Friday, February 29, 2008

Behold: a disturbing hole!

Or: Principles for designing future artifacts, post the first.

One of our
jobs at HRCFS drew to a close recently, with the delivery of a number of "prototype futures" -- visual mockups of the possible social context for prototype technologies, as opposed to images of the hypothetical gadgets themselves.

I want to start a new thread here at t.s.f. which will reflect, with practical ends in mind, on how we create artifacts from the future, and why. For confidentiality reasons I can't say much about the aforementioned project, but the lessons and ideas that our team has been able to derive from it, among other experiential scenario design projects over the last couple of years, seem well worth sharing for those interested in scenario design.

Some ideas may be a little cryptic at first, but I expect to be able to illustrate and extend each point with examples as we go along.

The first thing to note is what seemed a throwaway line from Ambient Findability author Peter Morville in a comment to a July 02007 post at his blog, findability.org, that has wormed its way into our design lexicon for futures artifacts:

"[S]ometimes, it's better to invite contributions with a disturbing hole than to silence conversation with a pacifying whole."

Morville was referring to a framework for "user experience strategy" in which he had left one cell of a honeycomb-shaped diagram unlabelled, seeking feedback from his readership as to what term it should contain.

The post (and diagram) could in principle have been about anything, and his remark would still have made sense as a statement of the value in deliberately leaving gaps when soliciting feedback, i.e., active engagement by an audience. But in a pleasing bit of symmetry, it turns out that he was talking about linking user experience strategy with futures studies, which is precisely the point of ensuring the (temporarily) "disturbing hole" in a future artifact. It's a design characteristic of an effective user experience of a future scenario.

This came to mind after a discussion during the week with some futurist colleagues about the relative merits of priming an audience by explaining the content or intent of an experiential scenario, versus leaving these to be resolved by audience members themselves (or revealed only after exposure to the experience).

I suspect that the moment of puzzlement which the viewer must bridge for herself is, pedagogically speaking, priceless. You can read initial puzzlement transforming into comprehension on the faces of people when they encounter a well-designed future artifact for the first time.

A disturbing hole is a worthy goal.

But too large a hole is a cognitive drain. Just as bad as a pacifying whole, which is basically soporific, because insufficiently challenging. A self-explanatory, but not simplistically self-evident, proposition is best. Actually, it's a lot like humour: a skilled comedian may craft the delivery of a gag, yet spontaneous laughter (arising from connections the audience makes for itself) is the index of success.

Hmm. The value of comedy in futures has now cropped up in three consecutive posts. Funny.

[Continue to the next post on designing future artifacts...]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Satire's layers

In the news today:
Increasingly autonomous, gun-totting [sic] robots developed for warfare could easily fall into the hands of terrorists and may one day unleash a robot arms race, a top expert on artificial intelligence told AFP.

~Agence France-Presse, via Yahoo! News [Australia], "Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity': expert", 27 February 02008.

It's always interesting, I find, to witness an outlandish science-fiction scenario migrating gradually towards mainstream credibility (a process that may culminate, at last, in canonisation as reality or common sense). That's Dator's second law at work, folks.

(See Neill Blomkamp's short videos, or the Terminator movies for earlier, more entertaining and vivid explorations of this type of possibility.)

Meanwhile, by another route entirely, this thematically related satirical segment from Onion News Network also came to my attention today:


In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power?

The above spoof on the news channel roundtable discussion is worth a nod for thematic reasons, but remains, I think, good -- not great -- satire.

So let's aim our sights a little higher. Following the mention in my most recent post of the role of humour in some futures interventions (Oil and water), I want to pay tribute to the inspiration that great satire can offer.

Great satire inspires, in strategy and sensibility, what I consider to be a most promising direction for producing effective -- by which I mean aesthetically pleasing as well as perceptually transformative -- future artifacts. Whatever the medium (literature, film, performance, or something else), a coherent use of its familiar forms sets up the satirist to subvert the expectations thereby established. The medium+genre are the vehicle, and the satirical/futures value comes from the satirist's unexpected left turn. (This is more or less the strategy of culture jamming, as practised by Adbusters, among others.)

It seems to me that the more plausible and cohesive the usage of the medium and its tropes -- the better the voice, character, or genre is captured -- the more powerful the licence earned to comment upon it. Rhetorically, the medium+genre package seems to function as a sort of Trojan Horse: via verisimilitude to the familiar form, it can pass muster, yet allow other interesting things to creep through besides. Satire at its best is discursive deconstruction for hedonists. (This usually accessible form of deconstruction can be contrasted instructively with its linguistically ornate, and often humourless, philosophical counterpart, which seems dedicated to the enjoyment of intellectual masochists everywhere -- and, in true Sadist tradition, typically starts out life in French.)

So, one dazzling instance of satire from the annals of literature is Jonathan Swift's classic essay "A Modest Proposal" (01729) about poverty in Ireland. It uncannily captures a certain type of cold, bureaucratic analysis, allowing him to comment on its dehumanising and bloodless modus operandi when he gets around to suggesting, in an impeccably rational tone, infanticide and cannibalism.

Fast forward two or three centuries, jump to a different medium altogether, and the reality-TV look and feel of the BBC television series The Office (and to a lesser extent the U.S. remake) allows its creators to lay bare both the tragicomic emptiness of that lifeworld, and the delusory behaviour of some of its inhabitants. Similarly, consider the genius of a actor like Christopher Guest (for instance, as Nigel Tufnel in the classic 01984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap), or Sacha Baron-Cohen (inhabiting any of his comic personas, but especially Borat). These are characters so convincing that a casual onlooker may not realise they're watching a performance; yet those who are aware revel in the layered duality, applauding both the real and surreal elements, the message and the medium.

The consummate political satirist may well blur the line between reality and play in ways that are deliberately, and strategically, baffling to its whole audience at least temporarily (and to some part of the audience, terminally). The convincing manner of the mischievous performance troupe The Yes Men, for example, gets them into conferences and TV shows where they audaciously go on to mount surprise campaigns of "identity correction", by posing as representatives of large multinational organisations. (For a discussion of identity correction, see this pdf, pp. 6-12.) Here's a terrific example of how they operate. In 02004, BBC World interviewed "Jude Finisterra", a spokesman for Dow Chemical played by Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, making a shocking on-air announcement...



(For much more in this vein, see the feature-length 02003 documentary about the Yes Men here.)

