Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Futures of Everyday Life


Artwork by Sky Kiyabu for FoundFutures, August 02006
Poster used in "Hawaii 2050" Blue Room

[Update (31JAN12): The full dissertation is available for download as a pdf here.]

In Honolulu last Thursday morning, 27 May, I defended my completed doctoral dissertation. The five committee members accepted the document as submitted, without requiring any changes. To say that this comes as a relief hardly begins to describe the feeling.

I owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of people -- family, friends, and colleagues -- for incalculable moral and intellectual support. You know who you are: thank you. But I want to acknowledge here the key contributions of two people in particular: Jim Dator, my committee chair and mentor, truly the futurist's futurist, and the reason for my going to Hawaii to begin with; and Jake Dunagan, my long time collaborator and friend, with whom much of both the practice and theory of experiential scenarios, as described in the dissertation, were developed. To be able to work with such fine people as these makes an otherwise arduous process totally worthwhile.

The rhythm of everyday life around here is going to change now that the long PhD writing process is behind me... Time at last to take a few deep breaths.

The Futures of Everyday Life: Politics and the Design of Experiential Scenarios

Abstract

The great existential challenges facing the human species can be traced, in part, to the fact that we have underdeveloped discursive practices for thinking possible worlds ‘out loud’, performatively and materially, in the register of experience. That needs to change. In this dissertation, a methodology for ‘experiential scenarios’, covering a range of interventions and media from immersive performance to stand-alone ‘artifacts from the future’, is offered as a partial corrective. The beginnings of aesthetic, political and ethical frameworks for ‘experiential futures’ are proposed, drawing on alternative futures methodology, the emerging anti-mediumist practice of ‘experience design’, and the theoretical perspective of a Rancièrian ‘politics of aesthetics’. The relationships between these three domains -- futures, design, and politics -- are explored to show how and why they are coming together, and what each has to offer the others. The upshot is that our apparent binary choice between unthinkable dystopia and unimaginable utopia is a false dilemma, because in fact, we can and should imagine ‘possibility space’ hyperdimensionally, and seek to flesh out worlds hitherto supposed unimaginable or unthinkable on a daily basis. Developed from early deployments across a range of settings in everyday life, from urban guerrilla-style activism to corporate consulting, experiential scenarios do not offer definitive answers as to how the future will look, or even how it should look, but they can contribute to a mental ecology within which these questions may be posed and discussed more effectively than ever before.

Life in Hell, circa 02050

I loved this cartoon by Matt The Simpsons Groening when I saw it years ago. And was delighted to rediscover it a week or two back, in a published collection (found at Aardvark Books, an excellent San Francisco used bookstore) of his long-running comic strip "Life in Hell".

Now, dear reader, I pass it on to you.

A comic-strip-from-the-future published in 01996, it's showing its age just a little...

(Click to enlarge.)