April 1st is traditionally April Fools’ day … one day a year on which we celebrate pulling pranks on each other. In many countries, every one from John Doe to national media play along and give it their best shot to play tricks on fellow citizens. The format is simple. As in a game of make-believe, we are led to believe something that is not true. Our envelope of reality is temporarily enlarged to include things that normally lie beyond its limits.
Archive for the 'experience' Category
April 4, 2011, was the launchdate of a new ARG (alternate reality game) entitled America 2049. The game is a 12-week episodic experience blending today’s world with a possible future world. The game fuels the debate on human rights issues linked to the thin line between the enabling aspect of certain identity-related technologies and the way in which they expose civil rights to abuse from both private and government sectors.
“In America 2049, the former land of the free has degenerated into the Divided States of America, where sexuality, religion, speech and culture are all controlled and restricted. On the upside: the entire population is on a drug that inhibits aggressive behavior called SerennAide, administered automatically through the water supply. This has led to a decrease in crime rates, an increase in the population’s happiness, and has purportedly helped people to rise above their worst impulses.
Depending on where you stand, this is either a Utopian dream or an Orwellian nightmare. And it is up to you to decide where you stand: alongside the Council for American Heritage (CAH), or with Divided We Fall (DWF).”
Behind the game stands Fuel | We power change , a creative agency focussing on the non-profit sector.
A great way to render the future tangible and use an immersive experience to explore and trigger debate on certain societal issues. Fascinating also that different cultural perspectives are embedded in the devised storylines.
“What happens to technological visions when they do not come true? Do they just disappear or is there a place where they live on until they eventually may be materialized? Or are there phantom futures that might forever stay at a certain distance from us and can we even feel nostalgia for them?”
Meet Robert Walker, a fictitious character created by designer Sascha Pohflepp. Robert saw many of his past visions of the future of space travel remain unrealized. So Robert created a ‘spaceship’ of his own. “He collects technological predictions that had been made for the present year and conserves the ones that didn’t come true. In an annual ritual, he visits a storage facility in which he keeps his ‘ship’, a semi-autonomous archive that will fly through time until it gets recovered and the mission ends. [...] What underlies his imaginary space ship, however, is the realization that narratives of the future in every form are an integral part of what writer Norman M. Klein calls ‘Fantastic Infrastructure’ and therefore as important as every other resource.”
In a way, Robert’s story and the phantom futures link up with the whole idea of technological Darwinism in the sense of technological development following a certain path with some technologies surviving and evolving and others fading away into oblivion.
Forever Future (be sure also to check out the video) was created by Sascha Pohflepp with assistance from Hae Jin Lee as part of the Made Up research residency at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In a subtle and poetic way, the project places visions of the future in the past, tapping into our collective memory of the future that never was. It nudges us to put our current visions about the future in perspective. It reminds us of the power of that grand question ‘What if … things turn out different from what we expect or we can now foresee?’.
Digging into past visions of the future can be nostalgic, it can be humbling, it can be discouraging, yet it can also be inspiring and unlock new understandings of the dynamics and drivers of change. Well done, Sascha!
Image by Sascha Pohlepp
In October of last year, Facebook started correlating status updates of their (US) users with the Gross National Happiness Index. Later, results from the UK, Canada and Australia were added to the mix. According to a recent article in Fastcompany:
“Facebook demonstrated that the vast historic record of status updates is a potential goldmine of information that could easily be raked through by sociology analysts keen to work out when it’s best to deliver an advert for particular products, or perhaps even to promote a particular political message.”
Indeed, sentiment analysis as the game is called (see also here), is not only interesting for artists and gadgeteers, but also for businesses and public institutions.
The concept is not new, in 2001, webdesign meeting point k10k.net launched Moodstats, a webbased effort to enable people to share their moods. Yet, now that our physical and virtual action patterns are becoming increasingly intertwined, applications like iPhone app Glow enable anywhere, anytime, sentiment sampling.
In most current applications, people are still required to express their mood, emotional state etc. Language processing algorithms can help to analyze this data. The next step is obviously to have emotion sensing technologies (e.g. Philips Design’s VIBE) reading, interpreting and allowing us to communicate our emotions directly. Imagine your t-shirt changing color depending on how you feel, for example.
