The opportunities design has to make radical change are much more limited when you are restricted to the realm of current reality. I found it very helpful and inspiring to hear how “unreal”, “unthinkable”, and even “impossible” ideas or worlds are absolutely necessary to design for. It seems very real to me that todays world is heading toward that of a monoculture and quickly limiting the potential for imagining these future possibilities.
I found the discussion surrounding micro-utopias incredibly fascinating. While at first thought of this notion as unrealistic or even potentially dangerous, on further reflection I realize that it is not necessarily the idea of a micro-utopia that is novel but rather the way of thinking about the world in order to come up with it. It was particularly fascinating to read the section on Anarcho-Evolutionists as this sect seems to fit rather hand in hand with my speculative vision. When researching and preparing this vision I kept running into the roadblock that is not all people will want to subscribe to this new way of life, that some may actually view it as more of a dystopia. When considering it as a potential micro-utopia, one that not everyone has to subscribe to, it seems so much more feasible.
While all of the micro-utopias explored may not seem feasible or may come across as to sci-fi, their creation has far greater reaching implications. It goes to show just how important it is to allow or even force people to call into question the very systems that make up their everyday lives. By proposing something radically different, Dunne and Raby propose something powerful to the viewer, they give them the ability to examine for themselves this new way of looking at things. A new way to examine a synthesis of research in a form much more conducive than reading a report, they are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in a speculative reality.
While reading Cameron Tonkinwise’s article “Just Design” I felt mixed emotions, I found myself agreeing with most of his points, while feeling rather uneasy about others. I certainly agree that good design should embody “future, fiction, speculative, critique, provoke, discourse, interrogate, probe, and play” related aspects, I believe that the notion that all design must do this to be adequate is arrogant and harmful. I believe design is a process, a way of thinking, and an art that can embody thousands of forms and span multiple disciplines.
By understanding the systems at work in an alternative version of reality can prove extremely helpful in “Large scale systemic change” in the real world. James Bridle, in his interview on why technology is creating a new dark age, puts this very starkly. Bridle points out that that the use of fiction and fantasies can be instrumental in how we can “predict about long-term futures”. While science fiction is often written off as useless futurism I have so much better of an understanding of its role in figuring out our world and how it perfectly aligns with the act of design. By imagining worlds that operate off of different systems than our own, we can truly open our eyes to the way that things work. It is not until we as humans understand the world that we live in and how it works that we can change it for the better. It is the “weird, strange, and difficult to understand” that deserves focus, a focus which is best meet with a speculative view on design.
Erik Olin Wright gives us a glimmer of hope in “Envisioning Real Utopias”, a glimmer of hope that is far from within reach, but visible none the less. Although I do certainly believe that another world is a possibility, I agree when Wright states that this is no easy task. For me, the feat of coming up with a new and viable system for change is much less of a hurdle than fundamentally changing the way humans live. The very idea of social norms and powerful institutions that are ingrained into our minds from childhood push us to live passively and quietly, concerned not on how to live better but rather just on how to survive in the system. We all too often think that what we know as natural is also good and is working for us. This simply is not true.
In chapter two, Wright points to the fatalistic nature of humans as a major roadblock in creating a real utopia and I couldn’t agree more. We have become stuck in our routines so much so that most people have no grasp on the fact that our system is even broken let alone that alternatives can be achieved. I myself frequently find myself with a fatalistic mindset when it comes to societal change and humanity as a whole. I can see how this mindset, regardless of its origin, can lead to mass skepticism and hopelessness, leaving us unmobilized and doing nothing. This being said, I am not cynical to the possibility of a new system. A system that is desirable, achievable, and viable. Getting there is the problem.
When asked to envision ‘real’ utopias, I immediately think of Estonia or rather, e-Estonia. The small post-soviet state of Estonia is taking radical steps toward creating an entirely digital nation. This project is fundamentally redefining what it means to be a country, and this is the sort of thinking paired with realistic action that needs to be happening in order for widespread change.
Estonia is transforming the way people interact with society in very real ways through an unparalleled use of technology. by 2002, the government built free wifi networks covering most inhabited areas. In 2007, e-voting was implemented, and by 2009 94% of tax returns were filled online and taking users under 5 minutes to complete. In addition, vast arrays of high-speed fiber-optic cable has been run across the country providing incredible access to its entirely online government. Currently, all bureaucratic processes can be done online, and all citizen’s data is easily accessible in times of need. This data is also not stored centrally, but via the blockchain, and thus in the event of attack or even invasion, the local government cannot be shut down. E-Estonia’s digital residency program allows for anyone in the world to become an e-Estonia resident for just $100 and a trip to the embassy. This type of change in the way we view residency and nationality provides yet another step in the right direction for widespread shift in thinking and allows for one to conceive of an entirely borderless nation.
This utilization of technology for greater societal good makes e-Estonia one of the most forward thinking, yet largely practical efforts in radically changing the very ideas of statehood and government. Though all of these achievements act as great strides towards to a true utopia, there are just as many dystopian possibilities that hang thinly in the balance.
Paul Mason’s “post-capitalist guide to our future” points to emerging technology as a sort of savior, something that has the potential for great societal change. While this is certainly true, there are many concerns that make our new technology problematic. As pointed out by many, the leaders of our capitalist society will almost certainly claw and scratch at any semblance of their diminishing system in order for personal gain. This makes me incredibly weary of the feasibility of full automation without the exploitation of the working class. Whether the increased power of wage workers will be enough to create unity and squash the efforts of those clambering to fight against anti-capitalist movements, I do not know. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams convincingly suggest that by accelerating the long and painful process of transition and implementing change that radically defines the structure of our society, we can circumvent this fear.
