“We have gathered you here to bury the 20th century & begin work on the 21st. We are children of the 21st century & live already in the future unknown, uncovering every day vast new landscapes for exploration. We will not know the results of the tumultuous global changes we are undergoing and creating for a hundred years or more, if we can survive them, but we are less interested in knowledge than in experiencing these changes.”
Virtual Futures, 1995
The cybercultural narratives of the mid-90s provided a social, artistic, and philosophical framework to understand and challenge the rapid advances in the development of information communication technologies. Driven by a need to critique the framework underlying society’s newfound anticipation for the future, the Virtual Futures Conference held at the University of Warwick 1994–1996 brought together groups of renegade philosophers to lock horns with the future based on the provocations of evidence provided by the emergence of the Internet. At the time, the conference was affected by a turbulent dynamic between technological acceptance versus a largely paranoid technophobia. Fast-forward to 2013, and this has flat-lined to find the 21st century human docile to the widespread ubiquity of information processing technologies.
Meanwhile, human agency has been subsumed by an increasing automation by non-human agents, as control over identity, society, and economics is relinquished to biases of robotic processes. Techno-evangelism attempts to brand, market, and, most importantly, sell the wonderment afforded by a wilful obedience to the future. They resound with the same transcendentalist fantasies of cyberpunk fiction – indeed speculation and futuristic thinking has become an art, and like any popularist art form, it has become an industry.
Revisiting 1995’s Future Music panel, Virtual Futures will explore the implications of a new ecology – where music is no longer made but grown, thus demonstrating a quality of artificial life. In 2013 music doesn’t go viral, it is viral. And all the while we are left to question who, or what, is listening?
Luke Robert Mason is Director of Virtual Futures and a Researcher in Technology and Cyberculture. He is currently based at the Centre for Fine Arts Research, Birmingham studying an MA in Media Arts Philosophy Practice.
Editor of datacide magazine, runs Praxis records and co-runs Sub/version records.
Philosopher of technology and co-founder of Virtual Futures.
London-based Tony Marcus is a writer, who was a regular contributor to i-D and Mixmag magazines, covering the dance music and rave scene for a period of 10 years (1991 - 2001).