And at its best, the mastery of writers at The Onion takes no prisoners in playing off the self-importance, vacuity, and other foibles of news reportage, using the whole range of tropes at their disposal.

The following Onion clip (which I also saw for the first time today) is, I think, a beautifully judged bit of satire...


Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Fantastic. It nails just the right tone, pacing, and visual style. (It compares to a great news-report satire show on Australia's ABC television in the early 00s, CNNNN.) Also, I think it's neat that, even though it has a real-life commercial sponsor, a similar comic sensibility has found its way into those lead-in and lead-out ads on the clip. (Often, video/TV ads do horrific violence to the universe of a show.)

Finally, the following lovely piece goes meta on diagrammatic abstractions, journalistic indifference, and the manufacture of reporterly expertise -- thereby dismantling their authority far more effectively, elegantly, and enjoyably than, for example, an essay. Or a blog post.


Breaking News: Series Of Concentric Circles Emanating From Glowing Red Dot

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oil and water

"The opinion that art should not be political is itself a political opinion."
~George Orwell

Some people find the combination of art and politics somehow distasteful or inappropriate. Like oil and water, the sentiment seems to be, they don't mix.

Along with Orwell -- one of my favourite writers -- I am not among those who hold this view.

Last Tuesday, I had the (mostly first-year undergraduate) students in my Introduction to Politics class break into six small groups, with about three people in each, to develop and perform their own future scenarios. The task was:
a) to select within each group a domain of interest; they came up with carbon, recycling, education, oil, Mars colonisation, and medicine.
b) to generate and describe in just a few sentences four divergent scenarios for their chosen domain, out to the year 02038, based on Dator's four generic images of the future (continuation, collapse, discipline, transformation).
c) to select the most interesting or surprising of the four, and design a way for the group to communicate it to the whole class in the most impactful way possible, during a presentation window of five minutes or so. (It was a low stakes, low constraints, short exercise -- they had about fifteen minutes at the end of one class, and twenty at the start of the next, plus whatever outside time they chose to allow, for preparation.)

These "experiments in futures theatre" yielded results ranging from fairly standard classroom presentations through to immersive improv. For example, one group presented in character as the partners of Starlight Corporation, a waste management enterprise celebrating its 100th successful launch of trash into space, and they provided an Associated Press news clipping from 02055 to illustrate the company's talk.

For Thursday, to build on this first sketchy foray into experiential scenarios, I assigned the students randomly into four groups, giving each a half-page text scenario describing a different version of Hawaii in the 02030s, again based on the four generic images. By providing pre-developed, cohesive scenarios (albeit very brief ones) I hoped and expected that the groups would be able to dedicate more attention to their communicative strategies.

And so it turned out. You can see what they said about the two exercises in the daily "minute papers" at our class blog.

A major goal of this course is to sensitise students to the political dimensions of perception, and to invite them to participate in recreating their own perceptions, as well as those of others, by manifesting alternative futures in various media.

With that in mind, the Orwell quote above, which I don't recall seeing before today, is right to suggest that art and politics are intertwined. (I firmly believe there's no such thing as "apolitical" -- though there are plenty of examples of apathy or acquiescence, delusively pretending to lofty detachment.) The quote comes from the website of Watermark, one of the examples of what we've been calling "blue line" projects in several U.S. coastal cities, as outlined in my most recent post here at t.s.f. The blue line cuts right through this intersection of art and politics, inviting consideration of sea level rise by manifesting various forecasts in today's environment. Watermark is a particularly interesting example, from my point of view, and warrants a closer look than I was able to give it last time.

It's a collaborative art effort initiated by three artists based in in Seattle, Washington: Nicole Kistler, Sarah Kavage, and Vaughn Bell. Each member of the trio brings an interesting perspective and training to their collaboration. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the artists' bios:

NICOLE KISTLER is a public artist who focuses on engaging people in a deeper understanding of the living world. She prefers to work in places and in media that are accessible to everyone. Nicole feels she has created something successful when her work takes on a life of its own. Whether that’s providing a springboard for the ideas, experiments and energy of others or allowing a natural process to run its course. Through her narratives, Nicole exposes the folly of issues for what they are and introduces alternative viewpoints and possibilities through humor. As a project manager in traditional public involvement projects, she is interested in exploring the creative process of art making and temporary art projects as a means of public participation, as a process instead of a product. While often drawing from her background in Landscape Architecture, she has found that art allows people to engage in discussion while suspending tightly held beliefs – to be amazed, surprised, and inspired.

SARAH KAVAGE is a multidisciplinary artist and urban planner. Her varied experience in project management, education and community outreach in collaborative and multidisciplinary settings has lead her to develop a number of public and installation based art projects in parallel to a body of two-dimensional work. She uses a variety of media to explore the themes with which she is most interested – communication and the transmission of information, the intersection between the manmade and the natural, and all permutations of urban environments. Her work is infused with social commentary, with a goal of participation and genuine engagement with viewers.

VAUGHN BELL is an artist and educator. Her work encompasses installations and performances involving living plants, multi-media video installation works, and public interventions.

A landscape architect, an urban planner, and an educator, all working in public art. Interesting mix!

Now, the focus in my last post was their version of the "blue line" project, which entailed walking along and demarcating Seattle's "new waterfront" (based on a 20-foot ocean rise) with soil, seeds, and water. One element highlighted by Watermark's work, which I neglected to address before, was the medium of performance -- the act of tracing the line with one's body, while leaving seeds, and water. This may at first glance seem to be the most fragile or ephemeral approach of those noted so far, in terms of the visual markings left behind, but it might also represent one of the most experientially effective interventions, for those who take part. I don't think we can assume that the degree of external permanence of the line (e.g., the painted lightblueline of Santa Barbara) corresponds proportionally to social or political impact. Invisible memory also leaves palpable traces; flowing into our perceptions and behaviours. Watermark's take on that strand of the project:

As we walked a kind of meditation took place, we could hear the seeds hitting against the sidewalk, reflect on the state of affairs, and on each small action affecting the whole world. Designated participants talked with passersby and distributed cards explaining the project. On Earth Day 2007, we walked the line again giving a tour of the Watermark, and each person was astonished at what 20 feet looks like.

