Monday, 28 March 2016


And so I came across and old friend's email, a 'PT' (Perpetual Traveler, Past Taxpayer, Prepared Thoroughly (etc, etc, take your pick or make up your own) ... And thought I'd share:

"I can't say what Viridian may have done for you; that's up to you to
judge. Since this is last Viridian note, however, I'd 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, I now 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: the United States, the
European Union and the Balkans. With various junkets elsewhere.

The 400-year-old Westphalian System doesn't approve of my lifestyle,
although it's increasingly common, especially among people half my age.
It's stressful to live glocally. Not that I myself feel stressed by
this. As long as I've got broadband, I'm perfectly at ease with the fact
that my position on the planet's surface is arbitrary. It's the
nation-state system that is visibly stressed by these changes – it's
freaking out over currency flows, migration through airports,
offshoring, and similar phenomena.

I know that, by the cultural standards of the 20th century, my
newfangled glocal lifestyle ought to bother me. I ought to feel
deracinated, and I should suffer from culture shock, and I should
stoically endure the mournful silence and exile of a writer torn from
the kindly matrix of his national culture. A traditional story.

However, I've been at this life for years now; I really tried; the
traditional regret is just not happening. Clearly the existence of the
net has obliterated many former operational difficulties.

Furthermore, my sensibility no longer operates in that 20th-century
framework. That's become an archaic way to feel, and I just can't get
there from here.

Living on the entire planet at once is no longer a major challenge. It's
got its practical drawbacks, but I'm much more perturbed about
contemporary indignities such as airport terrorspaces, ATM surchanges
and the open banditry of cellphone roaming. This is what's troublesome.
The rest of it, I'm rather at ease about. Unless I'm physically
restrained by some bureaucracy, I don't think I'm going to stop this
glocally nomadic life. I live on the Earth. The Earth is a planet. This
fact is okay. I am living in truth.

Another major change came through my consumption habits. It pains me to
see certain people still trying to live in hairshirt-green fashion –
purportedly mindful, and thrifty and modest. I used to tolerate this
eccentricity, but now that panicked bankers and venture capitalists are
also trying to cling like leeches to every last shred of their wealth, I
can finally see it as actively pernicious.

Hairshirt-green is the simple-minded inverse of 20th-century
consumerism. Like the New Age mystic echo of Judaeo-Christianity,
hairshirt-green simply changes the polarity of the dominant culture,
without truly challenging it in any effective way. It doesn't do or say
anything conceptually novel – nor is it practical, or a working path to
a better life.

My personal relations to goods and services – especially goods – have
been revolutionized since 1999. Let me try your patience by describing
this change in some detail, because it really is a different mode of
being in the world.

My design book SHAPING THINGS, which is very Viridian without coughing
up that fact in a hairball, talks a lot about material objects as frozen
social relationships within space and time. This conceptual approach may
sound peculiar and alien, but it can be re-phrased in a simpler way.

What is "sustainability?" Sustainable practices navigate successfully
through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically,
the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think
your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy
your time. The things that are physically closest 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. They were rare and precious. They were closely
associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers
such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a
trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to
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 pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major
purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.

That era is dying. It's not only dying, but the assumptions behind that
form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer
protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of
humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods
and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.

Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours
you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing,
re-storing, those are 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 humidity and vermin. Every moment you
devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society,

It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things
that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your
existence in the world. 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. It's melting
the North Pole. So "economization" is not your friend. Cheapness can be
value-less. Voluntary simplicity 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 don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are
the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the
monarch of all objects. It's in your time most, it's in your space most.
It is "where it is at," and it is "what is going on."

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it's the
opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use
every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance,
you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed – (assuming you have a
regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You're spending a third
of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and
infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and
cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it.
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 from well-meaning relatives, junk that you
inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get
radically improved everyday things.

The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action. Bad chairs
can seriously injure you from repetitive stresses. Get a decent
ergonomic chair. Someone may accuse you of "indulging yourself" because
you possess a chair that functions properly. This guy is a reactionary.
He is useless to futurity. Listen carefully to whatever else he says,
and do the opposite. You will benefit greatly.

Expensive clothing is generally designed to make you look like an
aristocrat who can afford couture. Unless you are a celebrity on
professional display, forget this consumer theatricality. You should buy
relatively-expensive clothing that is ergonomic, high-performance and

Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority.
Shoes are notorious sources of pain and stress and subjected to great
mechanical wear. You really need to work on selecting these – yes, on
"shopping for shoes." You should spend more time on shoes than you do on
cars, unless you're in a car during pretty much every waking moment. In
which case, God help you.

I strongly recommend that you carry a multitool. There are dozens of
species of these remarkable devices now, and for good reason. Do not
show them off in a beltpack, because this marks you as a
poorly-socialized geek. Keep your multitool hidden in the same discreet
way that you would any other set of keys.

That's because a multitool IS a set of keys. It's a set of possible
creative interventions in your immediate material environment. That is
why you want a multitool. They are empowering.

A multitool changes your perceptions of the world. Since you lack your
previous untooled learned-helplessness, you will slowly find yourself
becoming more capable and more observant. If you have pocket-scissors,
you will notice loose threads; if you have a small knife you will notice
bad packaging; if you have a file you will notice flashing, metallic
burrs, and bad joinery. If you have tweezers you can help injured
children, while if you have a pen, you will take notes. Tools in your
space, saving your time. A multitool is a design education.

As a further important development, you will become known to your
friends and colleagues as someone who is capable, useful and
resourceful, rather than someone who is helpless, frustrated and visibly
lacking in options. You should aspire to this better condition.

