SXSW 2011 Q&A: Annalee Newitz

Rachel Lovinger   January 25, 2011

The Breakdown: In the second interview in our sophomore series of Q&As with upcoming SXSW speakers, we spoke with Annalee Newitz (@Annaleen), editor-in-cheif of io9, a blog about science, pop culture and science fiction. The author and futurist gave us the forecast on her panel, Social Media Is Science Fiction, which will “explore real possibilities for the next fifty years of social media.”

S/G: The tagline of your site io9 is “We come from the future.” What can we expect from 2011?

Annalee: Too many superhero movies, the beginning of privatized space flight, and, well, I think we’re all hoping that 2011 is the year aliens make contact and help us understand what to do with the book publishing industry.

S/G: Why do bad/lazy futurists have such a tendency to predict “The Death of [fill in the blank]?”

Annalee: It’s easy to predict the end of things – everything dies, after all – and much harder to figure out what will survive. The only kind of futurism that’s at all helpful, however, is focused on predicting what will rise up after “the death of X.” In a way, you could say those of us who predict “the future life of X” are part of the less glamorous, unsung side of futurism. It’s what product developers and policy wonks have to do every day. Figure out reasonable plans for the people and ideas that will be around in 5 years, or 50.

S/G: Who are the other speakers on your panel and what we can expect from the session?

Annalee: The panel is about using science fiction to think about the future of social media, and all of us have experience making new media and science fiction. I’m joined by comic book writer/artist Molly Crabapple, fantasy writer/blogger Charlie Jane Anders, scifi author/ARG designer Maureen McHugh, and media futurist Matt Thompson. Though we’ve all created some science fiction, we have pretty different opinions about its usefulness and what the future of social media will be. So I expect it will be a really interesting debate and conversation.

S/G: What are some of your favorite fictional sources of inspiration for understanding how people will interact with content – and each other – in the future?

Annalee: For understanding how augmented reality and wearable computing might be integrated into everyday life, there is no better novel than Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End. That book affected my view of the future profoundly. Same goes for Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, which is one reason I wanted her on the panel. She explores the development of AR tech and media on a future Earth where Chinese culture has become as dominant as American culture is on Earth now. Two other great inspirations are William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (which is about the present, but tells a story about how media will probably be used in 20 or 30 years), and Mira Grant’s Feed (about how blogging finally becomes more trusted than the mainstream media because bloggers are the best news sources during a zombie plague). Then there’s the amazing future-of-journalism show Max Headroom, which everybody should watch – it’s out in a great DVD set now.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Annalee: I don’t know if any SXSW moment can ever match my high point a couple of years ago when I saw the two stars of Trailer Park Boys just wandering around in the hallway. I was so excited that I couldn’t even get it together enough to make a devil sign with my fingers and yell “Trailer Park Boys!” I just sort of stared at them and gulped. But that’s what I always love about SXSW – you’ll go from a geeky panel about social media to seeing cool Canadian TV stars, and everybody is just mixing with each other and having fun.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by
tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

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