Another thing that impresses me about the Watermark project is its multifaceted, multimedia conception. They go on to explain:

In August [02007], we were included in the Groundtruthing show where we showed a video of the first walk at SOIL Gallery in Seattle, distributed postcards, and led tours of the imaginary "new" waterfront. We used humor here, as we donned snorkel gear and swimsuits for an "underwater" tour, and carted along a giant block of ice to "water the urban desert."

Sarah (L) and Nicole (R) giving the Seattle Underwater Tour Watermark website

As some of my students intuited after their own futures theatre interventions in class last week, the use of humour can be very significant in making this kind of thing work. Humour provides a package within which uncomfortable or unusual possibilities may be raised, as well as often being more enjoyable than an entirely earnest call to political awareness.

One of my favourite standup comics, the late Bill Hicks, master of subject matter simultaneously sacred and profane, used to describe himself as follows:

I, like all artists in Western cultures, am a shaman. (That's somewhere between prophet and crackpot, by the way . . . though much closer to prophet.) [...] I am a Shaman come in the guise of a comic, in order to heal perception by using stories and "jokes," and always, always, always the Voice of Reason, that people may have Hope and Peace, by healing their misperceptions.

~Bill Hicks, Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines, 02004, p. 221-222 [emphasis in original].

I believe the role of the futurist, properly understood, is quite similar. She fearlessly mixes art and politics because she realises that fundamentally the two are inseparable. So too, with comedy and matters of ultimate concern. My mentor Jim Dator, unofficially Hawaii's chief futurist-in-residence, tells me he has described his own role as as that of the "state Weird", and, in reference to his extensive work with judiciaries, the "court Jester" (I'll add references when I find them). Dator's second law of the future, "any useful statement about the futures should appear to be ridiculous", rears its head again in a slightly different form. (Truth be told, Jim is one of the funniest people I know.) Humour is key. And laughter lets many truths, both harmless and profound, slip through the staid defences of conventional discourse.

Illustrating that spirit -- where art and politics, tragedy and comedy, playful and earnest meet -- here's the postcard that Watermark distributed as part of its campaign, based on what the artists call a photo simulation of downtown Seattle underwater...

Image: Watermark

It can be compared to other postcards from the future -- artifacts dancing on imagination's cutting edge, where plausibility and absurdity become indistinguishable...

"Shown in the exhibition 'Visualisations of the 21st century' at the RIBA, [architect Paul] Ruff envisages the decidedly inland and not especially touristy Essex town of Basildon as a rather jolly seaside resort with its own pier. Bring on global warming, I say."
~Building.co.uk, Issue 06, 02006

Stanford-le-Hope is a small town in Essex, in the Thames estuary some 25 miles from London, with a working-class commuter population and an enormous nearby oil refinery. The self-sufficient, eco-friendly scenario pictured in the postcard is ironic by design.
Images: Paul Ruff From a report by RIBA/Building Futures [UK]
Living With Water: Visions of a Flooded Future, June 02007, p. 20
(Report blogged by Bruce Sterling at Beyond the Beyond, 15 August 02007)

Image: FoundFutures Postcard artwork: Aaron Rosa & Yumi Vong
Also see other cards from the FoundFutures campaign, May 02007 picture, blog post



(See also the Sierra Nevada deforestation card [picture, blog post] and Hawaii's introduced species postcard [picture, blog post].)

Now, one final thing I wanted to mention about Watermark is that the other artwork of its originators includes some really cool stuff. In particular, I have in mind Nicole Kistler's "Tour from the Future" (part of Seattle's GrassRoutes Environmental Arts Festival in 02006), which she describes thus:

Come Visit the Historic Ruins of Highway 520

The Tour from the Future was part of a larger group arts festival aimed at bringing public attention to development threats facing the Washington Park Arboretum. For the project I created 14 installations and acted as a as tour guide from the future guiding tours of the "historic ruins of Highway 520" and the 520 bridge. Inspired by visits to many archaeological ruins including Tikal, Rome and Ankor Wat whose societies collapsed, I decided to parody that experience for this project hoping to illustrate the dangerous behaviors that our society has engaged and how those eerily parallel other great societies. I posted interpretive signage throughout the three-mile trail loop connecting events at MOHAI, Foster Island and the Arboretum. In addition, I created photo-simulation binoculars and telescopes for viewing the ruins and allowing visitors to see the currently proposed bridge. Photographer John Bacon acted as tour group photographer. The tour visited all the other performances and art installations along the way providing some "glue" for the entire event.

Tour Advertisement

Visit the historic ruins of Highway 520 and what archaeologists believe to have been part of an enormous transportation network throughout the former United States. See one of the best-preserved collections of petroleum-operated vehicles. View the bridge ruins with one of the world’s most insightful tour guides, and take advantage of special viewpoints and telescopes only available through this tour. This tour also includes special opportunities to experience new installations that allow participants to "drive" their own single occupancy vehicle, and see traditional performances by people from the same era who warned their society about the dangers of oil dependency. Our tour photographer will capture each special moment for you. This is the most complete tour of the entire "520 site" and one that will create lasting memories for you and your family. Write a postcard home! Not to be missed!!

Map of the Tour from the Future Nicole Kistler

I'm very happy to learn that the Chinatown futures audio tour, which Jake and I have had on the backburner for a while, can count this among its predecessors.

Car parts totem pole Nicole Kistler

Simulated image of State 520 noise wall design Nicole Kistler

There is a distinct sense, I think, that futures is a domain in which apparent polar opposites come together.

So there's poetry and irony in the fact that two of the most common political themes during my last couple of months of posts about future artifacts and interventions at this blog turn out to be oil ... and water.

Related posts:
> It's even hotter under the collar
> Bad reviews of future news
> A thin blue line (3 parts)
> World without oil photo essay (3 parts)
> Gaming the end of oil
> Good news for people who love bad news
> Climate change for fun and profit

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mapping C-change

Hawaii Blue Line Project | Photo: the sceptical futuryst

/Continued from two previous posts.../

For the first piece in what has become a sort of mini-trilogy, I described the Hawaii Blue Line Project, a climate change consciousness-raising effort recently staged in Honolulu, which involved drawing a line in the streets behind Waikiki to mark the new waterfront -- other things being equal -- if the sea level were to rise one metre, as projected by the end of the century. I said that the project exemplified what we call ambient foresight; the embedding of cues in our mental environment today to encourage the consideration of alternative tomorrows.

The second post looked at why, psychologically, people tend to discount long-slow risks -- temporally and spatially diffused crisis states -- such as climate change; which provides a rationale for ambient foresight in public spaces.

