Tuesday, March 31, 2020

21st century divination


This video was shot right after a workshop, devised and run with experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, called New Divination Techniques for Generating Alternative Futures.

It was part of a large collective effort mounted by the international futures community late last year at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

The Global Futures Literacy Design Forum took place at the organisation's headquarters in Paris and consisted of more than two dozen "learning-by-doing labs" curated, organised and facilitated by top futures researchers, teachers and practitioners from Oxford to Jamaica.

The event was open to the public –– I'm not sure of the final number of attendees, but some 600 folks registered –– and was explicitly aimed at demonstrating, celebrating, and extending futures literacy humanity’s capacity to imagine and use the future(s) in all sorts of contexts, for all sorts of purposes.

I was also involved in another session; Imagination and Creativity: Gaming the Future of Migration and Climate Change together with my fellow futurists John Sweeney (Qazaq Research Institute for Futures Studies), Anisah Abdullah (Strathclyde Business School), and Daniel Riveong (Futures Centre).

Thanks to the head of futures literacy at UNESCO, Riel Miller, I've collaborated with the organisation several times before, and I was excited when he approached me last year about the Forum.

Its key objectives were institutional on the one hand and disciplinary on the other: "One is to prepare the ground for a UNESCO Ministerial Summit on Futures Literacy in late 2020 by showcasing and refining a range of already proven techniques for integrating Futures Literacy into government activities. Two is to build awareness and networking related to the development and diffusion of Futures Literacy."

Here's the description of the our workshop on 21st century divination techniques that appeared in the event catalogue:

One of the greatest human foibles is our ability to find patterns in just about anything, imagining that random phenomena carry meaning. Might that trait, technically known as apophenia, also be one of our greatest gifts? In this experimental workshop – prototyped especially for this occasion by conceptual artist Jonathon Keats and experiential futurist Stuart Candy – participants are invited to re-visit ancient modes of divination and also to devise some new ones. Simultaneously playing with and against tradition, our aim will not be convergence and prediction, but to generate new and diverse possibilities for action by collectively exploring and exploiting some of our most powerful psychological quirks.

A note of personal context here: legitimate futures/foresight practice is at times misunderstood as or unfairly conflated with a kind of charlatanry. I've generally aimed to avoid adding any fuel to that fire by eschewing anything that smacks of soothsaying –– tarot, tasseomancy, astrology, and so on (well... except for this one time at Burning Man, when I agreed to play the Oracle... but that's another story).

The low level of futures literacy in the population at large often finds people projecting trope-riddled preconceptions and prejudices about what a futurist's job entails, and particularly assumptions revolving around a misplaced obsession with prediction, and it's already challenging enough getting people to engage seriously in thinking about possible futures without playing into their most unflattering assumptions.

However, I recognise that it's also possible to protest too much, and get trapped by personal policies that can become too rigid. So when Jonathon, a superb conceptual artist, experimental philosopher and writer whose work I've admired for years, proposed a collaboration around exploring the possibilities for 21st century divinatory practices, the spirit of his curiosity –– avoiding wild-eyed faith on one side or blanket disapproval on the other –– got me interested. I took a step towards getting over a long-ingrained aversion. As he pointed out to me in one of our pre-event design conversations, the air of suspicion, and even demonisation, that attaches to these practices in post-enlightenment Western culture might usefully be taken as a cue not to avoid, but to be curious about, what we're collectively avoiding or denying.

Jonathon and I are currently working to bring the process to other participants in other locations, so I won't say too much here in terms of workshop detail, but I think it's worth adding, as COVID-19 spreads around the world, that even those of us who have spent decades helping to prepare organisations for inevitable surprises, are challenged to reckon with the question of how effective, or otherwise, our efforts have been.

It seems about time for a dramatic, collective rethink of how we engage with future possibilities.


The full catalogue of UNESCO's Global Futures Literacy Design Forum is available in English and in French, and a range of additional videos describing other programs at the event can be found here.