Image by Glow
We were delighted to take notice of another project which shares our passion for positive, optimistic futures! Our friend and much admired fellow design fiction future-storyteller Anab ‘Superflux‘ Jain was one of eight people (others included a biotechnologist, a policy advisor, a permaculturalist, an educator, a retired civil servant, an urban designer and an architect ) involved in a unique project which ran from June 1st 2009 to October 11th 2009 to imagine ‘optimistic futures’. Funded by the Arts Council England and Watermans Gallery, the Power of 8 was part of the London Design Festival 2009. The magnificent 8 welcome you to Acres Green …
“Rolling orchards stretched beyond us as we wandered through the edible gardens of Acres Green. Spots of colour peppered the greenery and branches hung low with the weight of ripening produce. As we looked closer we saw that each tree was actually growing different varieties of fruit. What we originally understood as a tangle of different trunks was actually an intricate technological graft. On parting the leaves we found strange flesh-like prosthesis that seemed to bind limbs from different species together. We realised that to maximise harvests the communities of Acres Green were experimenting with augmented orchards and designing strange new natures.”
Check out the Power of 8 website to feed on more, nifty futurefood incl. pan-city feral cidre businesses, Beamer Signum Apis Melifera aka beamer bees, living hills, flocking clouds, etc. Well done, 8!
Image courtesy of The Power of 8
When talking about making the future tangible, many people expect visual information, projections aimed at the mind’s and the physical eye that ‘show’ how the world around us might look different physically. Yet of course the future has many less physically tangible, yet nevertheless experience related aspects that render it a whole new world. Subtlety in bringing those to life is an art.
One such element is language. Although the dynamics of linguistic evolution differ per language as well as geographically, it only takes a brief look back in history to realize that language evolves over time, influenced by accelerating societal change – also spurred by new media and communication technologies. What will language be like in 50 years time? There are many ways in which language can be futurized: neologisms (futurespeak), subtle references to societal changes (e.g. mass migration leading to mixing of words and sounds, new technologies leading to different behaviours), different rythm or length of sentences, new typographical signs, new ways of naming old things, etc.
Director Michael Winterbottom did a great job in turning language into a core ingredient of his subtle way to bring the future to life in Code 46. Now, Dutch National Poet (dichter des vaderlands) Ramsey Nasr wrote ‘Mi have een droom’ (I have a dream), a poem set in Rotterdam in the year 2059, written in a future language, with elements of urban rap and melting pot slang.
Thanks to Emiel for pointing it out. Image courtesy of NRC.tv
The Apollo mission gave us pictures of our planet from space. Finally we could behold our planet from a distance. We could look at it as an object on the table in front of us, within reach, and as we did our planetary awareness grew. Confronted with several planetary challenges now, our planetary conscience is now gradually shaping up as well. Aside from looking at our planet, NASA‘s Earth Observation System (EOS) reads our planet through satellite data. Access to this information is a prerequisite for learning to understand our planet better. Now we can not only look at our planet, Prof. Shin-ichi Takemura’s amazing Tangible Earth project allows us to interact with our planet and the data emerging from it by touch.
In view of coming up with solutions to the challenges we are facing, sensing our planet has become sheer necessity. We increasingly do so in real time as well: within mouseclick reach we check webcams on the other side of the planet, we can download data from weatherstations around the world, etc.
Until recently, the sensing world was pretty much the playing field of NASA and the likes. The future promises to be more open in this respect (see also open source efforts such as GSN) and consequently much larger – and since we’re talking data: more powerful. Years ago, in describing his wish of an Earth Witness Project, our fellow future explorer Jamais Cascio already pointed to opportunities opened up by the convergence between labs on chips, mobile phones and sharing networks to create an open global sensor network.
Now several companies and grassroots initiatives are preparing to put technology in the hands of citizens. Already we can deduce a lot of information from information we leak by the mere usage of our communication technology, as Carlo Ratti‘s Senseable cities team at MIT shows us. Nokia’s Eco Sensor Concept plans to make us more active participants in the game. Imagine millions of always-on, networked tricorder-like devices sensing our planet : local data + networks + sensemaking = global intelligence. Hewlett-Packard is developing the equivalent of a globally distributed stethoscope (CeNSE) to monitor our planet’s health, and look to nanotechnology as an enabling technology. “The motivation for this work is realising and understanding the planet is sick and the disease is us.”, says Dr Stan Williams of HP’s Information & Quantum Systems Laboratory.
An often forgotten challenge is how to use tech already out there to turn them into sensors for our health and that of our planet. Think about the tech equivalent of using ‘useless’ bath-tub ducks which fell off a ship, to study ocean currents.