In this third and final post, I want to close the circle by situating the Hawaii Blue Line Project amid other efforts along similar lines, so to speak, which may help folks who share the concerns articulated so far, to design more effective future-oriented interventions like this.

Beginnings

I asked Jeff Mikulina, President of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club which organised this event, where the idea came from. He replied that he had thought it was an original, but then discovered it had been done before elsewhere.

I've looked into this and found several examples of similar initiatives in other American cities, though I haven't found even a cursory comparative examination of them anywhere else. In no particular order, here's some info about the ones I've found...

There's the San Francisco-based FutureSeaLevel.org, "a collaboration of Aquarium of the Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club and the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF Environment)". Enterprisingly, they have produced "future sea level" tape which you can order at the website. They have staged a series of related events dating back to September 02006.


Another strand of work has been going on in Seattle, where an art collective called Watermark staged a number of walks through the city's downtown area, "using soil to mark a line of new 'terrain' -- the shoreline that would be created in the case of a twenty foot rise in sea-level, as could occur with the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets".

The group's website explains:
For each performance, participants walk the line of the future shoreline, sometimes marking it with different materials such as seeds or water. The idea is to help each one of us envision a possible future and some of the ramifications of climate change. While we cannot predict exactly what the impacts of climate change will be, we seek to use the power of imagination in order to acknowledge the possibilities and open up new ways of thinking about our impact on the planet. We hope that through this process of visualization, we can create a call to action.

One such performance was promoted as part of "Step It Up 2007", a climate change awareness initiative [more background] cofounded by environmentalist Bill McKibben, which is how I found it.

Image: Watermark

Image: Watermark

Not to be left out, of course, New York has its own project in this vein, called High Water Line, charting a ten foot sea-level rise around Brooklyn and Lower Mahattan. (I found this via Bruce Cahan at Stanford). HighWaterLine was initiated by artist Eve Mosher, in partnership with The Canary Project (global warming never looked so pretty!) and she's been blogging its progress since April 02007. Mosher elegantly outlines its philosophy at her website:

High Water Line seeks to engage people on the street, in the neighborhoods where they live, work and play. People will encounter the chalk line and the beacons while going about their daily lives. The work is an intervention in routine - the public's as well as my own. This aspect of the piece ensures catching the public's attention, and it provides easy and direct access. The simplicity of the project, aesthetically and visually, will appeal to people of all ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. Climate change is a silent, invisible threat - High Water Line gives voice and makes visible the affects of this threat. High Water Line is designed to engage the community and promote thoughtful, informed dialogue and action.

Image: Eve Mosher, High Water Line 02007 via The Canary Project

(I have a feeling the above image was a visualisation produced before the installation itself started. Here are some actual photos from Mosher's blog...)


Finally, a controversial campaign to enable this kind of ambient foresight on a semi-permanent basis has been unfolding under the banner of lightblueline in Santa Barbara, California; "a public information project to paint on the streets the message that human induced climate change will impact coastal cities. Whenever you cross the light blue line, remember that the coastline is an outcome of our collective human efforts."

Bruce Caron, lightblueline's "#1 painter", said in November 02006:
This is where the original idea for lightblueline occured-- I was walking down Anacapa between de la Guerra and Cota after watching An Inconvenient Truth. And this is where a dedicated team of volunteers has been working to create the first lightblueline street painting action.

We are working hard with the City government to create a best-practice example for this public education effort, so that we can pass on this information to volunteers in other cities. The lessons we learn here will help grow this movement across the globe.

Here in Santa Barbara we have so much to lose should global warming create a rise in our sea level. Our beautiful beaches and the entire waterfront (not to mention the freeway, railroad, and airport--planes, trains, and automobiles are all at risk), would be ravaged over the decades, with each year sending new waves across roads and into our cliffs.

The plan (from lightblueline's photos at Flickr):





Early in August 02007, the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper reported that Caron's proposal for a permanent (painted) "light blue line 1,000 feet long throughout downtown Santa Barbara to show where the sea would rise if Greenland were to melt as a result of global warming" seemed good to go [original emphasis]. Just two weeks later, Caron withdrew the plan, under heavy pressure from people concerned about adverse impact on property values.

Middles

We can see from the above that there are various ways of approaching or carrying out a blue line project. There are three dimensions of variation I want to mention.

One is the sea-level projection around which any given project will revolve. A choice has to be made as to the relevant timeframe (02050? 02100? centuries beyond that?). Likewise, it matters which particular climate change model you're working from -- because different assumptions about the sea-rise model produce widely differing forecasts (not to mention variable levels of behaviour/emissions change). The Honolulu project "assumes" one metre of level rise, as does the New York effort. Santa Barbara chose a "predictable, worst-case scenario" of seven metres due to complete melting of the Greenland ice cap over a period of centuries. Which begs the question whether a more conservative, near-term impact might not have been more successful for an already ambitious painted-line project.

Another dimension of variation between projects, a category of options among which an organiser needs to choose, is the medium in which the sea-level changes are marked. Different media express a range of visual properties (colour, visibility) and degrees of permanence. So, soil (Seattle), chalk (Honolulu, New York), or tape (San Francisco) are obviously more temporary than paint (as proposed for Santa Barbara). It stands to reason that greater permanence could yield greater impact over time, but also attract greater difficulty in the process of obtaining approval -- or greater legal risk in going ahead without approval. The proportionality of potential impact and installation difficulty became a familiar dilemma during our FoundFutures:Chinatown art project (e.g., getting permission to install a bronze plaque "commemorating" a bird flu outbreak in 02016).

Finally, location is another dimension of difference. One option is to map the projected "new shoreline" -- how far the water could reach "inland" in scenario X. Here the line on the ground represents a hypothetical demarcation between waterlogged buildings and dry ones. This was the Hawaii Blue Line strategy, and seems to be the most common. However, an alternative way of mapping sea-level change is not on the ground, but on existing buildings, say along the current waterfront, showing where the risen seas would reach -- the "new watermark". (Both approaches to line location, it is important to mention, assume "other things being equal" -- ceteris paribus, as the economists say -- i.e., no mitigating intervention to hold back the rising tide.)

Ends

So how effective is this type of project in achieving the ends its animators typically have in mind?

An interesting and difficult question.

