Trigger Warning - Superflux's meditation on fake news, post-truth and the awareness we need

Always a delight to show the latest of Superflux’s imaginings and projections of the near future (here’s what we’ve covered so far). The above is called Trigger Warning, and it’s a film-poem/essay which dives straight into the heart of our modern media maelstrom, our meme wars and mindshare manipulations, and wonders (at the end) what kind of consciousness can help us stand outside it all…

We’re interested in the film-poem/essay form, as it explores the difficulties of the present (see the FT’s video on the Northern Irish border ) and of the near future (see the infamous Hyperreality video, anticipating a consumerist dystopia, or Logorama, an insane world of brand dominance). We’re open to all offers of help to make them (mail here!).

In the meantime, here’s Superflux’s rationale for the above (press release here in full):

‘Trigger Warning’ is a fast-paced journey through a city of memes. An urban hinterland of embodied ideas and warring ideologies. Switching between various first-person perspectives, the film embodies the current culture clashes bubbling away beneath the surface of the city.

The algorithmically mediated networks which amplify opinions, manipulate biases and shape beliefs have caused widespread civic unrest. People emerge from behind memes and screens to bear arms for their beliefs. Allegiances continue to fracture and fragment, until individual emotions and opinions reign supreme. Eventually, any sense of certainty evaporates. What lies on the horizon as these multilayered fictions and polarised realities melt away? Will peace be possible?

In the film Superflux unpack the influences at play in the current paradigm of rising hostility and aggression online and increasingly, IRL [in real life]. The escalating extremism. The electoral manipulation by Russian Troll farms and Cambridge Analytica. The algorithmically orchestrated echo chambers. The information overload of the attention economy.

The oversimplification of complex identity or opinion into a grid, or 280 characters. The film imagines the potential consequences for society and identity if reasoned conversation between people with different opinions disappears completely.

Our only mild caveat: Is there a way through to the future from the present that doesn’t have to pass through dystopia and breakdown? (We’ve explored this here before). This interesting piece from Factor Daily asks the question if we’re overdoing the gloom:

This is not say that dystopian literature should not be read. Because if nothing, we need these cautionary tales to learn our lessons of all that could go wrong and work towards avoiding these undesirable futures, as has been written about in a previous edition of this column. But we need to strike a balance and currently, the scales are not in hope’s favour.

This is where projects and anthologies like Neal Stephenson’s Project Hieroglyphcome in. Stories that give us hope and show us we are still capable of doing big – and good – things. Or the XPRIZE interactive anthology to which some of the world’s most visionary SF writers contributed their techno-optimism infused visions of our future, our world as it might be in 2037.

One such recent project that has given me much hope that perhaps the tide may be turning is The Verge’s Better Worlds, described as ‘a science fiction project about hope’, partly inspired by the aforementioned Hieroglyph anthology.

“At a time when simply reading the news is an exercise in exhaustion, anxiety, and fear, it’s no surprise that so many of our tales about the future are dark amplifications of the greatest terrors of the present. But now more than ever, we also need the reverse: stories that inspire hope” writes Laura Hudson, The Verge’s Culture Editor in her introduction to the project.

The Better Worlds stories are written by some of the really fine SF writers around – such as John Scalzi, Kelly Robson, Rivers Solomon, Peter Tieryas and Justina Ireland, to name just a few – and each story comes with an audio/video adaptation. It is recommended that you read the stories first before watching/listening to the adaptations.

In Better Worlds, you will read stories of a woman leading an open-source revolution to build rockets so people can escape to a better future on Mars; of an island using AI to defend itself against hurricanes; of an artist and an AR researcher who stumble upon something wondrous in their quest to decode a mysterious global hallucination; of an AI designed to moderate games who comes into its own and more.

The only thing these stories have in common is a sense of optimism, a sense that things can be better, and hope. “The stories of Better Worlds are not intended to be conflict-free utopias or Pollyanna-ish paeans about how tech will solve everything; many are set in societies where people face challenges, sometimes life-threatening ones. But all of them imagine worlds where technology has made life better and not worse, and characters find a throughline of hope”, writes Laura Hudson.

And for an example of an entirely different tone about the near future, here’s a video from theBetter Worlds series mentioned above: A Model Dog (other videos here):