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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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"The end of all things is near."

On the (27 hour) plane ride back from New Zealand, I watched a lot of movies, some unremarkable – some wonderful. Watching Happy-Go-Lucky was painful for some reasons, and beautiful for others – but it definately hit me with the pink laserbeam between the eyes.

Watching classics like The Apartment and Manhattan made me wonder at the romances we’d write about some cities, and Slumdog Millionaire bizarrely seemed like a continuation of that: a romance of the maximum-city.

But, beside that – everytime a movie finished, the entertainment system reset to it’s main menu, with one of those airline entertainment system pseudo-radio stations playing on a loop.

And I hit the same point in the loop everytime.

And at that point in the loop played the same song everytime.

The song was a romance of the city.

A romance of electricity and colour and life and density of opportunity.

Electricity so fine
Look and dry your eyes

The song was “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson.

Go and listen.

Watch.

I’ll stay put.

In recent months I’ve definitely fallen into a Collapsitarian rut of sorts.

A comprehensive map of all possible human futures

We -
Are young but getting old before our time

This won’t do.

As Jamais Cascio says, quoting Evelin Lindner:

“Pessimism is a luxury of good times. In difficult times, pessimism is a
self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence.”

The wave of stuff coming down the lightcone is for sure a Danmaku-like bullet-curtain of environmental, societal and technical challenges, but I like Danmaku!

That’s where the action is, where the flow is felt, and where design wrangling of the sweetest kind can be done.

So, more wrangling, less hand-wringing.

Big bets should be made.

Happy-gets-lucky!

It took at 27 hour flight to realise that 27 years ago in 1982, Joe Jackson knew this and planted a time capsule into culture to help me with 2009.

It’s The Anti-Collapsitarian Anthem.

We -
So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

That’s some foresight, right there. So if you are feeling a little collapsitarian, try stepping out.

You -
Can dress in pink and blue just like a child
And in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile
We’ll be there in just a while
If you follow me

Thanks Joe.

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