While I do long for this world characterized by universal basic income and full automation, I find my preconceived view of humanity and generally nihilistic outlook hindering my ability to actually see this succeeding. Peter Frase’s writings on our four potential futures further solidified our societal trajectory. By pointing out that the “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism”, he effectively lays our future in front of us. A future in which there are not all great options. I believe strongly that “the transition is not just about economics. It will have to be a human transition” (Mason 167) This quote really solidified my thoughts that this next stage is so much bigger than a new economic system and will take much more than policy change to bring about. The systematic change of how we as humans interact, what we value, and what drives us is integral to the transition into a new realm.
These readings remind me of the work done by Florian Idenburg (SO-IL) and Benjamin Prado (Knoll) in conjunction with Harvard’s Graduate School of Design –imagining the workplaces of a world without work. Their work illustrates the idea that designers will no longer would have to think of the trappings of an office as solely functional or performative but rather consider more social, atmospheric, and comfort related innovations. These workplaces are conducive to healthy community, leaving behind the often-uninspiring landscape of traditional offices for ones that are more apt for our potential post work environment. This seemingly utopian society where work is a lifestyle choice, and work and leisure are merged would lead to unbelievable amount of development in both innovation –further liberating us from labor, and societal change liberating us from our cultural shackles to neo-liberalism.
Current trends in co-working spaces and the growing amount of “cool” start-up offices with ping pong tables and beer taps are certainly pushing the agenda of a work-leisure combination but are largely missing the point. What would truly make a future “office” great is the freedom to work without ties to establishment and to work on what one is truly interested in rather than what feeds the capitalist machine. This trend is in many ways disguised as pushing the post-work ideals of combining leisure and work, when in reality it is doing quite the opposite. By tricking people into working more and solidifying shallow allegiances with companies, the work week is often further elongated and the machine chugs on.
The induction of a universal basic income, a world of “full” automation, governmental upheaval, societal change, I do believe could change the world –but not until we as the world change. Our future greatly lies in flux as we approach the fall of capitalism and can only be salvaged by a smooth transition into a world without work, a world that does not idolize money, and a world the champions the true potential of humans rather than their value in the form of labor capital.
A new technology that I found intriguing is the biological supercapacitor. This “battery” is structured entirely of protein that actively draws electrical power from a human body. This “power” is harnessed from the ever-present ions found in many human body fluids.
This research and development is being made by a vast team of scientists at both UCLA and the University of Connecticut. This technology is currently being applied in the form of Implantable micro-scale energy storage devices that would effectively be implanted into the human body.
This breakthrough is currently able to be used in junction with current implanted medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers and provides a starting point for more experimental forms of implants such as gastric, brain and bladder simulators.
Researchers believe that this device could provide a lifetime of energy to patients implanted medical devices, and thus eliminate the need for regular surgeries. The elimination of the need for frequent operations will make these medical devices much less problematic by limiting the opportunity for complication. By replacing the use of a traditional battery for a biological device, the presence of toxic metals and chemicals is removed from the patient’s bodies. Additionally, by removing the bulky batteries, implantable devices will be able to become much smaller and last much longer.
It is hard to look at this technology without the obvious thought of future applications, the ability to charge any and all of our devices directly from our bodies. While this may seem like an incredible convince, it certainly poses some serious concern. At its best, this innovation could bring about a new low-density renewable resource, but what could go wrong is much less ideal. What are the longterm effects of siphoning ions from one’s body? What happens when people learn to hack these devices? What happens if our bodies, in fact, need this energy for something else i.e The Matrix? One could envision an even darker future where farms of otherwise useless humans are harvested for energy to power the new ruling class of “artificially” intelligent machines.
Are.na is a web-based community centered around collaborative research and creative thinking. Unlike other social media, it promotes a calm and productive experience designed by and for artists/designers. Are.na creates an unparalleled platform for creativity, research, collaboration, and the spread of ideas.
Are.na is entirely user owned and ad-free, creating a platform virtually devoid of capitalism. Through its seemingly complex but actually very simple process of connecting “blocks” of information to channels, it acts as a sort of visual roadmap. This roadmap, if utilized correctly has the power to completely contextualize the internet.
Are.na works to create knowledge-based communities that develop deep webs of relevant information that can be accessed by anyone on the site. This spreading of mass knowledge promotes the ideas of decentralization and mindfulness.
Are.na challenges the idea of exclusive property by allowing for a network where anything and everything can be connected and effectively “owned” by anyone. This supports many anti-capitalist ideals by creating essentially an entirely free and open “marketplace” where nothing is bought or sold but rather just available. While there is potential for “premium” upgrade, Are.na can be utilized to its fullest potential entirely for free.
I have no doubt that the people behind Are.na designed it as a tool to promote social change and potentially anti-capitalist ideals. I do think, however, that its primary function is as a creative organization tool. That being said, Are.na has immense potential for anti-capitalist change in the ways we share information, learn collaboratively without the need for institutions, and gather like-minded individuals.
This image shows the network that centers around the channel “meta are.na” creating a web of information based specifically on the platform itself: