What is Micro-Science-Fiction Prototyping?
µSFP (Micro-SFP) is a combination of three concepts, first Science-Fiction Prototyping (a methodology that uses peoples imagination to write fictional stories to instantiate ideas for new products, businesses or political systems), second Micro-Fiction (a genre of writing ultra short stories as small as just 6 words) and finally, Twitter and Texting (a means of communicating meaningful messages in less than 140 and 160 characters).
Macro-SFPs are larger versions of Micro-SFPs, occupying many pages of writing. As explained elsewhere, they can be created in a way that is more reminiscent of essay writing (a single person conceiving and writing the whole text). However, there is a much more creative and interesting approach that involves dividing the writing task among a group of people who each write micro-sized segments somewhat blindly of each other (with just some small connecting information which is, itself, a variable). Such a probabilistic (or semi-chaotic) way of assembling stories introduces novelty through the generation of unexpected combinations of elements, which can be regarded as being akin to creative disruptions (as sometimes used in brain-storming) which, the supporters of this methodology argue can lead to innovations. Some regard this approach as a variation of micro-SFP writing since the sub-segments are of a similar size. More details on this methodology is given on the MyScifiStory.Com web page.
As with regular Science Fiction Prototypes (SFPs), exploring ideas for new products or businesses as part of a story enables them to be tested within a pseudo naturalistic setting of people and environments.as a means to assess, inform, and influence their future development. In this way science fiction stories serve as ‘prototypes’ to explore the possible implications of future developments on people and society. If you are unfamiliar with Science-Fiction Prototyping, you might find this short 3.5 minute ‘Creative-Science video‘ useful on this paper, ‘Micro-Futures‘ that introduces writing µSFPs.
The Roots oF Micro-SFPs
The roots of µSFP (Micro-SFPs) can be traced to flash-fiction, a literary genre that concerns the writing of very small self-contained creative texts. There are many variants variants ranging in size from as little as 6 words,. through 150 words, to as much as 500 words with labels such as micro, post-card and smoke-long fiction (a Chinese story that can be written in the time taken to smoke a cigarette!). These larger word sizes enable meta structures such as 6 paragraph styles. A charming, if disputed, account of the origins of such short fictions can be traced to the well-known SciFi writer Arthur C. Clarke who reported that Ernest Hemingway, at a dinner party, bet (as part of a bidding process) he could write a complete story in just 6 words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn“) giving rise to this genre. Later the emergence of technology such as Twitter and SMS (cell-phone texts) provided a well-specified limit on the size of messages (140 characters for Twitter, 160 characters for SMS) giving rise to the genre of “text-fiction“, “twitter-fiction“, “twitter-lit” and “t-shirt fiction” sometimes collectively labelled t-fiction which is the most common style for writing µSFPs. An interesting ideologically related (but disconnected) enterprise is the Journal of Brief Ideas which, as the name suggests, is a useful source for prototyping concepts.
So far we have run the following 3 competitions based on the use of µSFPs:
- #iLRN16_SFP – This was a µSFPs organised in collaboration with the Immersive Learning Research Network annual held in Santa Barbara California on the 27th June 2016. The aim of this µSFP competition was to explore ways immersive-reality technology might change future education, stretching from formal education at college through in-situ industrial training to informal settings as part of our everyday lives. More information is on the event website.
- #CE902_SFP – This is a µSFP competition offered to Essex University Computer Science and Electronic Engineering students students as part of an effort to make them more employment ready by imparting critical soft skills to them, such as creative-thinking and product innovation. More information can be found on the competition website.
- CTY Ireland – This was summer school was organised by the Centre of Talented Youth of Ireland (CTYI) in conjunction with Dublin City University. The school sought to show a class of children in the age range of 8-11 how fiction and creative thinking can influence the development of future products or lifestyles and as part of this process, better appreciate the power of stories or the crossover between science and the arts. You can read more about this by visiting the event website.
- New York Makers – Making is a new for of home-based manufacturing which promises to change radically the future of production. One of the largest forums for these ideas is Maker Faire held in New York. CSf attended this during September 20 & 21 2014, inviting attendees to write a µSFPs, proposing a new type of product that people might see in a future Maker Faire at least 20 years from now. You can see more details of this on the event webpage.