It's worth pointing out that since awareness-raising and behaviour change are the goal -- which the actual manifesting of blue lines is merely one way of approaching -- a campaign for a high-stakes, high-visibility, ongoing (i.e., relatively permanent) "ambient foresight" blue line exstallation could succeed as a political intervention even if it failed as an art project. That is to say -- for example in Honolulu -- in principle, an effort to get approval for a monitory sea-level rise marker along the hotels on the beach at Waikiki, could successfully raise local awareness of the risks of climate change even if the blue line were not approved and thus never painted.

It would be interesting to know how the (so far "unsuccessful") Santa Barbara project is doing in terms of catalysing public discussion. I don't know how to verify this, but I suspect it could well have started and sustained more conversations as an idea alone than the equally noble, and so far, more photogenic -- yet ephemeral -- chalk n' soil efforts mounted elsewhere.

As for Hawaii's Blue Line Project, it seems to have been quite successful, as far as it goes. Not only was it reported in the local media (the Honolulu daily Star-Bulletin; the University of Hawaii's student paper Ka Leo), but nationally and internationally also. Let me again emphasise the exceptional difficulty of gauging how well a political art intervention, such as those described here, engages people and changes minds. But more qualified than I to address that question is Jeff Mikulina, who organised the event, and responded to my request with this assessment of the project's impact:
In this case, I think it worked pretty well. Of course, when first envisioned I saw a line of children wearing blue shirts and holding hands across the entirety of Honolulu--blocking traffic, the whole works. That would have been a loud blow on the conch. But this is Hawaii, and we have limited resources and laws to follow. So chalking a line 7 blocks with about 50 kids was pretty good. The message got out. The Associated Press and Reuters picked it up and the story (or mention of the students chalking the sea level rise) made it into a few hundred papers worldwide. CNN and New York Times mentioned it--and followed through with an editorial: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/opinion/08fri4.html.

So their were a number of targets that we were seeking to reach with the event: the delegates at the meeting, the general local public (in the vicinity and through local media), the actual students and participants chalking the line, local opinion leaders and decision makers (ie lawmakers), and finally, the international community. The last one was a big component because we wanted to really highlight the vulnerability of not only Hawaii, but of island states and nations globally--no one is immune from this. The iconographic "Waikiki" was the perfect poster child, so to speak, for the loss that Hawaii (and other coastal areas) might experience. The fact that something so well known could cease to exist hopefully opened some eyes.

The other challenge we have with this issue is credibility. Many probably asked if the line was legit or if we were just using some scare tactics. That's why I wanted to have a strong, respected academic voice developing the line (Prof. Chip Fletcher) and err on the conservative side in explaining the factors behind the line. So hopefully that message penetrated as well.

Now did people go home and immediately change their bulbs to CFLs and trade their cars in for a bike? No. But this action hopefully contributed to the growing unease or cognitive dissonance of behavior and effect. The students doing the chalking was meant to deliver that message in a more emotional (this is their future) approach.

So, there's no way to guarantee that it works. Still, from my point of view, despite the systemic uncertainties inherent in collectively steering this Titanic, it's too important a challenge not to try. And, as a mechanism or catalyst for forward thinking, it can't fail to affect at least some of those who encounter it, and thereby contribute incrementally to the solution rather than the problem. Indeed, we have good reason to think that, carefully designed, this kind of intervention can make an important difference. Jeff again:
It gets people thinking. Wow, this is what will happen. It makes the invisible future visible. Ideally, it links current actions with future reactions and emboldens people into believing that they can actually shaping the outcome (which they can).

That's ambient foresight.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My big fat alternate reality wedding


I was excited this evening to hear of a long-running theatrical show, called Tony n' Tina's Wedding, which has some of the characteristics Jake and I have sought to incorporate into our experiential futures interventions. (See for instance, photos and videos from the "Hawaii 2050" kickoff staged in August 02006; or posts about FoundFutures:Chinatown.)

At Wikipedia, it's described as follows:

Tony n' Tina's Wedding is one of the longest-running comedies in American theatrical history. Credited as the originator of the "environmental theatre" craze, Tony n' Tina’s Wedding stages a traditional Italian-American wedding and reception with the warm and intrusive stereotypes pushed to the limit. Audience members are treated as guests at the wedding by the interactive, improvisational comedy cast.

Tony n' Tina's Wedding opened February 14, 1988 [wow -- 20 years ago last week], in New York City and has expanded its run to over 100 sites worldwide, including cities in Canada, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, and Australia.

The show's website explains:

At Tony n' Tina's Wedding, audience members actually play the roles of Tony n' Tina's family and/or friends. These are roles we have all been practicing, every time we go to a real wedding. This universal familiarity with the union of two individuals from 2 distinct families, regardless as to where you are from, will take you back and forth between fantasy and reality throughout the entire evening. For the ultimate experience... eat, drink, dance, converse and allow yourself to be caught up in the activities. This all inclusive evening of entertainment will be something you and your friends will be talking about for many years to come.

All prices are in lieu of a gift to the happy couple and include the show, dancing, and dinner although menus may vary depending upon the specific venue in which you are attending.

Its origins:

The idea for Tony n' Tina's Wedding was originally conceived at Hofstra University while Mark Nasser and Nancy Cassaro (the original Tony n' Tina) were undergraduates. Both in the drama department from 1977-1981 they made up these characters and would often improv with each other, acting out the roles of two Italian boyfriend-girlfriends from Queens, just for fun. As their professional relationship continued (after both moving to New York), after graduating from Hofstra, their characters continued to develop as well. Soon after the idea to present an interactive wedding, where the audience played the guests, was proposed and in 1985, was acted upon. Three performances were planned, actors invited their friends and family, and at this point it became clear to Joe Corcoran that this was an "event "that would appeal to an audience, well beyond traditional theater goers. Well, the rest is history.

Not at all surprising, really, that it started life as improv. All creativity seems to spring from the process embodied by improvisational theatre. Its cardinal principle, which we have adopted in our scenario and design development process, is "Yes, and..." That is, to cultivate a reflex for building on whatever you're given.

I gather that the Tony n' Tina experience begins as early as the purchase of tickets, which are issued as invitations (naturally!), and, once at the venue, it carries on seamlessly even into the restroom, where you might find yourself drawn into conversation (in-world) by your "host family". Almost as scary as cool, which is a great sign.