You must have noticed as well. The signals have been there for at least a few years, yet they are sounding ever louder. People are increasingly hungry for the real thing, the meaningful, to reaffirm not merely their uniqueness or personal identity, but also their humanity, their grounding, to deepen their experiences, to contribute to something beyond mere consumerism.
Urban farming is on the rise, DIY stores are buzzing with activity, eco-tourism is hot, slow food gains ever more adepts, homegrown fruit and home-baked bread taste for more … Is the economic downturn pulling our feet back to the ground? No, it might amplify things, but things started way earlier. Does the increasingly virtualization of our experiences, of our relationships with both stuff and people, make us nostalgic for more ‘human’, more ‘tangible’ times of direct interaction? Is the superficiality, the airiness of consumer culture making us feel lost? Are we longing to beat negative talk & hear-say with positive action? Trendwatchers say that – in large numbers – we are looking for authenticity, others call it ‘back to basics’, although there seems to be more to it than just another label. Some sociologists fear we are sitting on a timebomb, and refer to a growing gap between those able and willing to follow the ever increasing pace and demands of contemporary post-industrial society and those unable or unwilling to do so.
The Board of Innovation – an initiative by friends and fellow belgian bloggers Nick De Mey (see mouseover.be) & Philippe De Ridder (see openinnovators.net) – kicks off its 24 hours of innovation today: a non-stop marathon of innovation initiatives.
Organizations big and small, national and international will take part in this unique online event. On the playlist are among others our one-time neighbours of AddictLab & Materio, our friends from FlandersDC, trendwatcher Richard Lamb, the City of Antwerp, Sun Microsystems, VisualDimension, Umicore, IdeaMonopoly, Betavine, Symnetics from Brazil, UAMS, Pfizer, URDT from Uganda, and many others. Keep your thumbs up, as Pantopicon participates as well (see here)!
Update: see our contributions “5 what if teasers” and “10 ways in which exploring & envisioning the future empowers innovation”. Thanks Nick & Philippe, another job well done!
Archeology fascinates people, especially children. As they dig up stuff in the garden, their imagination runs wild as they fantasize about all kinds of stories from times past. As we walk the streets, as we use everyday object and live contemporaneity, most of us will have wondered at some point: will this still exist in a few centuries? or: what will future generations dig up from our times? which stories will they reconstruct around them?
Some craft special devices to survive the times. Timecapsules are popular among scientists, amateurs, children … More than merely preserving the past, they are used to send a message to the future.
So-called future archeology works the other way around: we imagine a world of tomorrow’s making and imagine to dig up some of its artifacts. What might they look like? In which kind of world did they originate? Wired’s Found series is a good example of this approach, one we often indulge in as well at Pantopicon. We either create such artifacts together with people as a participatory design exercise during our workshops to render the future tangible or we craft some of our own as triggers to shake people out of today’s constraint based reasoning patterns and plunge them into possible tomorrows.
As I was preparing some designs for a set of looking boxes to allow people to gaze into future scenarios, I somehow stumbled upon the fascinating work of the Swiss designer collective Postfossil. They describe the deeper ground of their work as follows :
“In an age of increased reliance on carbon emitting technology and a rapidly depleting natural resource pool, POSTFOSSIL address the question– How will we live in a post-fossil fuel age?”
As such they made a whole series of boxes – dubbed boîtes de l’avenir - to raise awareness about our age of fossil fuels as we move into a postfossil era. Click through and meet the beautifully crafted and inspiring Actioreactio, A Kiss Good Bye, Ten Matches, Postfossilien, To teeter on the brick of collapse, Pandora’s Box, The Speaking Sun, Historical Landscape.
Do you dream about flying hydrogen cars – even though they are so yesterday?! – sustainable cities, social cohesion services, gracefully degrading packaging etc. at least once a day? Are you fascinated by the many opportunities and challenges that tomorrow’s world(s) might bring? Do you have strong design(er) DNA which makes you think with both head and hands: analytically, conceptually, visually and tangibly?
Then you might be the futures designer we at Pantopicon are looking for to join us in our mission to help public and private organizations explore and envision successful futures, to inspire, guide and transform them, propel them forward towards greater strategies, products, services etc. …
Help us shape the future, join our team. Check out our careers page.
PS. Looking for a traineeship? Click through as well.
“By playing the game, you’ll help us chronicle the world of 2019–and imagine how we might solve the problems we’ll face. Because this is about more than just envisioning the future. It’s about making the future, inventing new ways to organize the human race and augment our collective human potential.”
