Doom is so passé … and essentially does not get you anywhere. User experience evangelist Richard Anderson gave ACM’s Interactions an overhaul. The latest issue offers a fascinating read, including an article by UK designer Richard Seymour bearing the title “Optimistic futures”. In it he points to the potential, the role, the necessity and the responsibility of designers to dream and design bright, positive futures.
“Designers cannot be, by definition, pessimists. It just doesn’t go with the job. We’re supposed to be defining the future, aren’t we? [...] If we can’t see the world as a better place to live in, than what chance does anyone else have?”
“History tells us that before great business can happen, it first has to be a mission. And a mission starts with a dream. As designers, we potentially hold enormous power. And with it comes responsibility. Wield it imaginatively and wisely. And optimistically. Or f@#k off and do something less dangerous.”
Richard is not alone in his crying out for positivism in imagining and designing the future. We already wrote about Peter Lunenfeld’s notes on ‘the vision deficit’ (see here). Also, most of you are familiar with Alan Kay‘s well known “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Yet the much needed optimism to design our way out of dystopia goes far beyond the designer. We seem indeed increasingly unable to draw up optimistic stories of bright futures in which it will be better to live and engage people en masse. Have Hollywoodian apocalyptic disaster movies numbed us that much?
The past years have shown many examples of how fear, doom-scenarios, dystopia, bad news, are powerful tools to move the crowds (see also Michael Crichton’s “State of fear”). The negative has a strong impact on the way we act and react. It must be that through times the growl of the bear left a deeper engraving in our brain to make us run, than that of the beautifully colored flower.
Also Alex over at Worldchanging notes the necessity and the difficulties of creating positive narratives of the future with the same impact as their dystopian brothers. He asked Bladerunner futurist Syd Mead what it would take?
“He paused for a second and said he thought it’d be very difficult, that catharsis is so important to people, and people are so terrified of the future, that you’d need some completely new vision of what the future will look like to even set the scene for a new narrative… and that is obviously no mean feat.”
Alex Steffen calls optimism a political act. Sir Karl Popper called it a moral duty. Yes, it is a must, because it gives that much more in return.