Do not lug around an enormous toolchest or a full set of post-earthquake
gear unless you are Stewart Brand. Furthermore, unless you are a
professional emergency worker, you can abstain from post-apocalyptic
"bug-out bags" and omnicompetent heaps of survivalist rations. Do not
stock the fort with tiresome, life-consuming, freeze-dried everything,
unless you can clearly sense the visible approach of some massive,
non-theoretical civil disorder. The clearest way to know that one of
these is coming is that the rich people have left your area. If that's
the case, then, sure, go befriend the police and prepare to knuckle down.

Now to confront the possessions you already have. This will require
serious design work, and this will be painful. It is a good idea to get
a friend or several friends to help 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
   4. Everything else.

"Everything else" will be by far the largest category. Anything you have
not touched, 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
makers' marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or
Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those
digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly
valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. "Everything else" should not
be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing
your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to

It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you. You weren't born
with it. You won't be buried with it. It needs to be out of the
space-time vicinity. You are not its archivist or quartermaster. Stop
serving that unpaid role.

Beautiful things are important. If they're truly beautiful, they should
be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on
display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. Your pride in
these things should enhance your life, your sense of taste and perhaps
your social standing.

They're not really that beautiful? Then they're not really beautiful.
Take a picture of them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.

Emotionally important things. All of us have sentimental keepsakes that
we can't bear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply
provoke a panicky sense of potential loss – they don't help us to
establish who we are, or to become 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 your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you
just using this clutter as emotional 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
gaining time, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your
daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will
accrue to you where they matter – in the everyday.

Not in Oz or in some museum vitrine. In the every day. For
sustainability, it is every day that matters. Not green Manhattan
Projects, green moon shots, green New Years' resolutions, or wild scifi
speculations. Those are for dabblers and amateurs. The sustainable is
about the every day.

Now for category three, tools and appliances. They're not beautiful and
you are not emotionally 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 is attacking everything in there. Stuff breaks, ages, rusts,
wears out, decays. Entropy is an inherent property of time and space.
Understand this fact. Expect this. The laws 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 are almost certainly made to 20th century standards, which are
very bad. If we stick with the malignant possessions we already have,
through some hairshirt notion of thrift, then we are going to be baling
seawater. This will not do.

You should be planning, expecting, desiring to live among material
surroundings created, manufactured, distributed, through radically
different methods from today's. It is your moral duty to aid this
transformative process. This means you should encourage the best
industrial design.

Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones.
Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not
neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely
"non-materialistic." There is nothing more "materialistic" than doing
the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow
yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical
dysfunction. That is not civilized.

Now for a brief homily on tools and appliances of especial Viridian
interest: the experimental 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 gadgets because 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 good at 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 into some larger context of research, and their results need to
be communicated to other practitioners. That's what makes them true
"experiments" instead of private fetishes.

If you're buying weird tech gizmos, you need to know what you are trying
to prove by that. You also need to tell other people useful things about
it. If you are truly experimenting, then you are doing something
praiseworthy. You may be wasting some space and time, but you'll be
saving space and time for others less adventurous. Good.

If you're becoming a techie magpie packrat who never leaves your couch –
that's not good. Forget the shiny gadget. You need to look in the shiny

So. This approach seems to be working for me. More or less. I'm not
urging you to do any of this right away. Do not jump up from the screen
right now and go reform your entire material circumstances. That resolve
will not last. Because it's not sustainable.

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 find your comfortable habits disrupted.

That could be a new job, a transfer to a new city, a marriage, the birth
or departure of a child. It could be a death in the family: we are
mortal, they happen. Moments like these are part of the human condition.
Suddenly you will find yourself facing a yawning door and a whole bunch
of empty boxes. That is the moment in which you should launch this
sudden, much-considered coup. Seize that moment on the barricades,
liberate yourself, and establish a new and sustainable constitution.

But – you may well ask – what if I backslide into the ancien regime?
Well, there is a form of hygiene workable here as well. Every time you
move some new object into your time and space – buy it, receive it as a
gift, inherit it, whatever – remove some equivalent object.

That discipline is not as hard as it sounds. As the design of your
immediate surroundings improves, it'll become obvious to you that more
and more of these time-sucking barnacles are just not up to your
standards. They're ugly, or they're broken, or they're obsolete, or they
are visible emblems of nasty, uncivilized material processes.

Their blissful absence from your life makes new time and space for
something better for you – and for the changed world you want to live to

So: that summarizes it. Forgive the Pope-Emperor this last comprehensive
sermon; it is what I learned by doing all this, and you won't be
troubled henceforth.

Now. If you've read this far, you're a diehard. So you may be interested
in my next, post-Viridian, project. And yes, of course I have one. It's
not so direct, confrontational and strident as the Viridian Movement;
instead, it suits a guy of my increasingly scholastic and professorial

Viridian "imaginary products" were always a major theme of ours, and,
since I'm both a science fiction writer and a design critic, I want to
do some innovative work in 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 nobody's easily interested in that huge,
grandiose topic, I'm disguising it as a nifty and attractive gadget
book. I plan to call it "The User's Guide to Imaginary Gadgets."

My first step in composing this new book is to methodically survey the
space of all possible imaginary gadgets. It's rather like the
exploratory work of "Dead Media Project."

I'm not yet sure what form this new research effort will take. There
will likely be a mailing list. I may be turning my Wired blog into
something of a gadget site. There might be a wiki or a social network,
depending on who wants to help me, and what they want out of that
effort. Still: "design fiction," "critical design," "futurist scenario
design," and the personal, individual, pocket-and-purse sized approach
to postindustriality: this is something I need to know a lot more about.

If you want to play, send email."


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