Making Sense of the Future Tense

If you think we’re terminally distracted by our devices now, just wait a few more years. Virtual Reality, a wholly immersive set of technologies ever-poised to change everything, may finally become not only readily available but prevalent. In Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life (HarperOne, 2018), Peter Rubin argues that though VR has been around for decades, but it might be redefining your world sooner than you think. Rubin, a senior editor at WIRED, has been covering VR for years. Immersive and accelerated intimacy stands out as a key concept in Rubin’s analysis, and outside of the obvious sexual connotations, one that’s been largely missing from previous studies. 

Simon Penny has been working in the future world of advanced technologies for a long time as well. I met Penny once in Los Angeles at Coco Conn’s house. It was the night before a talk he, Eric Paulos, and Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories were giving. Eric had invited me up from San Diego. Coco’s house was buzzing with people and ideas. Aside from Penny, Pauline, and Paulos, Richard Metzger of Disinformation (now of Dangerous Minds) was there… Benjamin Bratton… It was crazy. It was one of those nights that defines a stretch of time that follows.

Likewise, Penny’s book, Making Sense: Cognition, Computing, Art, and Embodiment (MIT Press, 2017), should help define the stretch of time that follows. Arguing that cognition is as embedded as it is embodied, Penny relies on the autopoesis of Maturana and Varela as much as he does the command-and-control of Norbert Weiner. That is, the cultural processes he’s parsing are as naturally emerging as they are intentionally programmed. Penny’s primary concern is art and artistic practice, and he argues that contrivances derived from computing are not neutral. He also argues that we need to be more mindful of the metaphors we use to describe such things. All of these tools and toys are culturally loaded and must be handled as such. With its sober consideration and solid grounding, Making Sense is a very important book and deserves to be embedded in the brains prefiguring the future.