What I’m going to talk about today is part­ly in response to hav­ing watched The Craft about four times over the past two weeks while I’ve been pulling this talk togeth­er, but part­ly some­thing that’s been strik­ing me as being around for a while since I’ve been think­ing about where tech­nol­o­gy and haunt­ings and the super­nat­ur­al start lock­ing into each oth­er. That’s kind of in terms of visions and in terms of expec­ta­tions and in terms of what actu­al­ly is being sum­moned into the world and by who and in what way. There’s been ele­ments of this being touched on today, but this is some­thing I’ve had in my mind for a while and quite frankly any excuse to watch The Craft again repeat­ed­ly was wel­come. I will say at this point, the orig­i­nal slide deck was pri­mar­i­ly going to be Fairuza Balk, a lot of her. I’ve pulled back from that to get more rel­e­vant slides in but there’s still some so we’re going to work with that.

The four lead characters from The Craft, leaning against a wall

The Craft, for those of you who don’t know it is a film from 1996, and it’s kind of the super­nat­ur­al pop cul­ture teenage high school hor­ror pre­cur­sor to Buffy and all the stuff that came after that as well. The plot­line is fair­ly straight­for­ward. There are four girls, they meet each oth­er at high school. They all are hav­ing a fair­ly hor­ri­ble time but in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ways. One of the girls is being bul­lied, one’s being slut-shamed, one’s being racial­ly bul­lied, the third girl is also being bul­lied for hav­ing var­i­ous scars on her, and the fourth is just hav­ing a pret­ty mis­er­able time of it with a real­ly hor­ri­ble home life.

They find each oth­er, they get togeth­er, they fig­ure out that as the four of them they can form essen­tial­ly a coven, they start to do mag­ic. They start to sum­mon forces togeth­er and their lives start to change. It’s a great mid-90s movie. It’s got a sound­track that is exact­ly what you’d expect, with things like Elastica on it. It’s got a very very very young Neve Campbell in it, very very young Fairuza Balk, very young Skeet Ulrich, and it’s gen­er­al­ly part of the genre. It works pret­ty well.

So in all of those ways it acts as a kind of pre­cur­sor to what is the hor­ror of high school life actu­al­ly like when you’re a teenag­er and what would it be like if you could actu­al­ly start to sum­mon mag­ic into that world as well? So on that lev­el it works, it’s fine, it’s great.

But. What’s real­ly inter­est­ing about it when I watched it on mul­ti­ple view­ings is the mag­ic that they do. There is a bit of mate­r­i­al mag­ic in there. There is some phys­i­cal stuff and phys­i­cal changes to the world that starts hap­pen­ing. But a lot of what they do, a lot of their sum­mon­ings are about chang­ing visions and chang­ing expec­ta­tions as well. And it ini­tial­ly hap­pens after they’ve tried appeals to rea­son and to sci­ence and technology. 

Two of the girls who are being bul­lied go to their tor­men­tors and say essen­tial­ly, What’s hap­pen­ing? Why are you doing this? What’s going on? Why would you do this? Could you just please stop?” And their tor­men­tors say, No, just no, why would we?” One of the girls, the one who has scars on her, goes through what is implied to be the lat­est in a very very long line of med­ical treat­ments that are cost­ly and deeply painful and appear not to be work­ing. And the girl Nancy who’s hav­ing a hor­ri­ble home life, there is noth­ing she can real­ly do about it. She’s still a teenag­er, she can’t leave, she does­n’t have the resources.

So it’s not until they start sum­mon­ing these visions and expec­ta­tions into the world that the world itself starts to change around them. They do things like they change how they look. They start to cast expec­ta­tions around love. They start to cast visions around death, around ser­pents, around spi­ders. They move in and out of each oth­er’s dreams. There’s alot of how the world changes when they start to change the expec­ta­tions and visions that come around it as well.