Related:
> Barbershop Futures
> Transforming the Future
> La Chose du Futur à Paris
> Where Do You Stand?
> Using the Future at NASA
> When Reality Outruns Imagination (Coral Cross)
> On Playing the Oracle: Foresight 101 at TEDx (video)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Design and Futures ebook and paperback release


Good news, everyone! The Journal of Futures Studies special double issue on Design and Futures, appearing in back to back editions earlier this year, has just been re-released by JFS publishers Tamkang University Press (Taiwan) as a single-volume book.

The omnibus Design and Futures collects all 30 essays, manifestos, interviews and peer-reviewed articles from 49 contributors across 16 countries, preserving the content, layout and pagination of the original double issue.

There are pieces by Minority Report production designer Alex McDowell, Museum of Modern Art design curator Paola Antonelli, Hyperobjects author Timothy Morton, Superflux principal Anab Jain, NASA JPL visual strategist David Delgado, the Decolonising Design Collective, Service Innovation Handbook author Lucy Kimbell, Design as Politics author Tony Fry, and many more.

Towards enabling the widest possible access and helping move the practice and scholarship forward, Design and Futures is available both as a free ebook, and in paperback with no price markup.

Here's the complete table of contents.

***

DESIGN AND FUTURES, Volume I

Editors’ Introduction (Vol. I)
Stuart CANDY (Carnegie Mellon University, USA) and Cher POTTER (University of the Arts London; Victoria and Albert Museum, UK)

ARTICLES

Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Stuart CANDY (CMU, USA) and Kelly KORNET (Kalypso, Canada)

Politics of Designing Visions of the Future
Ramia MAZÉ (Aalto University, Finland)

Crafting Spaces Between Design and Futures: The Case of the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform
Cher POTTER (UAL; V&A Museum, UK), DK OSSEO-ASARE (Pennsylvania State University, USA), and Mugendi K. M’RITHAA (Independent Designer-Researcher, Kenya)

Strategic Foresight Studio: A First-Hand Account of an Experiential Futures Course
Jake DUNAGAN (Institute for the Future, USA), Alida DRAUDT (Strategic Foresight Partners LLC, USA), JJ HADLEY (Slalom, USA), Ryan HOGAN (Mozilla, USA), Leticia MURRAY (Gensler, USA), Gregory STOCK (Firefly, USA), and Julia Rose WEST (Ancestry, USA)

Designing Futures From the Inside
Anne BURDICK (Art Center College of Design, USA; University of Technology Sydney, Australia)

ESSAYS AND INTERVIEWS

How the Future Happens
James AUGER and Julian HANNA (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, Portugal)

Critical Activism
Anab JAIN (Superflux, UK; University of Applied Arts, Austria) and Stuart Candy (CMU, USA)

Storytelling Shapes the Future
Alex MCDOWELL (University of Southern California, USA)

I Design Worlds
Liam YOUNG (SCI-Arc, USA) and Stuart CANDY (CMU, USA)

Anticipating Future System States
Jamer HUNT (The New School, USA)

A Manifesto for Decolonising Design
Decolonising Design Collective: Danah ABDULLA (Brunel University, UK), Ahmed ANSARI (CMU, USA), Ece CANLI (Independent Scholar, Portugal), Mahmoud KESHAVARZ (Uppsala University, Sweden), Matthew KIEM (Independent Scholar, Australia), Pedro OLIVEIRA (Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Germany), Luiza PRADO (MeetFactory, Czech Republic), and Tristan SCHULTZ (Griffith University, Australia)

DESIGN AND FUTURES, Volume II

Editors’ Introduction (Vol. II)
Stuart CANDY (CMU, USA) and Cher POTTER (UAL; V&A Museum, UK)

ARTICLES

Destinations for Polyamorous Futures and Their MAD Lovers
Maya VAN LEEMPUT (Erasmus University College, Belgium)

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction, Foresight and Design
Leah ZAIDI (Independent Scholar, Canada)

SPACECRAFT: A Southern Interventionist Art Project
Ralph BORLAND (Independent Artist and Curator, South Africa)

Are We (Really) Designing Futures? The Design of Tomorrow Program at CENTRO
Karla PANIAGUA (CENTRO Advanced Design Institute, Mexico)

A Futures-Design-Process Model for Participatory Futures
Stefanie A. OLLENBURG (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany)

Imagining 2060: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of University Students’ Perspectives
Jeanne HOFFMAN (Tamkang University, Taiwan)