Being something of a scenario purist, sensitive to diegetic consistency, I guess I wish the website (tonylovestina.com) managed to maintain the story, rather than blowing its wad and quoting Joel Siegel -- don't break the universe, dammit! -- but in any case, environmental theatre (which I don't recall encountering until now) -- is clearly a genre of performance that I ought to research.

Many thanks, Nancy, for the lead!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The future as caricature (part one)

In an episode of the fantastic 01988 TV series The Storyteller, an unkempt beggar is brought in to entertain the royal court. The young prince exclaims, dismayed, "He smells!" To which the beggar replies, matter-of-factly: "I am a beggar, sire. It is my business to smell."

In a similar way, as Alfred North Whitehead once said, "It is the business of the future to be dangerous." That danger lies in its uncertainty, which is its "business" because, quite simply, that's the way it is. Indeed it is more like that the further out you try to look. So the necessary response is to think about the future in a way that is true to and in accordance with its uncertain nature; thinking that is both honest and pragmatic, rather than wishfully precise and overly specific.

Paradox though it may seem, the value of fuzzy thinking has become increasingly clear to me. Bart Kosko makes a strong case for it, but his perspective seems unlikely to put a dent in the defences of the everyday objector. Edward de Bono, a populist philosopher and inventor of an array of ingenious tools for thought, mounts similar arguments. In a book I'm just finishing, Teach Yourself to Think, he gives the following example of why abstract (in the sense of general; non-specific) thinking can be useful:

Some electronic students [sic] were given a simple circuit to complete. Ninety-seven per cent of them complained that they did not have enough wire to complete the circuit. Only 3 per cent completed the circuit. the 97 per cent wanted 'wire' and since there was no wire they could not complete the task. the three per cent had a broad, general, blurry concept of 'a connector'. Since wire was not available they looked around for another type of connector. They used the screwdriver itself to complete the circuit.

~Edward de Bono, Teach Yourself to Think, 01995, p. 30.

I want to use de Bono's story to suggest two points. The first is the one the author intended: general (or "fuzzy") thinking can be superior because it sometimes suits the situation better. The second point goes meta on de Bono's story. Like many of the ostensible real-world examples he provides in his books, this one is anecdotal and may well be apocryphal. Even so, he furnishes particular percentage (97% failure, 3% success) to illustrate the point. He is using specificity -- precision -- in a story about the importance and value of imprecise thinking! But I say he's not contradicting himself: he's showing (by example) that effective thought, and effective communication, require selective use of both precision *and* vagueness, as appropriate to the situation. I believe the story would be less effective if told in terms of "the vast majority of the students" vs "just a few". The specious precision of the letter of the tale helps underline its spirit (the "moral", if you like).

The value of general, broad-brush thinking came encapsulated neatly in a comment I heard at a Long Now dinner last March, following the SALT presentation where archaeologist Brian Fagan took a long view of climate change. Among the dinner guests was activist Mike Roselle, co-founder of Earth First!. Roselle has spent his career, body and soul, committed to raising awareness (and occasionally, hell) for ecological ends. And, commenting on the dire need for inroads into the damaging habits that have brought us to the slowly unfolding crisis of our era, he said:

"We don't need to know True North, we just need to move in a northerly direction."

A light went on for me. On one level, Roselle's neat metaphor had an impact because I had spent so many fruitless hours the year before in meetings about Hawaii's sustainability taskforce; hours in which the general nature of the islands' challenge (its economic precariousness) appeared to be agreed and sufficiently well understood by all, yet to which it seemed no specific policy action could be directed because of lack of concrete agreement on statistical metrics such as "carrying capacity". Policy-makers appear to want to know "True North" before taking any steps at all; not willing to realise that the passage of time drags us along in whatever direction we happen to be facing anyway. Still, regardless of its other payoffs, the despoilation of every ecosystem we touch is, simply put, not the right general direction.

And, the next level up, Roselle's words rang true because of the widespread phenomenon of which my experience noted above is just one example: the inescapable fact of future uncertainty which vexes decision-makers quite severely, to the extent that they become paralysed by it.

As a matter of principle, the further out the time horizon one attempts to look, the more radical uncertainty we face. Unforeseeability is compounded. More time means more moments for contingency and chaos to kick in, and the cone of possibility space radiating from the present moment soon expands to encompass a huge array of hypothetical future states, through which the number of conceivable paths exponentially multiplies.

Lest that should prove a little hard to visualise, let me clarify with an example. The Nuclear Waste Management Organisation of Canada, due to the nature of its domain, needs to consider a longer time horizon than pretty much any other type of organisation in the world today. So, when they hired GBN as consultants to produce an array of scenarios for nuclear waste management, they did so for several different, expanding, timeframes: 25 years (1 generation); 175 years (7 generations); 500 years (20 generations) and 10,000 years (400 generations). From the Introduction to GBN's report:

Scenarios are stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. While it is possible to build such logic with some confidence using a 25 year time frame and with much less confidence using a 175 year time frame, moving beyond is nigh impossible: there are just too many options and too much that is unknown. As a result, deliberations at the 500-year time horizon led to descriptions of what came to be known as "end-points" or short descriptions of sets of conditions but with no attempt to structure a logical story. Furthermore, at 10,000 years, the best that the Team could do with any degree of comfort was to generate a series of short statements describing, "what-if such-and-so might happen?"

The full assembly of future possibilities then took the form of four fairly detailed stories extending out 25 years; 12 much briefer scenarios reaching out 175 years; 16 End-points at 500 years, and a long list of very brief What-ifs for 10,000 years. This distribution of shorter and longer lists of, respectively, longer and shorter descriptions satisfies the requirement that we say with relative precision and confidence what we can about the relatively short term, and to outline very briefly as many possibilities as we can imagine in the very long term.

~"Looking Forward to Learn: Future Scenarios for Testing Different Approaches to Managing Nuclear Fuel in Canada", Report submitted to NWMO by GBN, November 02003, p. 8.


Now, where were we?

Oh yeah. Dealing with an uncertain future.

/To be continued.../

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Of used futures and counterfactual clothing

Reported last week:

Shirts and caps proclaiming the victory of the New England Patriots -- when the American football team actually lost the latest Super Bowl -- have ended up in the hands of poor Nicaraguan children.
[...]
Winners' shirts and other garments are produced in advance so players and fans can put them on to celebrate immediately after the final whistle of the game. Garments of the losing team are obviously unwanted.

The Giants stunned the previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in this year's Super Bowl.