Superstruct is developed by the IFTF’s Ten-Year-Forecast team led by Kathi Vian. Jamais (Cascio) is scenario director. Jane McGonigal (cf. iLoveBees) watches over the gaming aspects. Game interaction is a perfect match to the ‘what if?’ question central to futures studies: people are presented with challenges, they make choices which have consequences leading to new challenges. Several have advocated tapping into the opportunities that games offer to explore, learn about, envision and prepare for futures and future-oriented action (e.g. Eliane Alhadeff at Future-Making Serious Games ).
While gaming in general is getting more serious attention, especially so called serious games are on the rise within educational, corporate and policy contexts (e.g., see here). As such, the timing of Superstruct probably could not be better. In a recent blogpost Jamais notes how once again we are ‘flirting with the boundaries of the participatory decepticon’, as also Superstruct uses the fakes-as-real strategy (e.g. news items, commercials, blog posts, etc.) to bring the future to life. Yet again, these ‘alternative realities’, even infused in real reality (e.g. ARG‘s), are exactly what attracts people as well. Considering its massive size as well as its develop-as-we-go approach, as a learning tool – not only for the IFTF – but also for their player audience, Superstruct offers lots of potential.
Stay tuned for more reflections …
Futures, experiences, design … three core ingredients of what Pantopicon is all about. Three topics, each situated on a crossroads of disciplines. It is in this context that we are pleased to share with you our latest interview: an inspiring chat with Nathan Shedroff, chair of the Design Strategy MBA programme at CCA, information designer, experience strategist, author of “Experience Design“ and “Making meaning“, and many more things. What do futures studies & design have in common? How does he look at the power of experiences as catalysts for communication and learning? What are his views on the role of design in our current and possible future societies?
Think about it … We use the notion of time to classify events in the world around us according to whether they have already occurred (the past), are occuring (the present) or still need to occur (the future). Does time really exist or is it but a construction of our mind to help us deal with the world? Does time exist beyond of what we make of it through our perception?
Quantum physics is ‘timeless’. Professor of physics at the University of Marseille, France, extends the understanding of ‘no time’ (reminds me of my Uchronian friends) to our everyday experience suggesting, it is but a construct we use to simplify the world. He uses the following example:
“Take the example of a teacup, sitting on a table, which then falls and smashes into several pieces on the floor. There is nothing surprising about this sequence of events for us. But the idea that the pieces could fly back together and become a whole teacup again seems entirely impossible.
But it’s not actually impossible. There is nothing in the laws of physics that would make such an event impossible–it is only very improbable. It is only because of our limited view of the world, Rovelli argues, that we reject highly improbable future propositions and turn them into impossibilities.”
His colleague, Robin Le Poidevin, professor of philosophy at Leeds University, UK, sees it slightly different.
“He believes that there is a flow of time, although it is not one that moves independently from past to future. Instead, it is made up of a causal chain, with each cause having an effect that leads to another, and so on.
In other words, we cannot see a future where the teacup gets back together if there is no obvious cause for it. “
To both however, human perception is the key factor in how we interpret time.
Fascinating thought experiment. So maybe the future already happened …
As has been shown, our awareness of our planet, our ecosystem, our society, our behaviour etc. changed dramatically from the moment we were able to observe Mother Earth from the outside, from space. We could suddenly link what we experienced ‘down here’ with what we saw from ‘up there’. Our outer and inner perspective suddenly became linked as we were looking at the bigger pictures of ourselves from outer space. It are these kinds of feedback loops which propell human insight forward.
Norbert Wiener, father of cybernetics, recognized such feedback loops as core to all intelligent systems. His findings formalized the notion of feedback and influenced a wide variety of fields ranging from engineering to computer science, from biology and philosophy to social sciences looking at the organization of society.
In his latest TED talk, neuroscientist and inventor Christopher deCharms shows how his company Omneuron is using advanced fMRI technologies to look at the happenings inside our brain in real time, in 3D. The sheer possibility of looking at what we think, feel, do ‘up there’, opens up a whole new era of discovery and remediation (e.g. chronic pain control). Psychiatry, pharmaceuticals, surgery were three major categories of treatment. Now there is a fourth. Check out the video here.
Advances in neurofeedback technologies and treatments have already shown some of the ways in which increased awareness of our brains’ activities can be used to enhance training, revalidation and for other purposes as well (e.g. gaming).
Think ahead. Imaging techniques are advancing rapidly and molecular imaging is all the hype now. Think about zooming in from brain to brain area to cell level. Which new pathways does this open up?
Image courtesy of the University of Oxford’s FMRIB Centre