Transforming Environmental Values for a Younger Generation in Taiwan: A Participatory Action Approach to Curriculum Design
Kuo-Hua CHEN (Tamkang University, Taiwan)

ESSAYS AND INTERVIEWS

You Never Know How the Past Will Turn Out
Timothy MORTON (Rice University, USA)

Design in the Future
Paola ANTONELLI (Museum of Modern Art, USA) and Cher POTTER (UAL; V&A Museum, UK)

Making Things Physical
Maja KUZMANOVIC (FoAM, Belgium), Tina AUER (Time’s Up, Austria), Nik Gaffney (FoAM, Belgium), and Tim BOYKETT (Time’s Up, Austria)

Napkin Futures: Fragments of Future Worlds
Nik BAERTEN (Pantopicon, Belgium)

Change the Model
Dan HILL (Vinnova, Sweden) and Stuart CANDY (CMU, USA)

What If There Were More Policy Futures Studios?
Lucy KIMBELL (UAL, UK)

Your Move: Lessons Learned at the Interstices of Design, Gaming, and Futures
Aaron ROSA (Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, Germany) and John A. SWEENEY (Narxoz University, Kazakhstan)

Using the Future at NASA
David DELGADO (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA) and Stuart CANDY (CMU, USA)

Post-Island Futures: Designing for Uncertainty in a Changing Climate
Lizzie YARINA (MIT Urban Risk Lab, USA)

Starting at the End: A Journey in Time
Tony FRY (University of Tasmania, Australia)

***

We're thrilled at the interest the project has attracted and delighted that the hard work of our writers has been finding an audience around the world.

If you'd like a single searchable-text pdf file for your reference, or a hard copy of this remarkable collection on your bookshelf...

Free downloadable pdf of Design and Futures
• Paperback at cost from amazon.com / .ca / .co.jp / .co.uk / .de / .es / .fr / .it

Please read, share and enjoy!

Related:
> Design and Futures: Intro to Vol. I (pdf)
> Design and Futures: Intro to Vol. II (pdf)
> Using the Future at NASA: An Interview with David Delgado (pdf)
> Critical Activism: An Interview with Anab Jain (pdf)
> I Design Worlds: An Interview with Liam Young (pdf)
> Change the Model: An Interview with Dan Hill (pdf)

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Using the Future at NASA

A poster from the future by The Studio, NASA JPL's visual strategy team

David Delgado is a Visual Strategist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL), a U.S. federal research and development centre in Pasadena, California. Along with his longtime collaborator Dan Goods, we met last year at a symposium in Berlin geared towards exploring exhibition concepts for Dubai's Museum of the Future (which is currently under construction).

A conversation we began there has carried on since, including several site visits to JPL, around how experiential futures and worldbuilding can serve internally- and externally-facing communications alike, as well as both short- and long-term needs; spanning organisational culture and morale as well as imagination, strategy, and mission formulation.

David and his colleagues at NASA offer an inspiring and mind-expanding example of using experiential futures / design fiction in a space of simultaneous fantasy and real-world exploration; shaping our own now, and maybe someday, others too.

***

SC: Tell me about JPL’s series of posters from the future of space travel.

DD: A while back, a famous scientist was planning on coming to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and so the Exoplanet Exploration Office asked us to do something to celebrate the diversity of planets that were being discovered. There are thousands of them, and they have all kinds of crazy characteristics that are super interesting. Some rain molten glass, some have two suns, some are considered diamond planets, some are just big gassy giants. Naturally, we wondered what it would be like to go there, and we thought travel posters would be a fun way to showcase different planetary characteristics. So we went to the 1930s, ‘40s style of illustrated travel poster, and met with scientists to make sure that each one was based on a scientific foundation. But at the same time we wanted it to be joyful. We also wanted to kind of plant that seed: Maybe we can really go to these places.

SC: So where did this idea come from? There’s been a lot of activity at the intersection of design and futures over the last decade.

