Vanishing point

In further mulling on last week’s calling of “beyond the workplace” (#btw) – which officially ends today – I replied to a comment on the previous post that a new metaphor was required to bring about a transformation (to what, has yet to be articulated). It nudged me to finish this half-written post, as the underlying idea has some relevance to those involved.

I am indebted to Stowe Boyd for enlightening me in the ways of the science-fiction writer and (original?) cyberpunk Bruce Sterling’s Futurist Principles and Viridian Design, an avant-garde “bright green” design movement focused on addressing climate change, that ran 1998-2008. One of his Principles that stands out for me is that of Planned Evanescence.

I had to look up evanescence, it was a word that sparkled. It means the process of turning to vapour, of disappearing altogether.

[My chemistry teacher at school told me that making something vanish was impossible, and if we ever achieved it in class we would be going into business to make a fortune. That sounded like quite a challenge, and one that I haven’t given up on entirely].

Sterling’s interpretation is that:

“a product will be driven off the market, within a known time-frame, by some purported improvement. The Viridian principle of “Planned Evanescence” extends this practice by demanding that the product and all its physical traces should gracefully disintegrate and vanish entirely”

That we build in evanescence, fully expecting even demanding that complete disappearance is a composite part of our creation – that this is the only viable and sustainable proposition.

Supposing we extend this to our ideas. None of our ideas have planned evanescence, we inherently expect them to last forever. We introduce ever more, the landscape overcrowds, and as a result we get progressively more unsighted. Our greed for the new – innovation, creativity, fresh understanding and insight – blinds us.

Therein lies the struggle – many new paradigms are the repackaging of existing, what I have previously called “knew” ideas. We find that hundreds – sometimes thousands – of years have passed and that what we consider a new perspective was once a common understanding to those in togas.

Perhaps if our ideas contained a planned evanescence instead of our pretending that we are gifting them for eternity, we might be better able to think clearly, and more ably know that a new idea is in fact new. That also demands a collective courage to admit that an idea is finished forever, and to let it vanish – not bury it under a heap of reinterpretations, just in case.

Sterling’s most famous statement is “the frontier of the future is the ruins of the unsustainable”.

When our ideas, too, are unsustainable, we need to let them go. Evanescence is a word that still sparkles. I haven’t finished with it yet. But when I do, it’s over.

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