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Futures



What Anarchists Drive, originally uploaded by Ben Terrett.

“The sequence of events in the successfully waking world was generally more or less as follows. The starting point, it will be remembered, was a plight like that in which our own Earth now stands. The dialectic of the world’s history had confronted the race with a problem with which the traditional mentality could never cope.

The world-situation had grown too complex for lowly intelligences, and it demanded a degree of individual integrity in leaders and in led, such as was as yet possible only to a few minds. Consciousness had already been violently awakened out of the primitive trance into a state of excruciating individualism, of poignant but pitifully restricted self-awareness. And individualism, together with the traditional tribal spirit, now threatened to wreck the world.

Only after a long-drawn agony of economic distress and maniac warfare, haunted by an increasingly clear vision of a happier world, could the second stage of waking be achieved. In most cases it was not achieved. “Human nature,” or its equivalent in the many worlds, could not change itself; and the environment could not remake it.

But in a few worlds the spirit reacted to its desperate plight with a miracle. Or, if the reader prefers, the environment miraculously refashioned the spirit. There occurred a widespread and almost sudden waking into a new lucidity of consciousness and a new integrity of will.

To call this change miraculous is only to recognize that it could not have been scientifically predicted even from the fullest possible knowledge of “human nature” as manifested in the earlier age. To later generations, however, it appeared as no miracle but as a belated wakening from an almost miraculous stupor into plain sanity.”

– Olaf Stapledon, Starmaker, Chapter Nine.

Etech09: Chris Luebkeman of Arup

At the Long Now London meeting yesterday (my rough notes here) I asked Stuart Candy a question about the language he was using.

I was intrigued that he was interrogating what ‘Future’ meant to people as part of his practice of exposing them to scenarios and futures in the hope of encouraging more habitual longer-term thinking. He said that he was interested in reclaiming the word “Future” from the more corporate and financial associations it’s had during late-capitalism.

My question was prompted by the fact that Candy’s fellow futurist and friend-of-this-show Jamais Cascio has recently stated that he’s going to stop using the term “long-term”, swapping it out for “multi-generational”.

It’s a subtle but important substitution:

When we talk about the long-term, the corresponding structure of language — and thinking — tends to bias us towards a kind of punctuated futurism, pushing us to look ahead to the end of the era in question while leaping over the intervening years. This skews our perspective. “In the long run, we are all dead” John Maynard Keynes famously said — but over that same long run, we will all have lived our lives, too.

I’m increasingly convinced that, when looking ahead, the focus should be less on the destination than on how we get there. Yet that’s not how we discuss long-term issues. When we describe climate change as a long-term problem, for example, we inevitably end up talking about what it would look like down the road, after some “tipping point” perhaps, or at a particular calendar demarcation (2050 or 2100). Although there’s no explicit denial that climate change is something with implications for every year between now and then, our attention — our foresight gaze, as we might think of it — is drawn to that distant end-point, not to the path.

This has made me think about the rhetoric of ‘futures‘, written, spoken – and as I mainly deal with – the visual and designed. The ‘punctuated futures’ we often imagine and illustrate.

I’ve also recently been thinking about the ‘permaculture‘ movements that have been rehabilitated in recent times from their hey-day in the 60s and 70s.

Permaculture thinking – looking for closed loops of living systems that have the fewest negative impacts as possible on the health and longevity of the systems that they are in turn embedded within – has often been characterised as at-odds with technology. As being anti-futurity perhaps.

But it seems to me that recent trends in emerging technology, as illustrated at Etech ’09 (have a look at Phil Gyford’s notes over at Overmorgen) last week – personal and product informatics, the spimeworld, low-cost rapid fabrication, biomimicry, new materials, cradle-to-cradle thinking, eco-urbanism – understood and deployed in linked and learning systems thinking manner at small scales – say, through a more technologically-oriented approach to the transition towns concept might to address this.

They would seem to be promising technologies of the multi-generational task ahead.

Of the path, not the punctuated end-point.

They could be forging Bionic Permacultures.

Permafutures.

Time to start illustrating them.

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Very rough notes from Stuart’s talk:

Long Now London
stuart candy
16.3.09

designs on a longer now

q: what drew you into the long now?

(the hope is) this group is a group of early adopters of an idea which can get into the broader culture eventually?

stewart brand: why haven’t we seen a picture of the whole earth yet?

made a hundreds of badges the next day with this on
echoing bucky: people don’t think about their impact on the whole earth as a system as they cannot see it

Apollo program picture ‘blue marble’ had the mainstream impact needed for this

Long now is trying to do the equivalent for time as the blue marble did for space

a cultural change in attitudes towards time

(shows protos of the LN clock and mt washington in nevada where the clock is to be built)

but – it’s not really the clock that is the central object – it’s designing culture around the clock… the clock is a catalyst for that.

manifesting futures in the present: ‘found futures’

why: because physiologically, neurally, culturally we all programmed for continuity while living through discontinuity (accelerating change)

building bridges across this] experiential gulf

project: hawaii2050: workshopping with 600 ppl, 4 different versions (scenario) of 2050
continued growth / discipline / collapse / transformation

project: art objects from a 2108 Hawaii: found objects from a future scenario

problem: not everyone you want to reach is attending these things (self-selecting)

solution?: guerilla futures : ad-hoc incursions into futures.
manifest futures in the present whether people have requested it or not

project: postcards from different scenarios printed and sent to the most powerful people in the state of Hawaii at their home addresses one a day without explanation

project: simulated urban gentrification takeover : used vacant lots and filled them with fake posters of multinational brands moving into a chinatown. ‘save chinatown’ group went out and lobbied passers by. unintended consequence: ppl annoyed that they had been ‘hoaxed’

projects: scenario where relationship between Hawaii and china supplants that of the usa, and a bird flu scenario of 2016, played out in wall plaques and street signs (backwards)

Future Shock-therapy

bruce sterling asked: what would happen if you changed ‘guerilla’ interventions into a regular standing army?

got candy thinking: a 2nd strategy: ‘ambient foresight’

foresight as an emergent capacity – instead of being deliberately disorienting and interventionist – it’s more subtle and day-to-day. implicit, incidental

‘what kind of practice do we need to be thinking about the future day to day, for it to be woven into culture’

cf. paul hawken: ‘sustainability should be as easy as falling off a log’

ambient foresight examples: lung pictures on cigarette packets? nutrition facts (!)

carbon/energy facts: jamais’s cheeseburger footprint

aim: ‘social capacity for foresight’ (richard slaughter)