~Reuters, 15 February 02008

When I came across this news article over the weekend, I was reminded of a similar piece spotted by Jake last year. An extract:

It's an answer to a dilemma of a little-known corner of professional sports: what to do with all the unsalable paraphernalia of near-champs.

Since the mid-1990s, World Vision has worked with MLB [Major League Baseball] to distribute counterfeit or mislabeled clothing to those in need rather than sending it to the big closet in the sky. It does the same with the National Football League (NFL). This year marks the first time that the MLB will contribute their postseason apparel to the group, not just fraudulently manufactured goods. Sporting-goods stores are also getting into the charity act.
[...]
"The moment of a clinch, the teams celebrate. They pile on top of one another, they get all crazy, and part of that celebration is, in fact, them proclaiming their championship clinch with a T-shirt and a cap," explains Steve Armus, MLB's vice president of consumer products. "It's something that's traditional in baseball and some other sports, and for all the teams it's an important moment."

But to be prepared for each team's potential victory ceremony, the MLB prepares hats and T-shirts – 288 of each item for each team – before each playoff series has been decided. This year, when at least 12 teams were in hard-fought competition for eight playoff spots, league organizers printed apparel for every possible scenario. The result: Thousands of articles of clothing announcing the Padres', Mets', and other vanquished teams' seasonal victories are en route to Ghana.

~The Christian Science Monitor, 24 October 02007

The first time, I didn't quite see this, but now it occurs to me that, despite the charitable intentions of the parties concerned, there is a strange, ironic, and powerful metaphor at play here.

Futurist academic and consultant Sohail Inayatullah sometimes speaks of "used futures", when describing the importance of decolonising our sense of the future (an example; also cited in this previous post). His intention, as I understand it, is to highlight the way a community's sense of the possible, probable, and preferable can be occupied unthinkingly, inappropriately, and in all likelihood damagingly, by concepts developed in another context (and pursuing other interests) altogether.

Although it may not be quite the sense he has in mind, it is with "used futures" that we dress the indigent beneficiaries of these sports companies' generosity. They are literally clothed in possibilities, however trivial, discarded by the wealthy West.

And so, in the wake of the recent Super Bowl result, we now have the following vivid, curious image; poor children in Third World countries running around clad in counterfactual souvenir apparel.

"It will be a parallel universe, where the Patriots had a perfect season," said Karen Kartes, a spokeswoman for World Vision, the charity that will be delivering the items.

~New York Post, 7 February 02008 (via World Vision website)

Here are some shots from a parallel universe we prepared earlier: children in Zambia wearing "Champion" t-shirts and caps celebrating the Chicago Bears, who lost the 02007 Super Bowl.


Images: World Vision, via The Christian Science Monitor

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's even hotter under the collar



Science historian James Burke, the brilliantly engaging presenter of systems thinking show Connections, produced this forerunner to An Inconvenient Truth back in 01989; After the Warming.

It takes the form of a documentary "from the future" (set in 02050) and despite its age may well strike a viewer in 02008 as oddly ahead of its time -- and not for the obvious reason. That is, while the ostensibly futuristic wrapping may not have aged too well, the contents have really come into their own.

I won't say much about it here, except (a) even at 1 hour 47 minutes in length, it's well worth watching; (b) the "retrospective" format of setting a nonfiction program decades into the future is a rare and interesting one; and (c) the top Google hit for "After the Warning" is a 01997 review excoriating the show.

The review comes from The Energy Advocate, a newsletter self-published by retired physics professor Howard Hayden (listed at DeSmogBlog as a climate change "denier"). No further comment, just take a look.

Says Hayden's review, in part:

[Burke] brings us a blatant propaganda piece, After the Warming, where he decides to explain how mankind is ruining the earth through the greenhouse effect. This show on The Learning Channel is a sort of fantasy, wherein he plays James Burke doing a Connections program in the year 2050. It is an apocalyptic prophecy of the near future disguised as a retrospective look at humanity and the earth.


His review gets a bit more entertaining and a lot more polemical from there. I find it instructive, though not at all unusual, that a disliked hypothetical future is serially dismissed as "propaganda", "prophecy", and "fantasy". No chance, then, that Burke's offering could be seen instead as an imaginative interpretation of a distant future, based on a theory with which he, Hayden, happens to disagree?

How, I wonder, do people come to be so sure about things?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Stumbling on foresight

This happy fellow is Daniel Gilbert | Image: Marilynn Oliphant / Time


/Continued from previous post.../

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert wrote a fantastic book called Stumbling on Happiness which I read last summer. Gilbert is an expert in the field of affective forecasting; how we think we'll feel in response to certain things happening to us. The main argument of his book is that when it comes to these kinds of forecasts -- matters as basic as what will make us happy or sad -- we're frequently wrong. Things we expect to be devastating turn out not to be so bad. Events we expect to transform our lives for the better might not have remotely the impact we thought. And on top of all that, our recollections of what we expected are distorted in hindsight, with the effect of hiding from our own view how wrong we were.

This systematic psychological quirk -- more a quirkplex, really -- is, or at least ought to be, rather a critical concern for this blog, and, I'd say, for futures in general. Because the contention that we should exercise foresight (or, engage in considering alternative futures) more often and more assiduously than we usually do -- an argument I advance with monotonous regularity -- is underpinned by the assumption that such work can make a positive difference to our decision-making. Or, to put it another way, that pursuing preferred futures (individually as well as collectively) is more meaningful and effective than simply meandering along, foresightless.

I realise I may seem to be biting off a lot to chew by raising questions so fundamental to my chosen field in a blog post. (That's probably the main reason I haven't written about Stumbling until now, even though when I read it eight months ago I thought it was terrific, and did not fail to note these troubling connections.) However, though Gilbert's book doesn't say too much about affective forecasting in relation to longer, slower, more systemic challenges, it turns out he has looked at how the problems of affective forecasting relate to such challenges. Specifically, he wrote about global warming (topic du jour here at t.s.f.) in an article for the Los Angeles Times in July 02006, a couple of months after the book was released. I just came across the LA Times piece over the weekend. Here's a shortened version:

No one seems to care about the upcoming attack on the World Trade Center site. Why? Because it won’t involve villains with box cutters. Instead, it will involve melting ice sheets that swell the oceans and turn that particular block of lower Manhattan into an aquarium.