This is inter­est­ing because what’s hap­pen­ing here isn’t just that they set up a fan­cy, they set up a glam­our and some­thing hap­pens. What hap­pens is they set up this change of scene and sud­den­ly the world starts to move around it as well. This is the lat­est in a very very long line through mag­ic, through­out his­to­ry, through­out tech­nol­o­gy, of peo­ple who can invoke visions, who can see things, who can go beyond some kind of mate­r­i­al realm and kind of grab some­thing and pull it through, for what­ev­er ends there are. Things that you might see in the smoke or see in the dust or see in the entrails or hear in the air or find in the water. Or things where you go to a cir­cle and you hold hands and some­one grabs your face and tells you, Actually I think there’s some­one in this room, a rel­a­tive who might be dead? who maybe had a name that begins with J? Yeah? You went to the beach once? Yes? Brilliant! Okay, come forward.”

There’s this idea of these visions that go beyond what we can just see now, and that’s real­ly inter­est­ing and always has been. But it’s this idea that what is beyond that is actu­al­ly in the pow­er of it. It’s the expec­ta­tions them­selves that start to change the mate­r­i­al qual­i­ties of our world, the mate­r­i­al qual­i­ties around sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, around our polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. That it’s not just that the entrails have been read, but the fact that you now have to make a deci­sion whether you’re going to heed that warn­ing or not. It’s not just about the fact that prob­a­bly your dead uncle John maybe is telling you that they think your boyfriend is pret­ty hor­ri­ble, but whether you then make the deci­sion to dump them or not. Or it’s whether you read the horo­scope and then make a deci­sion about where you’re going to invest your mon­ey that day.

So the visions them­selves start to grip onto, and shape, and twist, the world they’re in and as we know, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy are a part of that world and are dragged through this expec­ta­tion and vision-making in its own way. In The Craft, the girls call the four cor­ners. They call to the North, the South, the East, and West, the guardians of the watch­tow­er, and that’s what we’re going to do to fin­ish this off. We’re going to drag those things through fire, through air, through water, through earth, and we’re going to see what comes out the oth­er side of it.

"Hail to the guardians of the watchtower of the East, powers of air and invention" overlaid on a photo of a figher plane

In 1953, the US mil­i­tary did the first-ever test flight of the F‑102A Delta Dagger plane, which is what we can see up here. It was part of the Cold War effort. It’s an air-to-earth inter­cep­tor. It’s rigged up with var­i­ous elec­tron­ics so it can track oth­er planes, it can shoot them down, it has mis­siles, it has rock­ets in it. It’s a very very clever piece of kit. There were about a thou­sand of them made, they did the first test runs in 53 and they brought them up into the air and sent them out in 56 to work.

What’s inter­est­ing about this is it was one of the first super­son­ic planes that went into full use. Supersonic planes are those which can trav­el beyond the speed of sound and past it. Planes are noisy any­way. Planes make a rum­bling sound as they tear over, and at the moment there’s a fair amount of leg­is­la­tion in place about how air­space can be used by planes, whether they can be used at night, over which areas of land.

Supersonic planes go beyond that because as they break the sound bar­ri­er, they shift the pres­sure of the air around them, par­tic­u­lar­ly as they’re trav­el­ing over land. It ris­es, it dips, it ris­es, and then you get the son­ic boom, and that’s real­ly loud and it’s real­ly real­ly aggres­sive. It’s one of the rea­sons why at the moment we don’t real­ly have any com­mer­cial super­son­ic planes. There’s leg­is­la­tion in place that says you can­not have these types of planes in flight over land in the US or in Europe.

But this was 1953 and they devel­oped this thing. So they brought it out, they brought it into being, and they were going to send it off, and why would­n’t they? It was effec­tive for exact­ly what the US mil­i­tary want­ed to do. But to get it out from the US air­bas­es over the land and over to sea and poten­tial­ly over to where Soviet air­craft might be, it had to go over civil­ian space, and it was loud. It had this son­ic boom that came with it.

So they weren’t going to take it back, right? They’d spent a huge amount, tech­nol­o­gy invest­ment, haul­ing this thing into being. But in order to try and keep the peo­ple around them on side, to make this thing some­thing oth­er than a quite ter­ri­fy­ing­ly noisy thing, the group, Convair, who had devel­oped the tech­nol­o­gy, brought into play a series of adverts. 

What they depict is a very clas­sic kind of American pas­toral scene. There’s a vil­lage, there’s a blue sky obvi­ous­ly over­head. There are many many small hous­es with many many many actu­al white pick­et fences in it. There’s a milk­man. There’s a few church­es. And fly­ing over this scene, glo­ri­ous­ly up in the sky, there are three of these guys seen from the bot­tom up. And the tagline, the text on this, reminds those who are look­ing at it that the US air forces, yes we’re at war now and we’re locat­ed near to key cities, and the air­men in these planes main­tain a round-the-clock vig­il ready to go at a momen­t’s notice. This is the text:

The next time you hear jets thun­der over­head, remem­ber that the pilots who fly them are not will­ful dis­turbers of your peace: they are patri­ot­ic young Americans affirm­ing your New Sound of Freedom! 

So that is the sound of a son­ic boom. That is the thing that when you hear it rum­bling is the thing that is refram­ing your expec­ta­tions about what this mas­sive crack of sound actu­al­ly is. Like I said, these things are loud. But it’s noth­ing to be scared of. In fact it’s some­thing to wel­come, because when you hear it, it means you’re safe. We can try and change the expec­ta­tions that come around a tech­nol­o­gy when it’s out in the world. This thing that might look like this, that might be noisy, that might be ter­ri­fy­ing, that might have a bun­dle of oth­er mean­ings bun­dled up with it…we can try and cast some kind of counter-spell onto it, some kind of counter-vision say­ing, Actually, it’s safe. Actually, it’s a new sound.”

The soci­ol­o­gists who work in this space, who do work around the soci­ol­o­gy of expec­ta­tions, have said

Novel tech­nolo­gies and fun­da­men­tal changes in sci­en­tif­ic prin­ci­ple do not­sub­stan­tive­ly pre-exist them­selves, except and only in terms of the imag­in­ings, expec­ta­tions and visions that have shaped their potential.
Mads Borup, Nik Brownb, Kornelia Konrad & Harro Van Lented, The soci­ol­o­gy of expec­ta­tions in sci­ence and technology”

What do you see? What drags you through this? And this is impor­tant. Because visions pro­vide the expec­ta­tions, and expec­ta­tions are gen­er­a­tive. They make things hap­pen. They make things hap­pen mate­ri­al­ly, they make things hap­pen polit­i­cal­ly, they make things hap­pen cul­tur­al­ly. So they start to steer activ­i­ties and they bring inter­est in. They bring mon­ey. They bring strate­gies, and as we’ll see, they bring struc­ture and legit­i­ma­tion as well.

This isn’t just some­thing that hap­pens at the end of the process. This is some­thing that starts to run and creep all the way through it. It’s not as though you get this jet out in the world and you think, Christ, now we have to try to explain it.” There’s a vision and a series of visions that start to run into play from the very start­ing point of the tech­nol­o­gy itself as it moves out into the world.

"Hail to the guardians of the watchtower of the West, powers of air and invention" overlaid on a chart

Now this mat­ters when we’re think­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly around inno­va­tion and tech­nol­o­gy, because inno­va­tion is fun­da­men­tal­ly forward-looking. You don’t real­ly devel­op things with­out expect­ing them to have some kind of impact on the world itself. Generally, cre­at­ing new tech­nolo­gies and these things is about inten­tion. You’re hav­ing the inten­tion of mak­ing some­thing and see­ing how that thing starts the shift itself.

So you can’t real­ly work through mak­ing, through gen­er­at­ing, through cre­at­ing, with­out some kind of expec­ta­tion about what you think is going to hap­pen in that place, and who specif­i­cal­ly you think is going to be affect­ed by it, too.

So the next watch­tow­er, of water and feeling.

One of the expec­ta­tions that come into play is this idea of the ide­al­ized behav­ior of the future users, of who’s going to be using a tech­nol­o­gy and how they’re going to be using it. This kind of vision can start to scrape through the process of devel­op­ment right from the very begin­ning, to the point where things start to get bun­dle togeth­er, resources get held up, projects get pulled over there, Powerpoints get made, pre­sen­ta­tions are held, and an idea of we’re mak­ing this for this per­son, and this group, and that’s how they’re going to behave” and this spec­tral haunt­ing fun­nels through.

Around last autumn, Apple released a new health app as part of the new iOS and a friend, a tech­nol­o­gist down in London, Nat Buckley, went through this and real­ized as they were look­ing through the health app that there was absolute­ly noth­ing in there at all that would allow for the track­ing of men­stru­a­tion, the track­ing of peri­ods. You could­n’t track it your­self in this app and you could­n’t real­ly use third par­ties to inte­grate this, either. You could, if you want­ed to, check your stocks and your share prices, but that was kind of an expec­ta­tion about who might be doing that instead of who might be want­i­ng to track their periods.

So already there’s this idea that who­ev­er’s going to be using this [holds up cell phone] and who­ev­er’s going to be try­ing to get a sense of what a phone can do and what kind of apps might come with it, either their idea [is] they’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly going to be men­stru­at­ing, or this has been com­plete­ly abstract­ed from the beginning. 

That’s kind of the absence of a vision. The absence of a spec­tral vision of this per­son who might be using it. And even when the visions get scraped and bun­dled into the tech­nolo­gies them­selves, it still can get weird and skewed and warped quite eas­i­ly. There are a ton of exam­ples I could’ve picked for talk­ing about the script­ing of users into tech­nolo­gies, but I went for peri­od apps because of this love­ly moment at the very begin­ning of The Craft where two of the girls are talk­ing to each oth­er and one of them is wield­ing this mas­sive almanac that she’s got in her hand and says, Well I think the almanac says that some­thing will bring some­thing today. Something will hap­pen.” And Nancy, who’s played by Fairuza Balk, just sneers at her and says, Yeah, I think I’m get­ting my rag.”

There’s a lot of peri­od apps that rec­og­nize yeah, there are peo­ple who are going to be want­i­ng to track their peri­ods using this thing, but it still has a very spe­cif­ic idea of who these peo­ple are. It gen­er­al­ly tends to assume for a cis­gen­dered woman. It tends to assume for het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty, for the form of sex­u­al activ­i­ty that is prob­a­bly going to result in preg­nan­cy. And it assumes that the only rea­son real­ly to use any kind of peri­od track­er would be to match fer­til­i­ty against men­stru­a­tion to see where those two things lock togeth­er. And there’s no real idea in these things that there’s any sense that you might use it for any oth­er health rea­sons, curios­i­ty, want­i­ng to scrape the data and turn it into some gigan­tic art project. It’s just this very tight, nar­row focus of fer­til­i­ty and men­stru­a­tion held in place together.

And these things also are bound with a very fixed idea of what fem­i­nin­i­ty is. They’re gen­er­al­ly bright pink or puce or magen­ta and cov­ered in flow­ers, and they’re fair­ly hor­ri­ble. I can’t speak for any­one else in this room, but I know that when I get pre-menstrual that my mood tends between mur­der­ous­ly angry and tear­ful, so it’s kind of like Patrick Bateman but cry­ing. And a bright pink peri­od app at that stage is gen­er­al­ly not what I tend to need.

But again this aspect of health also gets bun­dled into the actu­al tech­nol­o­gy itself. After this health app came out from Apple, there was a won­der­ful arti­cle that got writ­ten in The Atlantic by Rose Eveleth that start­ed to pull back and was like, Hang on one sec­ond. How deep does this actu­al­ly go?” She was look­ing at quan­ti­fied self tech­nolo­gies as well, and got the sense from look­ing at them that the tech­nolo­gies that were being built into phones as far as track­ing sys­tems were being built and pred­i­cat­ed on the idea that the per­son that was using them would have them around all day. So as one of the peo­ple that she inter­viewed, Whitney Erin Boesel, said,

Many apps oper­ate under the assump­tion that your phone is always con­nect­ed to you, in pock­ets that women don’t real­ly have.”
Rose Eveleth, How Self-Tracking Apps Exclude Women”

Again, this goes beyond gen­der. There’s an idea of this very culturally-specific expec­ta­tion of a user who’s always going to be wear­ing quite snugly-fitting prob­a­bly trousers, prob­a­bly with a pock­et where they’ve got the phone on them con­stant­ly so you can get this pas­sive data track­ing that comes with it as well.

This might just be over­sight, it might just be an inabil­i­ty to rec­og­nize the struc­tures around gen­der and race and sex­u­al­i­ty and priv­i­lege that per­me­ate every­thing. Although it might be delib­er­ate polit­i­cal intents that come with sum­mon­ing expec­ta­tions as well.

"Hail to the guardians of the watchtower of the South, powers of fire and feeling" overlaid on a photo of Tech City

So visions are high­ly polit­i­cal, and again you can see this in terms of the posi­tion that seers would have with armies, the posi­tion that an astronomer might have with a mem­ber of Parliament. It’s not just that they pro­vide a vision as a means of haul­ing resources in and of cement­ing a point of view, and then get­ting that point of view through the world. It’s not just about hav­ing this thing, it’s about what this thing actu­al­ly does as well.

You see that a lot with the kind of work that’s been hap­pen­ing around the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, the over­haul­ing, the mas­sive rebuild­ing of cities. Particularly cities in the UK, but you’ve seen it in Manchester but also par­tic­u­lar­ly in London where there’s cranes every­where at the moment like some kind of zom­bie army horde for devel­op­ers, doing their will and chang­ing the world around them.

But in order to get this stuff into play, in order to shape the mate­r­i­al land­scape of the world, you still need to have visions in place. You still need to have some­thing in place that’s there to say, That thing, can you see that? That’s what we’re mov­ing towards. You just bring your mon­ey, and you bring your invest­ment, and that’s where we’re going to be going with it, that over there, and that’s fine.”

It’s hap­pen­ing in two parts of London in par­tic­u­lar, both of which to an extent relate to the Olympic lega­cy in one way or anoth­er. Down in Soho, before the Olympics hap­pened, there was an attempt with oth­er parts of London to clean it up and to make it a space that was safe, where tourists would come spend their mon­ey. So there was this vision­ing hap­pen­ing to kind of scrape Soho out from being what it had been and to being a san­i­tized, safer place. What was involved was scrap­ing out what prop­er­ty devel­op­ers and devel­op­ment agen­cies were defin­ing as least desir­able” of the area. People and groups who’d been in play for a very very long time.

This includ­ed sex work­ers. This includ­ed some of the sex stores, which have now been shut down. In the past few months, past few years, that’s also includ­ed var­i­ous queer, var­i­ous LGBT clubs. So all these things have gen­tly and not-so-gently start­ed to be pushed and shift­ed and closed out of the area because that’s not what the peo­ple who are try­ing to sum­mon resources into the area nec­es­sar­i­ly want. But, it’s not just enough to have that. There’s also this kind of try­ing to cling on to some form of his­to­ry, whilst you’re pro­ject­ing this imag­ined future out to try and sum­mon forth the future with it.

