Sunday, February 01, 2009

A year in hindsight

Screenshot from New York Times Special Edition online version

The first month of 02009 is almost over and I haven't posted anything yet. What gives?

Well, folks, there are a few changes afoot here at the sceptical futuryst.

As I noted here almost exactly a year ago, "An interesting by-product of blogging regularly is that you find out what you care about, by seeing what patterns emerge in what you decide to post." At the time I was musing on the fact that this blog, which I started in 02006 with no particular theme in mind (beyond futures itself) , had begun to develop some distinct thematic preoccupations -- at the intersection of futures, design, media, and politics (in the broadest sense). Through writing here, seeing what I wrote, and then finding out what others had to say about it, I came to suspect that my dissertation should probably consider building on that terrain where my blog had apparently decided to camp.

Now, having defended my dissertation proposal in December, and with still more daunting steps in the PhD journey still ahead, I've discovered something else: just as blogging regularly can tell you something about your interests, not blogging can, as well. On the other side of the ritual hoop, energies that before had readily flowed toward curating distinct fragments of an emerging practice of experiential futures, now seem to be shifting to another register of concern, as I tussle with underlying themes, along with the prosaic logistics of chapter topics and such. All of this may make for acceptable blog fodder, too, in principle, but I'm still in the process of deciding how much of that thinking I want to do aloud, and how much to confine to the privacy of my own head.

Meanwhile, perhaps I should have done this a month ago, but taking my cue from Jamais "Open the Future" Cascio let's look back at 02008 to see what happened in these pages. The most visited individual posts were...

> Architectural time travel, thoughts on Bryan Boyer's bold speculative design for the U.S. Capitol building (catapulted to the the top of the list by Boing Boing)
> The compleat Wired future artifacts gallery, a set of posts making Wired magazine's playful monthly feature "Found" available -- at last -- back to its first appearance in 02002
> Posthuman New York, images inspired by Alan Weisman's wildly successful thought experiment in inverse anthropocentrism, The World Without Us
> *The value of hypothetical currency, an account of the controversy over Daniel Carr's "Amero" coins, a possible North American answer to the Euro
> The go-to guys for post apocalyptic chaos and destruction, more images from Mondolithic, the abundantly talented, if slightly grim, folks also responsible for the illustrations in "Posthuman New York"
> *Parables and horseshit, a short essay about the value of an undoubtedly apocryphal, but highly illuminating, anecdote about the limits of single-minded trend extrapolation
> *The Bird Cage, an illustrated account of an urban "exstallation" of future artifacts from an avian influenza outbreak scenario, part of our FoundFutures:Chinatown initiative
> World without oil photo essay, shots taken on a road trip in the American South; contemporary intimations of a post-oil future

These results, based on cumulative visits throughout the year, are skewed towards writing from early 02008 (while *these were posted late in 02007).

Some of my favourite subjects of the year appeared a little further down the list.

> Future-jamming 101, an outline of the project my undergraduate PoliSci students did, jointly with a digital imaging class, creating and publicly distributing artifacts from alternative futures, 30 years hence
> In memoriam, a recognition of the brave contribution made by former pornstar Dirk Diggler (01960-02025) to the copyfight movement
> Hawai'i: The Lost Years, an exhibition of never-before-seen relics from the mysterious tropical paradise which closed its doors to outside visitors for most of the 21st century
> A thin blue line, the first of three posts examining political art interventions that aim to map, with strategies semi-experiential and semi-symbolic, the effects of climate change on sea level

A highlight of 02008, not only for me, but I daresay for the enterprise of futures as a whole, was the web-based alternate reality game and collective forecasting engine, Superstruct. This bold experiment in distributed creativity was run by IFTF -- with Kathi Vian, Jane McGonigal and Jamais Cascio at the helm -- and I feel especially fortunate to have been involved as a Game Master. It was a deeply instructive experience in online collaboration, at a number of levels. However, it became clear to me after the dust had settled that during the intensive six weeks of gameplay, I hadn't actually said much about it here. Still, many lessons and insights acquired during that project are sure to find their way, however clearly or covertly, into my writing on experiential and collaborative modes of futuring.

For most of the year, in the futures artifact or image category, probably the piece of work I most admired (and the fate of which I found most troubling) would have been the Darfur Olympics ad, appearing in the Belgian press for the University of Ghent. Then, a while later, the (oddly symmetrical) pair of Burmese currency projects ventured to imagine and enshrine in the design of banknotes a brighter future for political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi (the accessories of nationhood make for nice, potent future-artifact material). This prompted me to consider more closely the political stakes of embodying provocative possibilities in future artifacts, especially outside the West. But without question, my hands-down favourite intervention of the year was the New York Times Special Edition, the outstanding result of collaboration between the Yes Men, Steve Lambert, and a whole host of volunteers. While in New York earlier this month, Steve and I had the chance to meet and discuss the project, and I hope we'll be able to share a bit more of the background story here before long.

In 02008, I posted about three times the number of entries as in each of the preceding two years. Unless I figure out how to blog in my sleep, 02009 will see the intensity ease off a bit again, while I deal with first things first. However, as always, I'm interested to hear about any topics that deserve to be noted or revisited in future posts.

2 comments:

sarahdawn said...

This has been my introduction to futures studies, and am delighted by all that you share. I have been curious about your dissertation and what here reflects that work, as a request, don't keep it all to yourself, share some of it with us.

Cheers-Sarah Dawn

Jennifer Jarratt said...

Stuart; At times in you the anarchic artist is at war with the budding intellectual. Keep in mind that the PhD is not often, or even ever, about originality. Although some people's intellectual reputation can be made by their dissertation--see James Ogilvy--that depends on luck and timing. The intellectual can stifle the artist. Speaking purely personally, I wouldn't like to see that happen.