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Memories of the Future

On Countervision

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Edited By Stephen Wilson and Deborah Jaffé

What is a memory of the future? Is it a myth, a fiction of a severed arm, a post-human debate or a broken time machine? In an increasingly insecure future-world there is an urgency to consider and debate these questions. Memories of the Future: On Countervision addresses these concerns by speculating on the connections between memory and futurity in fields such as counter-histories, women’s studies, science fiction, art and design, technology, philosophy and politics. This book reveals how these subjects regenerate at the intersections of vision, counter-cultural production and the former present. The volume links the re-imaginings of memory into the present with topics such as the fever dream allegory of the adolescent social experience, soft technologies of future dress, reinventions of monetary exchange, rekindled subjectivities of school days, and technics and human progression. These countervisions argue against the homogenizing status quo of the present in order to challenge the customs, traditions and conventions of the past and propositions of the future.

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9 Counterfiction: Designing within Alternative Worlds (Austin Houldsworth)

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← 184 | 185 →

AUSTIN HOULDSWORTH

9   Counterfiction: Designing within Alternative Worlds

New products and our interactions with them are almost always informed and shaped by previous models. The design and development process is iterative in nature, and consequently relatively conservative. Designing radically different technological products is therefore difficult due to the pervasive nature of market-orientated culture, which permeates most aspects of contemporary society and heavily informs normative design practice. This chapter questions assumptions of contemporary design, of specific products, that provide countervisions through counterfictions. Designing within alternative worlds raises questions that are addressed by designers and art historians in pursuit of new methods.

In recent years speculative1 and critical designers2 have developed methods which enable a reduced influence of consumer market culture ← 185 | 186 → on design practice. This paper will begin by focusing on one such method, which is counterfactual histories. The approach borrows from the historiographical method of altering a recorded timeline by proposing What if? questions at key moments in history. In design this effectively creates an alternative set of constraints to those currently informing commercial practice within a specific period or context, and in turn altering material culture.

I will initially analyse three counterfactuals under the headings ‘Creative Counterfactuals’, ‘Speculative and Critical Design Counterfactuals’ and ‘The Implausible Counterfactual Design’. The merits of the approach will be reviewed to highlight the differences between the pragmatic objective of counterfactuals found within historiography, and the more subjective nature of design, arguing...

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