Reading Response 6:
Speculative Design, or… (Just) Design?
Dunne and Raby’s dissection of the different facets of speculative design was clarifying. It provided an insightful conversation when paired with the Tonkinwise article. It seemed utopic for Dunne and Raby to state that limits on design depend on what people believe is viable. What if someone believes that nothing is unviable; does this make their speculative design theory unlimited? Another large point of speculative design is that it makes viable and unviable solutions/ possibilities “tangible and available for consideration.” Speculative design versus “regular”/commercial design are often separated on the basis of the inaccurate belief that commercial design is made up of the instrumental technical task of styling. Tonkinwise claims that what designers make become the new futures that we inhabit. This coincides with Dunne and Raby’s explanation that there are multiple realities; in fact a new reality for every living person. Multiple realities = multiple, everchanging futures. Speculative design would be creating utopias for all of these differing realities. Speculative design is for providing complicated pleasures and enriching our mentality. Speculative design should make people speculate; it should make people wonder what lies beyond their first thought and immediate vision.
Diving further into the notion of design fiction vs design future, it was grounding to read that Tonkinwise perceives that people eat, clean, sleep, commute, and love all in very similar ways as they did 100 years ago. Designing futures is the introduction of what could be, it makes people wonder about what is really probable. “…design fictions describe scenarios in which the design innovation is no longer innovative, but merely a habitual part of everyday practices. “ Design Fiction becomes so regulated that it provides the opportunity for viewers and designers to decide if it’s how they would potentially like to live. Design fictions are also usually “brief but vivid”, while design futures are usually verging more on fantasy and utopia.
I read the interview with James Bridle on if technology is creating a new dark age. He touches on design futures by explaining that design is experimentation to help learn and gain understanding of the systems at play. James Bridle also has an extremist view on design, but I don’t disagree with it. In specific regards to climate change, but could be applied to most worldly topics, he says that it’s important to make things horrific so that people can’t stop thinking of them. This is a form of speculative design that could most impact the public. This could also be regarded as a form of scare tactics, but based in pure facts. Making design as factual as possible may be the most effective way to communicate certain horrors of the world. I resonated with how Bridle touched on the dangers of romanticizing the past, and how that’s a side effect of our narrow view of history. This ties back into Tonkinwise’s powerful critique on how it is repugnant if futures are designed in a fashion of whitewashing. “It is morally repugnant that the worst things white people can imagine happening to them in some dystopian future are conditions they already impose on non-white people.”
Reading Response 5:
Building Real Utopias
As Erik Olin Wright dove into dissecting different possibilities for future utopias, he made an effort to create almost a “formula” of what is needed to combine into utopia. The points he highlighted in this formula are that critique is needed in a society to pinpoint why we want to leave our current state, hypothesizing about alternatives tells us where we want to go, and speculating transformation tells us how to get there. Thinking of utopias with this structure adds validity and depth; dissecting and thinking about these topics with structured logic sepperates unfeasible ideas from potentially feasible.
There are specific and small windows in society that showcase utopia in action. A repetitive theme throughout these essays is the praise upon Wikipedia; a showcase sampling of anticapitlism in perfect order. An online journal entitled Dare to Edit by Epherma starts with a quote about encyclopedias in general “The goal of an encyclopedia is to assemble the knowledge scattered far and wide on the surface of the earth, to expose its general system to our fellow men with whom we live and to transmit it to those who will follow us, so that […] our sons, by becoming more educated, might become at the same time more virtuous and happy. (quoted in J. Creech, 1982: 183)” This same exact mindset is what keep Wikipedia successful and growing every day. It’s a window into utopia because there is no motive to add to the “community” other than for the sake of informing other users, and maintaining order and accuracy among global topics. Wikipedia is physical proof as Wright says “utopian ideals grounded in the real potentials of humanity.” Wikipedia thrives on the notion of “to each according to need, from each according to ability.” There are universal needs, and there are diverse and universal ways to fill these gaps when everyone taps into their unique abilities.
This goes on to exemplify that real freedom means that people have actual capacities to make choices that matter to them. In utopia, people would have the ultimate freedom to make decisions that affect them uniquely in every way, as well as the freedom to make decisions as a group that affect the outcome of the community. Capitalism is so ingrained into everything that, like Matt Wizinsky talked about on the very first day of class, it’s easier to picture the end of the world than it is to picture a world without capitalism. People are born into deeply rooted societies and raised to become a part of it. The society that occupies all facets of their life is all they know how to maneuver in, meaning people are just constantly coping and justifying the crippling effects of capitalism as their reason for life.
Though Wikipedia sounds like just a small detail in relation to the vast world of politics and humanity, it is an effective facet to dissect and relate to bigger pictures. In the same way that Wikipedia killed the author-god complex and now exists as one large entity, so could these notions theoretically be applied to the global scale. In the same way that Wikipedia has killed “authocracy”, open-source design sites are doing the same. Noun Project and Use+Modify are examples. With the killing of an author god, there is no discrimination or vetting; just infinite knowledge and resources growing for everyone to benefit from.
An area that encompasses many types of intercepting technologies are urban cities. An emerging technology that is still in research and experimental stages but remains highly anticipated is the idea of Smart Cities. The beginning of the Smart City is highly reliant on collecting as much data as possible about a space, using this data as a building mold, and shaping a city with technology to perfectly form to how it is used.