So this is a form of place brand­ing, which Marjana Johansson talks about, saying,

The aim of place brand­ing is to present a san­i­tized appeal­ing image of place which inevitably selects cer­tain ele­ments to be includ­ed in offi­cial mes­sages while dis­re­gard­ing or eras­ing oth­er elements.
Marjana Johansson, Place Branding and the Imaginary: The Politics of Re-imagining a Garden City

One of the inter­est­ing things about Soho in par­tic­u­lar is that the archi­tects involved in this have been very clear in their role specif­i­cal­ly in trans­form­ing what they describe as Soho’s seed­i­est alley­ways, and they’re going to scrape it out and fill it with visions of delis and shops and restau­rants. Nice clean things that will sum­mon peo­ple into that space. 

But this imag­i­nary city, this sort Utopia does­n’t real­ly exist on its own. While it wish­es away the dirt and the com­plex­i­ties, it offers a recon­struct­ed past to hold it up as well. One of the things that they’re keep­ing for this area, which they have on the web site, amidst all the ren­ders, is the his­toric” neon sign of the strip club that was owned by the pornog­ra­ph­er Paul Raymond for Raymond’s Revuebar.

They’re keep­ing this. That’s fine because that’s just a nice lit­tle image to ground these things in as a glob­al icon for Soho” but not any­thing else that might itself be asso­ci­at­ed with these ele­ments. But that thing in itself, that’s fine. That’s safe.

The oth­er part of London where this is hap­pen­ing, as Natalie men­tioned ear­li­er, around East London and Old Street. In 2010 the gov­ern­ment start­ed to try and bolt on a lega­cy vision to the tech clus­ter that they saw was hap­pen­ing there. They were try­ing to sup­port it, they were try­ing to bring inter­nal invest­ment in and exter­nal, par­tic­u­lar­ly for­eign, invest­ment in, and they were try­ing to do what they were call­ing try­ing to bring togeth­er the excite­ment of Shoreditch with the heart of the Olympic village.

But in order to do that, they had to get some big visions hauled down from the sky with very very large ropes and very very large bits of machin­ery as well, in try­ing to des­per­ate­ly make this thing stick. Because what they had did­n’t real­ly work par­tic­u­lar­ly as a vision. In some of the mate­r­i­al they pro­duced for for­eign investors, they said this is East London and you’ve got Shoreditch and you’ve got Stratford, but those things on the map are miles apart from each oth­er, but were held up in this vision of being this sin­gle space where the mon­ey could gen­er­al­ly be poured into.

The oth­er thing which made it dif­fi­cult was the nam­ing of it. The nam­ing of this area went through the kind of flap­ping changes that you see with hor­ror movies like The Thing, where the thing is des­per­ate­ly flip­ping between dif­fer­ent types of iden­ti­ties and forms try­ing to find some­thing to grip onto and just stick, but it can’t. I don’t think this is going to work if this goes slow­ly but we’ll see how it goes.

It start­ed with East London Tech City, then it became Tech City East, then it became Tech City UK, Tech City UK (UK), and now Tech City. It’s not actu­al­ly Tech City Croydon; this is Old Street. But it’s been like, What? What? Where? There? Oh Christ, make it Croydon. Fine. Okay.” So now it’s more of a fran­chise than an actu­al thing. The most inter­est­ing thing about this from my per­spec­tive is that it has­n’t stuck. You can throw a vision out in the air, but it does­n’t mean that any­one’s going to hold onto it if they don’t want it. There’s these kind of fab­u­lous modes of resis­tance that are out there. And there’s this work I’ve been doing for the past few years with Max Nathan and Emma Vandore on what’s hap­pen­ing here, start­ing from the prin­ci­ples that a lot of social research start from, which is kin­da of, What the hell…?” And then you go on from there.

