I didn’t quite get it at first. Or didn’t quite feel it. It’s not an easily definable thing, but James is exploring and prodding and stretching the idea and this week it began to seem more… viable? …to me. As Robin Sloan put it at Snarkmarket, “I think it really is something distinct, something you can sort of get your arms around — not just, you know, a bunch of cool-looking stuff.”
What I particularly like is that it’s making me think more about the present and the future, rather than the past. I’ve noticed a tendency — in me and many of those around me — to fetishise aspects of the recent past. Those post-World War II visions of technology and possible futures that, from here, seem somehow both lost and still relevant. The Apollo programme, Quatermass, the expansion of infrastructures, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the raw material of hauntology, the Festival of Britain… It’s all fascinating and I love it but, speaking for myself, I can feel the danger of it becoming too large a part of my vision of today’s future.
I’m not saying we should never look to the past. As I grow older and the past becomes, proportionate to my age, ever closer I increasingly appreciate the interest and relevance of history. But there’s a balance to be had between learning from the past and looking to the futures. I could, more and more, feel myself only looking toward a future that was comfortingly envisioned in an earlier decade.
Leaning heavily on yesterday is not the way to create tomorrow. It can certainly be an influence, but we — I — should be looking more toward what’s now and next. We don’t want people in fifty years’ time to think of 2011 in terms of what we were nostalgic for. That would be like only remembering the 1980s for Levi’s 1950s inspired adverts rather than for, say, DX7s and ZX Spectrums.
It’s easy and comforting to look to the past, to adopt our predecessors’ visions of a future, but we would honour them more by doing as they did, and looking to our own futures, futures that could only come from today. The New Aesthetic feels like a sneak peek of one of those futures, one of today’s futures.
[Updated, 2021-05-06, to change the link to the blog post at RIG London to the Internet Archive version. James has also re-posted it to his blog.]
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