London’s Design Museum is doing something unusual by mounting an (admittedly slim) exhibition this summer which instead of the obsession with form and function in individual design objects, brings design, architecture and acute social analysis together in a ‘design fiction’ about a future divided UK. The divisions in this kingdom are not political, but about lifestyle, values and the appropriation of technology. Rather improbably, but usefully in analytically casting light upon the present as all good technology fictions should, each ‘micro kingdom’ or ‘super shires’ bases its lifestyle on a different technology: digitarians on every possible application of information and communication technologies and its “implicit totalitarianism” as the website puts it; communo-nuclearists, forced to move their energy-rich society continually on a vast train because of the unpopularity of the nuclear source which supplies it; bioliberals who use the power of synthetic biology to create a low environmental impact world where “gardens, farms and kitchens replace factories and workshops”, and anarcho-evolutionists who turn the same bioscience capabilities in upon themselves in strengthening their own capabilities, sometimes prompted by an explicitly post-humanist stance.

The designers behind the exhibition, Dunne & Raby, and rather more informative website (www.unitedmicrokingdoms.org) point out the digitarian world is the most immediately chilling for us, because ITC has become all-pervasive in our current world. Whilst being still associated with counter cultural elements and praised for its role in the ‘Arab spring’, the internet has increasingly come to bolster traditional centres of power, as the power of surveillance grows, and services that support and expand social networks increasing commercially exploit them. The most chilling aspect of the digitarian world is that it may combine 100% transparency with zero accountability – “the digitarians are governed by technocrats, or algorithms – no-one is entirely sure, or even cares.”

There are of course some trivial and more significant nonsenses here: the idea that the paranoid nuclear state, with unlimited energy but many enemies, has to be continually on the move to protect itself against enemies and that train tracks will provide a secure way of doing so, or that indeed any society will base its future on one technology. However, in a broader sense the exhibition delivers: it is good to have a museum of design highlighting major societal choices and social trends, and good too to raise the issue as to whether social identities are diverging to such an extent that the modern state will have difficulty in accommodating them on the traditional 50% + 1, winner-takes-all, version of representative democracy, and if so how the state may improve its tolerance of diversity consistent with some central unifying values.

The question is, if it is true that such broader identity politics are on the rise, what their basis will be. Undoubtedly issues of ethics and values around technologies, like their distribution of benefits and costs, are becoming more important as technical change accelerates. It seems reasonable to believe, and perhaps hope, that in parallel traditional community identities of ethnicity and religion will decline in importance, although in vast swathes of the world that seems a distressingly remote prospect. The ground is shifting. However, to extrapolate from these trends to seeing technological choice becoming central to personal and then group identities seems a big step.

We are of course all technological fetishists on a microscale. I have just upgraded my internet bandwidth sevenfold without having a clear idea what I will use the extra speed for beyond streaming films in high definition. But it is important that technology policy be first policy and second technology: in framing social choices about technology it is important that political values predominate, that society makes choices about clear social objectives and then look for technologies, or portfolios of technologies, which safely and flexibly meet them.