In North America, Toronto was ranked this year as having the highest tech growth according to the Commercial Real Estate Services Group. Toronto is highly anticipated to continue its upward growth and Tech boom, already surpassing San Francisco as a tech capital. Companies are jumping in early and attempting to grow alongside Toronto. There is an 12-acre plot of land in the outer area of Toronto called Quayside which is desolate; full of plots of desolate land and abandoned shops. The company Sidewalk Labs is using this as a monumental opportunity for technology to integrate into everyday life; so much so that the citizens won’t even notice. Sidewalk Labs’ vision is to track pedestrian’s patterns with interactive sidewalks (with ubiquitous sensors), utilize almost entirely autonomous vehicles, and track which trash bins are used the most and when citizens litter. This technology growth would also be used to attract affluent “techies” ready to settle in a city and make families.
Relying on self-driving cars, Sidewalk Lab is anticipating more precision and safety, which they plan to utilize by creating more narrow traffic lanes and larger parks and sidewalks. The reliance on self-driving cars and transit also means that there will be a large reduction in the amount of families that need to own cars. Joining how cars and traffic regulating systems interact results in a more harmonious system all around.
Sidewalk’s executive states “If you think of the city as a platform and design in the ability for people to change it as quickly as you and I can customize our iPhones, you make it authentic because it doesn’t just reflect a central plan.” The final goal on a broader spectrum is to devise a plan of data collecting in a city, so that urban planners and technologists can work together to form that information to smoothly transform the city into a technological entity.
Naturally, there are an exponential amount of questions and concerns; a local publisher in Toronto published a list of 35 questions that citizens have for the advancement towards a smart city: https://torontoist.com/2017/10/civic-tech-list-questions-wed-like-sidewalk-labs-answer/ . These questions center around privacy, governance, and inclusiveness. The 50$Million phase-1 of the project is already long underway gathering city data, so it’s only a matter of time before the evolution starts happening.
Reading Response 4:
There were a couple firm similarities between the four readings. The underlying theme that I construed from them was: In order to achieve any type of hopeful future, there must be an entire systemic reform. Inventing the Future claims that reform is futile, but it must be a non-reformist reform. This is a double-negative sounding solution that I had to re-read about 7 times to start making sense of, but essentially is saying that the reform is an open-ended shift; an unapologetic shift towards a new development (“rather than a mechanical transition to the next predetermined stage of history”).
In Accelerate Manifesto, there was a line that was scathingly eye-opening. “‘At least we have done something’ is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-esteem rather than effective action.” This exactly sums up how I feel; frustrated and scared at the current state of global being, but unsure of what else I could be doing differently. Also the feeling that I’m not doing anything at all to help shift the predetermined course of existence towards destruction. I feel this fear towards both the parts of the simultaneous crisis talked about in Four Futures; Abundance and scarcity. If workers start unionizing, it will only be a matter of time before global companies accelerate their automation priority. When workers command better wages, it is easier to replace them with expensive machines. This renders these workers as “useless” as it stands with the current and foreseeable growth pattern of capitalism. This goes into the utopia viewpoint, according to Inventing the Future, of the goal of the future being full unemployment. Inventing the Future was the most indulgent of the four readings to me. It felt like a deep dive into deconstructing our unbearable jobs that we use to pay bills, and opening up the possibility that workers don’t have to live in anguish and stress. The fact that this could even be an option for a standard of living feels so far out of reach that it nearly feels hopeless to think about. In regards to the impending automation, Inventing the Future shines some light that there will always be some human-centered jobs (in a capitalist society) that a machine couldn’t replace; such as creative work and tasks relying on tact.
I was drawn towards the theme of a concrete Enlightenment that was talked about in the Accelerate Manifesto. In referring to utopia as an Enlightenment, it insinuates that reaching utopia is beyond an economical or social breakthrough; it’s about a flip in humanity as a whole. Theoretically, If the decision makers (…who are????) all reach perfect self-mastery, then there will be radical change (reform).
I found a journal entry on e-flux about Russian Cosmism. This was my first time hearing about Russian Cosmism, but it seems to mirror the notion of utopia being complete unemployment, and multiplied by a million. The journal states “Similarly to Marxism, which sees labor as the engine of the emancipation of the proletariat, cosmism sees laboring towards resurrection by means of science, art, technology, and social organization as a way of collaborating with God, a collaboration that will result in the active evolution of humanity and the universe towards becoming a single interconnected, sapient organism, immortal and infinite like God.” The journal also explains that the use of religion comes from a place of heresy; perhaps as a symbol rather than anything literal. This explanation coincided with how I felt the “Enlightenment” was spoken of in the Accelerate Manifesto. Reading about these beliefs from the early 20th Century almost questions Capitalism as a machine; there are so many mirrored intentions and statements with over a hundred years dividing them. How has the trajectory of capitalism changed since these (Russian Cosm) notions were initially expressed?
An instance of anti-capitalism is the “love locks” phenomenon. Love locks are just inscribed-padlocks placed on a bridge or fence by a couple, to act as a symbol as the couples’ love for each other. According to their Wikipedia (another anti-capitalist movement), love locks are “believed to have originated in China – where lovers lock a padlock on a chain or gate and then throw away the key, symbolically locking their love forever.” This was extremely popular in Paris, but has grown to be a global phenomenon. The motive behind this action is not driven by profit, but rather individuals expressing their love for each other. The fences and bridges where this trend takes place often get so dense with locks that the original structure becomes obscured.
Surpassing the physical locks, the spaces that love locks become popular act as monuments of connection between people. It could be construed as kitschy or worthless, but at the least its a public display of love between two people. The locations where love locks become popular aren’t assigned or planned, they just grow from a single lock. It’s nice that couples feel so drawn to express their love in an active and visible way, but this type of public affection towards other humans could be expanded.
This principle could be expanded through something more physical such as a community-driven food pantry, or an environment where this type of connection was encouraged between random strangers, eager to meet new people. This principle could also expand into day-to-day interactions with the people around us; valuing the connection without the prompt of a physical lock. This love lock behavior seems very niche, but the principle behind the action holds the potential for growth.