In the inter­views that these guys did very ear­ly on, they said, Tech City’s what gov­ern­ment peo­ple call it. I don’t think I’ve heard any­one call it Tech City’ with­out some sort of air quotes.” [p. 76] It’s a vision, but it’s not a vision that’s stick­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly hard at the moment. It’s got the pol­i­tics. It’s got polit­i­cal agency behind it, cer­tain­ly from an urban plan­ning and sup­port point of view, but it has­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly go the pow­er to wield it.

So visions get embed­ded into pol­i­cy and they’re about exact­ing wide­spread change, but you need pow­er to push these things through, you need big cas­es, big sup­port to try and get this thing ulti­mate­ly to hit the ground and to get it there, to make it real, to sum­mon this vision out of the sky. 

One of the biggest spaces where this idea of antic­i­pa­tion and vision mak­ing expec­ta­tions comes in is with this idea of respon­si­ble inno­va­tion, which is very broad­ly this idea about try­ing to address mas­sive mas­sive social prob­lems through some kind of curat­ing and care for the future by set­ting stuff in play now. So these are big social prob­lems that require large gov­ern­ment inten­tion and orga­ni­za­tion to be brought into them. It’s kind of, I would say on the scale of the Jager Program. That was one of the things that struck me when I watched Pacific Rim. But the oth­er one is cli­mate change. This is one of the mas­sive mas­sive glob­al, all-encompassing prob­lems that needs a fair amount of vision­ing and a fair amount of expec­ta­tions to be set and say we are going to make big changes, we have to make big changes, and they’re going to involve all the gov­ern­ments, and it’s going to involve huge amounts of orga­ni­za­tions. It requires will and it requires intent so Christ, we need to make sure that we can set up some expec­ta­tions to get there.

"Hail to the guardians of the watchtower of the North, powers of mother and earth" overlaid on a photo of a weather balloon

There are ways of address­ing cli­mate change, and reduc­ing emis­sions is one of the big ones. But one of the oth­er things that’s come up real­ly com­par­a­tive­ly recent­ly, in the past few years, is this idea of geo­engi­neer­ing. This is broad­ly attempt­ing to apply engi­neer­ing to the air, to the earth, to the oceans, and poten­tial­ly to fire as well, in some way to bring down car­bon lev­els, to change the earth itself, to reduce the cli­mate heat. The ideas that’ve been offered up by geo­engi­neer­ing are at the polite lev­el of fan­ci­ful.” Some peo­ple have referred to them as mag­i­cal, not nec­es­sar­i­ly in a pleas­ant way. They are fan­tas­ti­cal. They might be some­thing that you could think of in terms…Dan Dare comics would not be a mil­lion miles from this. 

These are ideas that’ve been moot­ed in terms of Geoengineering, what might it involve?” So you might want to, via some fan­tas­tic bal­loon, spray sun-reflecting chem­i­cals into the atmos­phere to make the plan­et reflect more sun­light, maybe. You could fer­til­ize the oceans with iron to pro­duce algae for a car­bon sink, maybe. You could enclose the earth in a ring of space dust, woo! Maybe. Maybe. And the maybe” is the mas­sive part here, because none of this is real yet. These are just ideas that’ve so far been shown up as a way to poten­tial­ly address cli­mate change through this thing.

But if we’re per­haps not being so char­i­ta­ble towards it, as many many social sci­en­tists are, you could call these ideas wild­ly, utter­ly, howl­ing­ly bark­ing mad.” You could call them things like the new best bad idea.” 

The ideas around geo­engi­neer­ing could poten­tial­ly be clas­si­fied as the Bad Idea Bears of heavy engi­neer­ing. They’re not real, but they’re also not par­tic­u­lar­ly good, either. The tech­nol­o­gy does not exist. None of the tech­nolo­gies that have been pro­posed around these things real­ly on a mas­sive scale have existed…at all. They’re ideas, they’re sum­mon­ings in the ether. We haven’t been able to get clos­er to doing these things than we have been since the end of World War II.

