Friday, November 28, 2008

The compleat Wired future artifacts gallery, 02008

[augmented reality windscreen] | Wired 16.01 (January)

[bioluminescent tattoo] | Wired 16.02 (February)

[vat-grown meat infomercial] | Wired 16.03 (March)

[Risk boardgame] | Wired 16.04 (April)

[Smithsonian exhibit] | Wired 16.05 (May)

[wine spectrometer] | Wired 16.06 (June)

[the last "Found"] | Wired 16.07 (July)

The feature disappeared for two editions -- 16.08 (August) and 16.09 (September), before making a comeback, with a slightly different format involving more moving parts. Each published "Found" is now constructed as a scene incorporating multiple future "fragments", rather than as a single idea (usually a hypothetical product) like before. Below, then, are the remainder of the 02008 features, with corresponding details under each one. (These detail images can be accessed in a slideshow, via the Wired URL provided for the main image, but they're perhaps a bit easier to access and appreciate in the scrolling layout used here.)

[bumper stickers] | Wired 16.10* (October)
Details below...

[fridge] | Wired 16.11 (November)
Details below...

[Wall St] | Wired 16.12 (December)
Details below...

Since the relaunch of Found, there has also been a monthly "Found Photoshop Contest", which we'll look at in a future post.

Related posts:
> Found 02007 | 02006 | 02005 | 02004 | 02003 | 02002

*NB: This edition is mistakenly labelled 16.09 on the Wired website.


Eliot said...

Yick. It seems to me that "future artifacts" as thinly veiled pretense for ideological propaganda undermines the integrity of Futures. Without any annotation, one can only adduce from the last three vignettes that Wired is suggesting:

1) Rural and/or southern-American people are worthy of derision.
2) Anthropogenic climate change as a theory is unimpeachable.
3) The financial ascendancy of China will necessarily eclipse the west.

Bring back the old "future artifacts" I say. I want aspiration. I recently read the abstract from a study (which I cannot find presently) which suggested that those people whom are most successful (as determined along a number of metrics) also possess an ability to suppress continued self-examination of their failures. While a "collapse" artifact might be useful as in expanding one's vision of possible solutions, it is difficult for me to believe that is the goal of these last three vignettes. Which, even if it actually is their intended purpose, Wired's editorial slant combined with the lack of any context makes it difficult for a critical thinker to shake the sense that one is being propagandized.

stuart candy said...


Interesting points, with which I both agree and disagree, in part. I’ll explain.

Your central observation is about the last few (multi-element) editions of Found, which you seem to find objectionable for being both grim (bespeaking "collapse" narratives) and narrow (such that it’s "difficult for a critical thinker to shake the sense that one is being propagandized").

Now, as you know, any given artifact is bound to contain a particular point of view on change. That's the thing about scenarios, and artifacts, as their embodied or "congealed" counterparts; each one crystallises historical potential in a certain way. Or, we could say, it trades contingency (multiple possibilities) for concreteness (a particular possibility). Taken alone, then, any scenario is vulnerable to the criticism of bias, narrowness, editorial slant, and the like. A scenario is a particular point of view. A major offer of futureS (yup, big plural S) is to go meta on the theory propounded by any single scenario, enabling us to bring multiple scenarios (expressing competing theories, forecasts, ideas -- which collectively, many futurists call "images of the future" even if they’re not literally images, so to speak) on stage for consideration and comparison.

I agree that, especially if you don’t like (or simply disagree with) a theory of change embedded in a scenario or artifact, it can feel quite ideologically pointed. But since this is, on the face of it, also true of any single perspective or line of logic that one encounters, you have to look deeper to consider whether it's really narrowness, or just a f'rinstance; one scenario among others. In this setting, the places to test that theory would be across the set of "Found" features, and also by reference to the editorial tendencies of the magazine at large.

Before we take up that point, let me add that I don't draw precisely the same conclusions that you do on the basis of these images alone. First, I can’t see any position here on anthropogenic climate change (climate change, yes, but caused by humans?). Second, I don't discern a blanket disdain for Americans from any particular region; southern, rural or other. (I take it you're thinking of the bumper stickers, which to me are certainly playing on a certain vehicle/driver "personality" -- which is instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with U.S. roads -- but I see it trying to squeeze low-intensity comic mileage out of a tension between scifi tropes and social conservatism, rather than to disparage any particular group.) As for Chinese economic ascendancy, I agree that’s certainly the thesis of the December image. But going back to the point made above, that shouldn’t be problematic in itself; every scenario takes a position on something.

However, having said all that I want to agree with you again. I’m not defending Wired against the charge of narrowness in its future scenarios -- but I think the narrowness lies at a different level from the one you've identified. It's not really an image-by-image problem, but subsists across the feature (and perhaps the publication) overall, which evinces no special familiarity with or expertise in alternative futures thinking. Accordingly, there's serious limits to the "Found" image set as a whole, going back to 02002: it’s overwhelmingly Western, gadgety, commercial, and superficial. It frequently recycles or comments innocuously on scifi tropes, or serenely extrapolates existing socio-technical trends. Anything resembling trenchant social criticism, unorthodox or dissenting futures is pretty much absent.

This is a pity, but it's not a surprise. Sure, I’d like to see more aspirational, but -- here’s the rub -- more critical, deliberately diverging, comparative images of the future in these artifacts, and in its pages generally. But Wired is an American tech-culture magazine catering to an affluent, politically mainstream readership, and the narrow range of futures explored matches that profile. What I've described would almost certainly be less acceptable to its audience and advertisers than the popcorn futures and geeky in-jokes which are its customary stock-in-trade.

So I share your eagerness to diversify the points of view on offer here. Your idea seems to be to offset the "collapse" scenarios with more aspirational (non-collapse) alternatives. But if we take another look, we may find that these recent artifacts tell "collapse" stories only in the most limited sense. In tha mag's latest futures, Wall St still the same thing; household appliances continue to increase their array of helpful labour-saving features; and bumper stickers notwithstanding, the 2018 pickup truck basically identical to today's. To date, the future in the new Found is same as it ever was, if only a little bit busier.

We can agree that thinly veiled propaganda doesn't make for good futures work. But, as much as I appreciate the example they've set with visually communicating scenarios in this feature -- this ain't futures. And come to that, I'm not sure it counts as propaganda either, when the communicator doesn't appear to realise how narrow their own thinking is.