DD: Yeah! We sort of fell in love with the idea of imagining these futures, and we made the first few posters. And then Dan Goods and I spoke at the AIGA Conference, and after speaking we were killing some time, and went and saw this crazy futurist –– you, Stuart –– talking about this sort of experiential futures campaign to raise people’s attention. And there was also this cone of possibilities diagram that you showed on the screen, which really helped to crystallise the idea for us, and gave us a way to talk about it strategically and show other people. We may be at the very tip of that cone right now, and going to these future worlds is somewhere farther out in that flurry of many different dots, but the whole notion is to continue doing things that will get us closer to that. How we get there, we don’t know, but we know that we need to keep on progressing. And so it was really a catalyst to the way that we thought.

SC: That’s great to hear!

A cone of possibilities. Diagram and discussion in The Futures of Everyday Life

DD: And then, apparently, everybody liked it. There were 1,200,000 downloads in one week when we first released the whole set. It was kind of nuts.

SC: Amazing. And the details of the posters were based on the state of the science, what is known about these different planets.

DD: That’s right, and we focused on one special thing about each faraway planet, following the model of the original travel posters themselves. You’re going to be in a forest, or the desert. We allowed people’s imaginations to grow from there.

SC: How did it come about?

DD: It was internal. The design brief was to decorate a hallway –– that’s where these came from, the request to decorate a hallway.

SC: [laughs] I love that. Instead, you ended up decorating a million hallways.

DD: Right! What’s cool is that it grew organically. We had three posters, meant for internal use, and everybody started liking it, and the director of JPL fell in love with it. The director was on vacation at the Grand Canyon, and sent an email saying, “Look at this calendar – let’s do one for the posters!” We went from having three to doing another nine very quickly.

SC: So then you did stickers?

DD: Yes. The posters happened, then we had a change of director of JPL, and a huge workload going on at the time. There was a request for us to give a gift to the Laboratory itself, to all of the JPLers. It was kind of an effort to raise morale; at least, that was our approach.

Given that a lot of people are working super hard on really amazing projects, we looked at each of those projects and imagined: what could this lead to? So we decided to create these stickers for clubs and societies from the future that you could join when interplanetary travel is possible, but representing what’s currently being worked on.

Each person at JPL got four sets of twelve different designs, like a swag pack that they could hand out to their friends and family, and that would give them a way to tell the story about what JPL is doing, and feel proud about their own work and contribution.

Strategically, the clubs are storytelling devices. At JPL you’ll see people put the stickers all over their computer, or people driving around with just an E, for Earth, like the European bumper stickers. When you’re travelling throughout the solar system, you need to represent where you’re from! It’s all done with a wink and a smile.

There’s the Secret Order of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

There’s a big push to identify near-Earth asteroids and make sure that Earth stays safe from impact, so we created the Asteroid Patrol.

One was inspired by the 40th anniversary of the Golden Record, so we created the Proud to be Human Club. The Golden Record and Pioneer had all these things about Earth, so we merged them together. There’s a lot of reasons to be proud to be human, and let’s just celebrate that for a second.

Enceladus is a moon of Saturn. It’s also an ice covered planet that shoots out geysers of water. And so since it’s covered in ice, we have the Enceladus Hockey League.


Designs from the project Clubs for the Modern Explorer, an internal gift from the JPL Director to Lab employees; images courtesy of David Delgado

SC: These are great.

DD: We had to think about Earth in a different perspective too, as our original home, that we will always consider the first place. It’s this mothership that we are coming and going from; a Buckminster Fuller-inspired, “Spaceship Earth” idea.

SC: I bet they were a hit.

DD: Yeah, they were a huge hit. Everybody loved them

SC: So the clubs and associations thing actually came out of having done some worldbuilding already, and going, “Well, if this existed, then so would these...”

DD: Right. It came from one of the posters, actually, about Titan, a moon of Saturn. One of the great things about Titan is there’s these big seas of hydrocarbons –– think of like, liquid nitrogen, but it’s liquid methane. So the design was this beautiful image of the seas with Saturn in the background. This part never made it into the poster, but we were kind of imagining what the boat rental place would be, and the logo for it –– and that started us thinking, maybe we could look at logos as a device to communicate something. If that exists, travelling around between planets, what are some cool clubs that you could join in that world?

A space tourism poster from the series produced at NASA JPL

SC: That’s really interesting. So how would you describe the use of experiential scenarios or design fiction at JPL, what has it done for you?