But that does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that the visions aren’t start­ing to have some kind of effect on the world. There was a report that came out from the National Academies of Sciences a cou­ple of weeks ago by 16 major sci­en­tists, and while they said, Yeah, some of these ideas might be a lit­tle unre­al­is­tic, some of them maybe not, but maybe we should do some more research. Just a bit of research, to see which of these ideas are fea­si­ble, what might work for us, because cli­mate change is a big thing. We should prob­a­bly try and fig­ure that out.”

This might sound rea­son­able. This might sound like yeah, okay. We’ve got these ideas, these visions over there, and maybe we could start to haul them back a bit and see what hits the ground. In a piece that Jack Stilgoe at University College London wrote about this, he was just like, Mmmmmm…but.”

The wor­ry is that research pro­grams may them­selves con­tribute to the over­hyp­ing of geo­engi­neer­ing as a pos­si­ble alter­na­tive to con­ven­tion­al approach­es to cli­mate change.
Jack Stilgoe, Rethinking the unthinkable”

What this means is that first­ly you’ve already got these nar­ra­tives in place, and when you start to get these nar­ra­tives in play that starts to kind of actu­al­ly make them real. They’re not real­ly real yet, but they’re start­ing to get real because they’re famil­iar. And when they’re famil­iar they’re know­able, and peo­ple are like, Yeah yeah, I’ve heard about that. I thought we were doing that.”

When you start to do research, and there are small amounts of research on this— When you start doing the big-scale research that’s sup­port­ed by large, bril­liant sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions with poten­tial­ly gov­ern­ment or pri­vate mon­ey, you start to sum­mon this thing out of the air. You start to make these nar­ra­tives nor­mal, you legit­i­mate them, you make them move beyond per­for­ma­tive expec­ta­tions, you get research teams set up, you post-docs set up, you poten­tial­ly get new jour­nals, you get con­fer­ences, you get legit­i­ma­cy. And this thing that was there as some kind of no-good bad idea is now sud­den­ly kind of there, and sud­den­ly kind of hap­pen­ing. It also takes away from oth­er forms of action that could be tak­en, like reduc­ing emis­sions. But this is just like, well okay, it’s just that small thing right there.

At the end of The Craft, things kind of fall apart, real­ly. The girls have sum­moned all this stuff into being and they can’t con­trol it. The love spell goes hor­ri­bly wrong. They real­ize their behav­ior’s being changed. They real­ize that the things they were want­i­ng, they can’t deal with it comes but they also did­n’t have con­trol over it. The Sarah char­ac­ter goes to the own­er of the mag­ic shop and goes, My God, what have we done? I set up this love spell. How do I take it back?” And the own­er of the mag­ic shop looks at her and says, How do you stop the flood­gates?” When these visions are out in the world, what are you going to do? These things are there now.

But it actu­al­ly ends not on that bad note, but as a form of coun­ter­ing of the visions. Sarah, our pro­tag­o­nist, has man­aged through­out the film to devel­op her own visions and her own pow­er par­tic­u­lar­ly. And when tar­get­ing them against the oth­ers of the group man­ages to kind of col­lapse that col­lec­tive vision down and bring it to a space where the visions them­selves are coun­tered and gen­tly flat­tened, and there is rel­a­tive calm by the end.

So visions and social expec­ta­tions are about pow­er, and they’re about the con­test to shape the future. They’re about ascrib­ing mean­ing to cer­tain con­cepts, about haul­ing them into being, and those with pow­er and dom­i­nance will cer­tain­ly have some form of strength and effec­tive­ness in defin­ing and defus­ing what our future will be. But, there are always going to be modes of resis­tance in this, in the bat­tle over expec­ta­tions is nev­er actu­al­ly complete.

Thank you.

Further Reference

The Haunted Machines site, where Georgina has a short piece The Howling Wind, the Swerving Air.”

Dedicated page for Haunted Machines at the main FutureEverything site.