Gonzo futurism

Writing on Warren Ellis's site, Justin Pickard presents "Action and Decision-Making for the Professional Weirdo," part of a longer, inspiring "Gonzo Futurist manifesto (PDF)" that opens with my most-favorite Bruce Sterling quote -- the words that were in my heart when I dropped out of university to work on the Internet: "Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a puffer fish."

The gonzo futurist is a super-empowered hopeful individual. She may have been a ‘graduate with no future’ (Mason, 2011), or the victim of public sector cuts, but has since grieved and moved on. She plays, tests, and play tests; making the best of the tools and technologies at her disposal. Comfortable calling on (and being called on by) her friends, peers, and tribe, her sense-making skills are social and connected. Her thinking may, occasionally, ‘be located inside the brains of other people.’ (Wheeler, 2011)

The gonzo futurist is a ‘deep generalist’ (Cascio, 2011) and ‘analytical polyglot’ (Smith, 2011). She has an ‘almost supernatural awareness of impacts and implications … [is] ready to adapt when necessary, building long-lasting systems when possible.’ (Cascio, 2011) Like Cayce Pollard, she is a ‘woman of affect, not of feeling (…) [an] empress of the amygdala.’ (Berlant)

The gonzo futurist is resilient. She works smart, not hard. She has one eye on the ‘adjacent possible’, switches codes, and contributes to the commons. She may be privileged, but has no time for competition, alpha male dick-waving, or beggar-thy-neighbour. Her success does not come at your expense.

Bombarded by stimuli, the gonzo futurist is an OODA cyborg. Observe, orient, decide, act.



  1. it’s worth noting that in high dimensions, perfect hyperspheres themselves become “spiky,” in the sense that they fill less and less of their enclosing hypercube. you can sort of see this; in 1-d, a unit sphere and a unit cube are the same (that is, a line); in 2-d, you have to shave off a little bit from a square to get a circle; in 3-d, you have to shave proportionally more off the cube to get a sphere. and so on. the moral is: don’t just try to be spiky with what you already know; learn more and more things!

  2. I kinda like it, but you better keep it hush-hush

    otherwise the masses will subvert it as a catch phrase to sell skinny jeans

  3. Weeeeell, that makes me feel a little better about my underemployment as a temp stuck imaging and boxing laptops all day.

  4. I may be just feeling extra-curmudgeonly today, but that reminds me of nothing so much as marketing-speak. It’s the kind of slick “let’s describe some totally awesome new category that we’ve just made up and tell you that you belong in it so we can sell you crap”. You can just hear the velvet tones of the commercial voiceover artist as you read it.

    “The gonzo futurist is uncompromising in her quest for quality. The gonzo futurist sees opportunity where others see only obstacles. The gonzo futurist demands the maximum from herself and from her wardrobe. The gonzo futurist wears [insert product name here].”

    I’m sure the author’s intentions are good, but to me it looks as if he spent so much time writing ad copy that he’s forgotten how to write something that doesn’t reek of advertorial bullshit.

    1. While I can see what you’re saying (and, as you said, you might just be “feeling extra-curmudgenonly today”), I have to wonder if that is at least PARTIALLY because we’re only used to seeing the feminine pronoun used to generalize in advertising.

      It is so uncommon to see the whole of us described in the feminine, unless a woman is being SOLD something.  Replace all the “she”s with “he”s and it automatically feels less like ad-speak.

      1. Not to me, but my reading gets colored by this:

        Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull.

        It may have worked for Cory, but when you start out by declaring what kind of people are boring, my mind hears selling image instead of substance.

          1. Both trying to please other people, and needing to dismiss the way other people are, are things I wouldn’t consider past image. You should be whatever shape of person suits you, not defined by similarity or opposition to others.

          2.  @boingboing-25d11f8e1a305f5eaf4caa32877882f3:disqus so a milder version fo the quote then? Something like “do not be afraid of being spiky, but do not be in their face about it”?

    2. That’s exactly right. It also amuses me that every source is drawn from 2011, as if the author’s research was a single google scholar search, arranged by date, from which they drew a single quote.

  5. Let’s stop making this more than it is. It’s just a statistically high number of Asperger’s type folks who wish to establish their own cultural identity like with the Atheists against Bush.

    It’s justifiable if we keep our observations less sensationalist. We can talk about the “other world citizen” inspiration and the social differentiation without all of this “futurism” junk.

    The U.S. government and corporations ARE being excessively draconian and unrelenting and acting dangerously fast given the sophistication of our security systems, cryptopgraphy, DNS, etc. There is a threat of media mismanagement which makes vulnerable the average readership. These are real problems. We do not need superheroes to thwart these problems.

    We need to understand that those who can internalize these issues but cannot verbalize or vocalize them to the point which might effect need help in learning how to establish communities. We don’t need “opportunity maximization” we need “go out and tell your goddamn friends to shut down their Facebook accounts.”

    Don’t be hyperbolic and sophistical. Like now, I’m doing something remarkably simply: I’m just wearing a “shut your facebook” shirt in public. We need a gradual process to effecting this change.

    Stop acting like you learned Internet over night.

    1. Good thing the file was free. Whole thing sounded like that guy the company hires to tell you to think outside the box, but trying to be “hip to the intertubes.” That said, were I younger and less cynical, I think I would have found some comfort in it. I’d rather this essay gets to ’em before Ayn Rand.

  6. meta-nihilistic, consciously-delusional, rigorously-compartmentalised, hyper-self awareness.
    This is either a great big, sarcastic self analysis of participation in the collapse of society or a preening attempt to assuage the modern humans inability to differentiate herself from the collapsing crowd.
    The more that your are differentiated from the sheeple, the more you must rely on their overwhelming, zeitgeist creating, (bad, oh-so-bad) decision-making.
    You must just push all that unwanted consciousness deep, deep down into the gut and rely on it’s shitty input alone.
    I happen to be a fan of sarcasm, so I liked this.

  7. Well, you and Bruce Sterling are probably right. But I like Terry Pratchett’s idea about the Brownian motion of society rounding off our excrescences.

    Just read tonight in George Dyson’s “Turing’s Cathedral,” which I think you recommended thankyouverymuch, about the prediction ideas developed in the Wiener-Bigelow debomber project of WWII. Including the axiom that predictions “are actually ‘lags’ (functions of the known past) artificially reversed and added to the present value of the function” [Julian Bigelow, interview with Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, October 30, 1999; p. 147 of the ebook fwiw].

    P.S.: Oh! and the same book states that meteorologists in the past had to rely on reporting that the weather today would be much like yesterday’s, or much like similar weather documented from past years’ observations, and meteorologists are now proud of having moved beyond that. Clearly there remains some utility in the old style.

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