The odds of this happening in the next few decades are better than the odds that a disgruntled Saudi will sneak onto an airplane and detonate a shoe bomb. And yet our government will spend billions of dollars this year to prevent global terrorism and … well, essentially nothing to prevent global warming.

Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster? Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features —- features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks.

First, global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others. [...] Global warming isn’t trying to kill us, and that’s a shame. If climate change had been visited on us by a brutal dictator or an evil empire, the war on warming would be this nation’s top priority.

The second reason why global warming doesn’t put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn’t violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn’t cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn’t force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. [...] The fact is that if climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.

The third reason why global warming doesn’t trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures —- not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes. [...] We haven’t quite gotten the knack of treating the future like the present it will soon become because we’ve only been practicing for a few million years. If global warming took out an eye every now and then, OSHA would regulate it into nonexistence.

There is a fourth reason why we just can’t seem to get worked up about global warming. [...] Because we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly. [...] Environmentalists despair that global warming is happening so fast. In fact, it isn’t happening fast enough. If President Bush could jump in a time machine and experience a single day in 2056, he’d return to the present shocked and awed, prepared to do anything it took to solve the problem.

~Daniel Gilbert, "If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming", Los Angeles Times, reproduced at Stumbling on Happiness weblog (Random House), 2 July 02006 [emphasis added].


Brilliant, isn't it? Gilbert says, self-deprecatingly, in his introductory comments, "I keep having the odd thought that I will someday look back on this and realize that it was the only important thing I ever wrote." Seems a little downbeat. Everything I've read of his has not only been exceptionally interesting, but has also dealt with some pretty important issues.

Still, the problem he's describing here truly is monumental -- with emphasis on "mental". (Just shoot me.) We have an ingrained, collective psychological blindspot for the types of harm which are most serious and world-changing, and are instead obsessed by patrolling colourful trivialities like sexual preference or things that take out people's eyes.

All this is, more or less, the rationale -- whether the organisers know it or not -- behind efforts such as the Blue Line Project (ha! I told you this was a continuation from the last post). It's very consciously the reason for efforts we've made to put vividly imagined alternative futures into the public domain. It is a reason for developing both future-shock therapy, and its gentle cousin, ambient foresight.

Because without a mechanism for manifesting the outcome of long-slow processes here and now, a mechanism for rendering visible the risks and opportunities that are otherwise invisible, we will have no choice but to keep stumbling on happiness and catastrophe alike.

Our alternative strategy, which it is my aim to help advance as far as I can, is to make available the ingredients for people to stumble on foresight. And thereby to help develop a social capacity for thinking ahead that would make colossal blunders, like unwitting anthropogenic climate change, unthinkable (um, figuratively).

Then, my friends, the world might be safe for democracy.

/To part three.../

A thin blue line







I took these photos last Wednesday, 30 January, while participating in a project to trace a blue line through the streets of Honolulu to show where sea level is expected to reach by the century's end.

The "Blue Line Project" was coordinated by the Hawaii chapter of ecological organisation The Sierra Club (whose President, Jeff Mikulina, we met last year -- mentioned in this previous post).

What occasioned this good natured bit of activism was that for two days last week, Honolulu hosted a climate change conference initiated by President Bush, for representatives of sixteen of the world's largest economies, as well as EU and UN delegates. The venue was the East-West Center (a.k.a. the "Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West" established by U.S. Congress in 01960), a federal institution adjacent to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the organisation which pays for my fellowship to study there.

The talks, which were closed to the public, played out at the Kennedy Theater, which I can see out my window, right across the street, as I type. It was funny to be so close to an international news event and yet to have no access to it.

People I know here in Hawaii who take an interest in such things had good reason to doubt both the sincerity and the efficacy of talks initiated by a federal administration that has persistently denied any need for action on climate change. But they all recognised the opportunity to raise awareness both locally and internationally about these issues and attendant risks.

Hence the Blue Line Project.

Bright blue chalk and duct tape were made available to the fifty or so folks who turned out at the Old Stadium Park in Mo'ili'ili, a few blocks southwest of campus, to participate in the action. I was especially happy to be involved, because this was an idea that Jake and I had at one stage hoped to incorporate into FoundFutures last October, before conceding that installing hundreds of artifacts in the streets representing a series of alternative future Chinatowns was probably enough to take on for one project.

A map distributed in advance showed where we would be tracing the blue line:


Which was based on part of the map projecting a one-metre sea-level rise produced by scientists at University of Hawaii, and discussed at this blog in October.

This particular blue line intervention is not the first project of its kind, but it is, I think, an interesting meme accompanying growing acceptance of the reality of climate change. By projecting possible futures into the present; feeding forward; embedding cues to consider alternative futures into our mental environment today; it represents an excellent example of what we like to call ambient foresight.

/To be continued.../

Saturday, February 02, 2008

He dropped what on Hiroshima??

Overheard in Honolulu last week...

Two employees, maybe mid-twenties, in a sandwich bar not far from where I live.

Woman [looking at a newspaper]: Oh. Harry Truman's daughter died. That's sad.
Man: Who's Harry Truman?
Woman: Former U.S. President. Harry Truman.
Man: Humph. Goes to show how much attention I pay to all that stuff. U.S. government.
Woman [thinking hard]: What was it? Those who fail to something history are condemned to repeat it?
Man: ...

Friday, February 01, 2008

The compleat Wired future artifacts gallery, 02006

Back to the futures...

[mood ring] | Wired 14.01

[love tester] | Wired 14.02

[mars transit] | Wired 14.03

[tax return] | Wired 14.04

[operation game] | Wired 14.05

[bookshelf] | Wired 14.06

[contact lens] | Wired 14.07

[calorie burner] | Wired 14.08

[report card] | Wired 14.09

[tooth phone] | Wired 14.10

[organ farmers] | Wired 14.11

[3d printer] | Wired 14.12


An eerie thing I notice about some of these artifacts from the future, as we proceed back in time through the archives (diddly-doot, diddly-doot, diddly-doot), is the way some of them are echoed in actual news reports a few years later.

Last month, University of Washington researchers announced bionic contact lenses enabling a lit-up visual overlay. The accompanying photo was strangely reminiscent of the "Found" artifact from issue 14.07, above.

Image: University of Washington via Eurekalert! (AAAS)


Not sure if anyone at Wired, which also reported the announcement, noticed the resemblance to their earlier feature, but I think it's kinda cool.

[Back to the 02005 collection | On to 02007...]