yourself, and establish a new and sustainable constitution.But – you may well ask – what if I backslide into the ancien regime? Well, there isa form of hygiene workable here as well. Every time you move some new objectinto your time and space – buy it, receive it as a gift, inherit it, whatever – removesome equivalent object.That discipline is not as hard as it sounds. As the design of your immediatesurroundings improves, itll become obvious to you that more and more of thesetime-sucking barnacles are just not up to your standards. Theyre ugly, or theyrebroken, or theyre obsolete, or they are visible emblems of nasty, uncivilizedmaterial processes.Their blissful absence from your life makes new time and space for somethingbetter for you – and for the changed world you want to live to see.
  10. 10. So: that summarizes it. Forgive the Pope-Emperor this last comprehensive sermon;it is what I learned by doing all this, and you wont be troubled henceforth.Now. If youve read this far, youre a diehard. So you may be interested in my next,post-Viridian, project. And yes, of course I have one. Its not so direct,confrontational and strident as the Viridian Movement; instead, it suits a guy of myincreasingly scholastic and professorial temperament.Viridian "imaginary products" were always a major theme of ours, and, since Imboth a science fiction writer and a design critic, I want to do some innovative workin this space – yes, the realm of imaginary products. Conceptual designs;imaginary designs; critical designs; fantastic and impossible designs.This new effort of mine is a scholarly work exploring material culture, use-value,ethics, and the relationship between materiality and the imagination. However,since nobodys easily interested in that huge, grandiose topic, Im disguising it as anifty and attractive gadget book. I plan to call it "The Users Guide to ImaginaryGadgets."My first step in composing this new book is to methodically survey the space of allpossible imaginary gadgets. Its rather like the exploratory work of "Dead MediaProject."Im not yet sure what form this new research effort will take. There will likely be amailing list. I may be turning my Wired blog into something of a gadget site. Theremight be a wiki or a social network, depending on who wants to help me, and whatthey want out of that effort. Still: "design fiction," "critical design," "futuristscenario design," and the personal, individual, pocket-and-purse sized approach topostindustriality: this is something I need to know a lot more about.If you want to play, send email.Bruce