DD: Well, for one thing it took the conversation out of the present, and allowed people’s imaginations to become involved, thinking about not only what kinds of things are happening now, but where they may lead in the future.

SC: That doesn’t happen regularly?

DD: It does happen regularly, but it’s usually positioned within the focus of creating new missions. It’s strategic in a different way.

The reason we really gravitated towards it is because it allowed us to create a motivational tool. For people at JPL it sort of reinforced the reason they started working there in the first place: they want to do something big, contribute to humanity, be at the cutting edge. Using the future to help motivate people became a powerful way to communicate internally. If you’re part of space exploration, you are part of a group building this continuous series of steps that will lead to something very special.

I think once the poster downloads happened, we realised that it was much bigger than communicating internally. There is this shared public dream of being up in space –– it has been in science fiction for a very long time –– but these places are real. These designs brought them one step closer, gave them more power.

It was this whole experiment in understanding the value of using the future as a tool for the imagination.

***

This piece was published earlier in the year as an article in the Journal of Futures Studies special issue on Design and Futures, Volume II. It can be downloaded here (pdf).

Thanks again Dave, and fellow travellers at JPL!

Related:
> Design and Futures Volume I & Volume II
> On getting started in experiential futures
> The School of Worldbuilding (pdf)
> I Design Worlds (pdf)
> Critical Activism (pdf)
> Design is Storytelling
> Gaming Futures Literacy (pdf)
> The Futures of Everyday Life (pdf)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Augmenting Cities

Augmenting Cities image via.

Niantic CEO John Hanke opens the event | Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

We were excited to take part in an invitational symposium a few weeks ago, Augmenting Cities, that brought together under one roof 150 game designers, artists and urbanists from a number of countries "to reflect on how people, cities, and technology will evolve and be shaped through augmented reality (AR)".

The gathering was convened by groundbreaking AR games company Niantic –– the folks behind Pokémon Go, Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite –– together with the Knight Foundation, a leading urban philanthropic fund. It was hosted at the Oakland Museum of California, itself part of a city that has recently seen rapid and far-reaching transformation through the Bay Area's latest tech boom.

As the event description notes, "Just as mobile communication and computing has altered the evolution of cities over the last 20 years, AR technology stands to fundamentally change how we connect with each other and experience communities for decades to come." But what might that fundamental change look like?

USC Situation Lab director Jeff Watson (centre) speaks on a panel with (left to right): Ina Fried (Axios; moderator), Gene Becker (Samsung), Ross Finman (Niantic), Ilana Lipsett (IFTF), and Kevin Slavin (The Shed) | Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab

So on the back of two days of presentations and panel discussions by game and experience design luminaries, including Felix Barrett (founder of Punchdrunk), Sarah Brin (Meow Wolf strategic partnerships director), audio artist Duncan Speakman, game designer Katie Salen (UC Irvine), and Niantic founder John Hanke –– as well as our own Jeff Watson (director of USC Situation Lab) and Sitlab collaborator Jen Stein (creative lead at Experimental Design) –– we were asked to devise and run the culminating session, an afternoon's activity for all participants to explore possible futures in this area.

Our mission was to come up with a hands-on, playful, and collaborative intervention that would help develop not only deeper social connections among attendees, but also potentially actionable initiatives in this fast-changing urban AR design space. With around 150 participants and only two hours to get through generating, refining, selecting, and sharing out concepts, it was a worthy challenge.

I led process design and facilitation with a fantastic team made up of Stein, Watson, and CMU Situation Lab associate Ceda Verbakel. We realised that thanks to the venue's particular layout and the number of attendees, players would have to take these co-creative steps at the same time while sited in different locations. This helped to birth, at last, a project that had been gestating for some time; a self-contained facilitation kit.

Participant teams proceed through the Urban Playshop staged by Situation Lab at the Augmenting Cities symposium | Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation


Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

In teams of three or four players, future-artifact ideas were incepted using combinatorial prompts from a modified version of our game The Thing From The Future, with ideation rounds timeboxed at 3–5 minutes. This first phase allowed folks to explore in relatively open fashion to start with, and produced a wide variety of imaginative responses. In the second phase, each team selected two of their most promising ideas from the collection that they had generated together, surfacing some of their most thematically relevant concepts and provocations. They then partnered up with another team, to receive feedback and discover which of the two candidate concepts should be developed, in the third and home stretch of the Playshop, into a pitch or advertisement to share live on stage with everyone in the last session of the conference.

