Well, for this first stage of my little future prediction experiments, I turned to William Gibson and his work on popular culture and media. The other authors I mentioned I am saving for work at a later date. But the task is the same: to discern the indistinct outlines of the ultimately indiscernible: the future of consumer brand relationships.
“Laney’s node-spotter function is some sort of metaphor for whatever it is that I actually do. There are bits of the literal future right here, right now, if you know how to look for them. Although I can’t tell you how; it’s a non-rational process.” —William Gibson, August 1999. Johnston, Anthony (August 1999). “William Gibson : All Tomorrow’s Parties : Waiting For The Man”. Spike. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
The Laney referred to in the quote above is Colin Laney, the protagonist of the final two novels in William Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy”, which begins with Virtual Light and then extends into Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties. Laney is a technomancer of sorts, a man who, like writer Gibson himself, has a very unique talent to “spot” or interpret the multiverse of “nodes” or connections on the Internet or, as Gibson calls it in the trilogy, “the DatAmerica network.”
DatAmerica is, like the Internet of today, a very American enterprise, very capitalist, technocapitalist, ideologically technological (see Kozinets 2008 for details). It sees the future in fast forward. It tends towards a sometimes-sketchy and spook-laden military-industrial-media-entertainment complex that Noam Chomsky and Neil Postman, to name only a few erudite cultural critics, would find very familiar. One which Gibson himself hones to perfection in his later novel Spook Country.
Using experimental mind-enhancing drugs, software, and an innate talent (born, perhaps of some genetic fluke) Laney’s node reading talent allows him to use the omnipresent and incredibly dense datastream of DatAmerica/the Internet to discern connections and trends in society at large and in the little tribal micro groups and gatherings that define groups and kin and clan. He then feeds this information back to large corporations and their agents, who can act on the information.
Like Gibson himself, Laney partakes in what cultural theorist Andrew Ross (1991, 170) terms the institutionalized “bureaucratic form” of futurology. In the novels, Laney works for “Slitscan,” the name apparently a portmanteau merger of those who use eye trackers to attempt to measure human thought. Laney’s freaky drug-induced netnographic readings of massive data trails seem far more effective. In Laney’s world, the market is interconnected and identical with both the media carnival and surveillance in the name of National Security, where consumer participation in participatory culture unite State and stage every bit as much as they do at ESPN Zone with its ludically inverted panopticon spectacle, a concept that Kozinets et al, (2004) draw from political science and with collide consumption theory (Kozinets et al. 2004).
The media spectacle offers us a stark reflection of our contemporary selves in all their resplendent glory. This glory is sponsored by our interactions at retail, through our various paid relationships with various brands. And through this chapter, this reading of the Bridge Trilogy, we might gain clues to deepen our understanding both of its contours and its trajectory.
In the next posting, I will get down to some of the heavy lifting of that. In the meantime, I would love to get some feedback on this ongoing project. It would be great to hear from you which books you think are the best “brand future” prediction books. If I hear from enough of you, I will compile a list, maybe even offer a little survey….