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Speculative Multidimensional Time-Line Thinking

In 1960, Rod Taylor starred in a film adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. The film won an Oscar for best special effects, one excellent effect being when the professor is seen to move forward and backward through time. While he and the time machine do not move position relative to earth, they are perceived to move both forward and backward in time. As a stationery observer, the professor witnesses an ever-changing landscape as time passes. On the way forward, buildings disappear and new ones emerge, wooded areas grow then disappear, and a mountain is seen to envelop the professor as he moves on through time. Eventually he reaches a destination that intrigues him, not one he planned for. How could he have? Interestingly, he ends up in exactly the same place he started out from relative to earth, it just so happens to be thousands of years into the future. Clearly, change is seen to have occurred albeit speeded up. Time-lapse cinematography makes this illusion possible. It also enables us to witness plants opening up before our very eyes by speeding up the process. In contrast, it lets us watch a humming bird appear to fly in slow motion. In time-lapse photography we can witness the world differently. We are able to see things we could never see before, we can see change happening that we could never observe before by either speeding up the film process or slowing it down. My interest in the time-lapse process is, however, related to the possibilities offered in cinematography, such as the example given in the movie. To observe the plant or the humming bird as described involves a technological innovation that can capture an actualized event and show it in fast or slow motion. It does not depict potentiality. Using the same technology, as part of a narrative process in a movie, however, allows us to envision the various potentialities and possibilities that may be open to us in the future, or the influences of past potential futures on the present. Nevertheless, this type of time-lapse photography is still restricted to a linear pathway, a pathway into the future or into the past. Likewise, time-lapse thinking would also be restricted to a linear pathway. In order to open up the many possible past futures that could have influenced the future, I want to incorporate the concept of assemblage theory into what I call time-line thinking. This will allow for a speculative multidimensional approach that will not only enable other possible projected technological becomings to be envisioned from any point in history but also reveal how these projections are dependent on many other associated possible potential becomings—becomings that will have served to influence the trajectory of the life of any given technological development under scrutiny.

The speculative dimension thus becomes a creative project, one that has, as a starting point, a need to first interpret the prevailing conditions that existed at the time, in order for a technological development to change from being a potential to one that becomes actualized. These conditions, such as the material objects available at the time, the extant techniques and knowledge, and the human actors all form part of an assemblage, an event.

By developing an understanding about the relationships and connections that combined in some way to form an event, one is then better able to speculate about the possible alternative pathways that might have endured had alternative conditions prevailed. This speculative process can be used to map alternative possible futures that may have been actualized had alternative potentialities become actualized. This way of thinking about technology can also be used to consider future possible pathways for technological potentialities that prevail today. Technological literacy relating to issues such as cloning, the development and impact of cyborg technologies, and issues relating to privacy can all be considered in much more depth by adopting this methodology.

This way of thinking about technology as a creative endeavor is not an entirely new concept. Aldous Huxley gave us alternative possible futures in his Brave New World, several of which have become actualized. Television programs such as Star Trek and Fringe, speculate on possible technologically influenced futures, many of which appear credible. Science fiction continues to become evermore considered in terms of “science fact” as contemporary authors offer speculations about the future that are grounded in credible assemblages from the past. As a young person in the sixties, I marveled at the concept of a wristwatch that was also a televisual form of communication as speculated by Chester Gould, the creator of the comic strip character Dick Tracy. Fifty years later, I now regularly communicate, via my iPad, with my granddaughter on FaceTime. Watches that have this feature are becoming actualized today.

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