We at Situation Lab don't always have the time to write our projects up for sharing more widely, although we have featured at our website some of the gameplay approaches and variations developed over several years, and we continually partner with groups around the world, with a focus on values-aligned initiatives and organisations, to offer customised processes that scaffold rigorous imagination, co-creative exploration, and strategic conversation.

Last year for instance, we ran sessions or whole events in this design space with, to name a few, the Omidyar Group, Pennsylvania's Department of Education, Alaska's Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Mexico City's Laboratorio para la Ciudad, the Association of Professional Futurists, and Institute for the Future (IFTF) with the World Bank Climate Investment Funds. In 02019 so far, Sitlab has collaborated with, among others, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stanford d.school, the Obama Foundation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the brand-new Pittsburgh high school City of Bridges, and (in collaboration with IFTF's Governance Futures Lab) United States Conference of Mayors gatherings in Austin and Honolulu.

This post is prompted by a desire to share a bit more of what we've been doing, and more particularly by the terrific energy generated in this initiative. For more information on Augmenting Cities check out the event webpage, overview (pdf), and recap.

Participants devise and share ideas using a specially adapted version of The Thing From The Future | Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab


Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab

Many thanks to our fantastic Playshop participants, to our awesome facilitation team, and to Niantic and Knight Foundation for spearheading the initiative.

We look forward to further developments in this exciting and fast-moving area, and find it hopeful that processes like these –– supporting rigorous imagining in emerging design spaces, as they are being explored and mapped –– are rapidly finding their way into many organisational and community toolkits, to help new ideas and their implications come into focus.

(Report also posted at Situation Lab website. This version updated 22oct19.)

Related:
> Bringing Futures to Stanford d.school
> On Foresight in Organisations
> On Getting Started in Experiential Futures
> The Thing From The Future / Sitlab project page
> Gaming Futures Literacy (article)
> Transforming the Future (book)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Teaching The Long Now


I've been involved with The Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility, since 02006. Then a year into grad school for futures, I spent a memorable summer at the office in San Francisco, working on various initiatives including Long Bets, as well as a proposal put together with my friend Camron Assadi for something we called Long Shorts; short films about long-term thinking (an idea subsequently adopted at the Foundation as a way of introducing many of its monthly public lectures). I suggested what has since become a Long Now motto, Carpe Millennium. And at the end of that first stint, executive director Alexander Rose invited me to become the Foundation's first Fellow, an association that continued happily over two more summer residencies, and onward through almost a decade and a half to date, spanning many developments in the organisation and its projects, and periodic collaborations.

As it turns out though, this semester, Fall 02019, marks the first chance I've had, after more than ten years of teaching futures, to put together a class on the topic of long-term thinking more broadly. How does it work in different domains? How can we render it accessible and useful? What difference does or should it make to designers? While just a prototype seven-week 'mini', a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon School of Design, the topic has sparked lots of interest among folks I've discussed it with, so for this post I'm sharing our syllabus (shorn of admin and school policy bits and with links added where possible), in case others may get something out of it.

A few points of context:

• This is my personal and maybe idiosyncratic take on things, rather than an official Long Now Foundation course, but I've made use of some of the rich material the organisation has amassed over the years. For example, we've been using Stewart Brand's version of 'pace layers' (see the diagram below) as a structuring and sequencing heuristic for the curriculum, starting at the longest and slowest register of nature, with a deep time walk spanning the 4.5 billion years of Earth's history, and proceeding upward through the layers of culture, governance and infrastructure, so that by the end we're dealing with the kinds of faster-moving concerns the students are accustomed to thinking about day to day: a lot of design seems to operate on a rapid temporality somewhere near the top. The idea behind this order is to use that exposure to the longer-term early on, to help de-familiarise the familiar short-term, and re-perceive the mundane everyday, by the end.