- New Creatives – This was a competition organised by the University of Essex and some partner schools to explore the potential for µSFPs to motivate interest in STEM subjects. You can see the µSFPs that were submitted by looking at our Twitter feed (@CSciFoundation on Twitter) or use the embedded Twitter window at the foot of this page. If you are interested, you can download the original ‘New Creatives’ call for participation, workshop presentation, worksheet.
- IE’14 µSFP Challenge – This was a challenge made to researchers attending Intelligent Environments 2014 in Shanghai to write a µSFP using up to 140 characters (about 25 words) that motivated a new product or business idea. You can read more about these competition, including seeing some of the µSFP entires, by visiting the Imagine’14 website.
- Maker’14 µSFP Challenge – In this competition attendees of the Maker Faire held in New York during September 20 & 21 2014, were invited to write a very short fictional story, proposing a new type of product that you might create or see in a future Maker Faire at least 20 years from now. More details are given on our Maker’14 µSFP Challenge website.
Useful links for further information:
- The Wikipedia µSFP pages. A useful summary of µSFP history and methods.
- Ernest Hemingway, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn“, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_sale:_baby_shoes,_never_worn (accessed 13.3.14).
- David Gaffney , “Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction”, theguardian.com, Monday 14 May 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/14/how-to-write-flash-fiction (accessed (accessed 13.3.14). Provides 6 rules for writing micro-fiction.
- Tonya Thompson “How to Write Great Flash Fiction: 10 Things You Need to Know” some interesting insights into the roots, uses and methods of flash-fiction, courtesy of a commercial writing service, ServiceScape (accessed 29.5.19).
- Chris Worth, R.P. Bird, “Espresso Stories” invites, reviews and hosts Micro-Fiction of 25 words or less. This site has hundreds of micro-fictions organised by genre and author, http://espressostories.com/. In addition, this site has a useful set of writing guidelines, see; http://espressostories.com/story_writing_tips.php (accessed 13.3.14)
- Ben Jones, Fee Plumley “The-Phone-Book-Com” (a digital publishing project that ran from 2000 to 2003 and served as the model for 150 word short-stories for phones), http://www.fonebk.com/ (accessed 13.3.14)
- Wired, “Very Short Stories” (over 50 6-word stories), Issue14.11 – November 2006. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html (accessed 13.3.14)
- Kyle Hill “Sci-Fi in Six”, Science fiction short stories told in six paragraphs or less . Kyle Hill wrote all the stories around artwork submitted by others, http://scifiinsix.tumblr.com/ (accessed 13.3.14)
- Essex University, “Micro-fiction at Essex“ (self-contained piece of writing in ten words or fewer – workshops organised by ‘Learning and Development’ and the ‘Faculty of Humanities and Comparative Studies’ for teaching writing, reading, and thinking skills) http://www.essex.ac.uk/ldev/microfiction/ (accessed 13.3.14).
- A short video that explains the nature and benefits of Science-Fiction Prototyping, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPhs1A32ywY (accessed 13.3.14).
- Victor Callaghan “Micro-Futures“, Creative-Science 2014, Shanghai Jiaotong University, 30th June 2014. A Paper that explains how to write Micro-SFPs using examples from the technological singularity.
- Shumei Zhang, Victor Callaghan “Using Science-fiction Prototyping as a Means to Motivate Learning of STEM Topics and Foreign Languages“, Intelligent Environments 2014, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China, 2-4th July 2014. A paper that describes two pilot trials on the use of Science-Fiction Prototyping and Micro Science-Fiction Prototyping as a means to motivate students to engage with STEM and language learning courses.
- Mary DE LEPE, William OLMSTEAD, Connor RUSSELL, Lizbeth CAZAREZ
and Lloyd AUSTIN “Using Science Fiction Prototyping to Decrease the Decline of Interest in STEM Topics at the High School Level“, Symposium on Intelligent Educational Environments 2015, Prague, 13th July 2015. A paper that reports on an investigation into the effectiveness of Science-Fiction Prototyping and Micro Science-Fiction Prototyping as a means to motivate students to follow STEM educational pathways.