• I call the classes 'episodes' and the segments within them 'acts', a format idea borrowed from the brilliant long-running public radio series This American Life. Signposting classes this way turns out to make the time easier to plan and pace out, and more legible to students and guests, while also adding a dash of theatricality to typically prosaic matters of course structure and lesson planning. We kick off each episode punctually with a selected 'long short', an intellectual and creative appetiser of sorts, and also partly an encouragement to people to arrive on time, which is helpful when you're scheduled for an 8:30am start in the fall, with days getting shorter and mornings colder. Each week's long short is a surprise beforehand and is added into the syllabus afterwards for reference.

• A monthly series of seminars about long-term thinking (SALT), curated by Brand, has been running since 02003. By this point, the SALT talks represent a large collection of thought-provoking explorations; hundreds of lectures, freely available online, dealing with topics from linguistics and politics to space travel, philosophy and geology. At the start of the course I asked each participant to pick one to add to the syllabus. This touch of curricular co-creation helped tilt the content towards their interests, better than my guesses would, and incorporated deeper involvement by having them run a discussion or activity around their chosen talk. (We have the good fortune in this case to have an intimate class size of eight students, mostly grads, from across the university; some elements would be set up quite differently if the group were much larger.) In case you haven't come across the SALT series before, you might start with the same one that our class did; geologist Marcia Bjornerud's remarkable talk from July this year, Timefulness.

***

The Long Now
Thinking, Storytelling and Designing with Long Timespans

School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Instructor: Stuart Candy, Ph.D. (he/him)
Fall 02019 // Fridays 8:30–11:20am
Course no. 51819 // Graduate level // 6 units // Aug 30–Oct 11

Description

“Civilizations with long nows look after things better. In those places you feel a very strong but flexible structure which is built to absorb shocks and in fact incorporate them.” –– Brian Eno

The Long Now is about what becomes possible when we engage with longer timespans. We will deal with experiential scenarios and time-based media to enable new perspectives on the anthropocene and beyond; drawing on diverse sources and views from history and foresight, geology, physics, cosmology, indigenous studies, and design – including the design of legal, political and economic systems. You'll never look at time the same way again.


Pace Layers by Stewart Brand (01999), The Clock of the Long Now, p. 37 | Diagram via.

Approach

This course takes inspiration from the work of the Long Now Foundation, a cultural organisation dedicated to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility, where the instructor, a professional futurist, has been affiliated for many years.

We examine territory seldom covered in other university courses due to the rarity of long-term thought in the wider culture, with the aim of offering intellectually adventurous students from diverse programs a set of interdisciplinary perspectives to challenge, deepen and enrich whatever else they may be doing.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students should be able to:
• See further: Engage with diverse temporalities and patterns of perception at different scales
• Travel more widely: Research, understand and synthesise insights from disparate disciplines
• Be critical: Make the present strange, discerning key ethical, philosophical and cultural dimensions of our era and society
• Be constructive: Use various media to convey and elicit longer-term perspectives

Course Overview and Schedule

Here is an outline of the arc of the course and topics covered week by week.

1. Welcome to the Long Now
2. A Walk Through Deep Time
3. Seven Generations in the Anthropocene
4. Stories and Timespans
5. Design for the Long Run
6. Living in a Material World
7. Creation Crit

There are seven classes in this course, with 3+ weekly reflections, one SALT-based presentation / activity (student selections marked ∆ below), and a final project per student. Guests will be joining us most weeks, from a range of disciplinary and organisational perspectives.

Episode 1: Welcome to the Long Now
Activity: Intro to course
Reading & Media before class: N/A
Long Shorts:
• American Museum of Natural History, Human Population Through Time
• Charles Eames and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten

Episode 2: A Walk Through Deep Time
Class-led presentations begin (25%)
Activity: Field trip –– bring water bottles, comfortable shoes, and a snack
Guest: Professor Mark Baskinger, CMU School of Design & MoonArk
Long Short:
• Chris Stenner, Arvid Uibel and Heidi Wittlinger, Das Rad / The Wheel
Reading & Media (**optional):
• Brand, The Clock of the Long Now [pdf book excerpt]
• Walker, The Art of Noticing [pdf book excerpt]
• Sterling, Pace Layering [pdf chapter]
• Bjornerud, Timefulness ∆ [online audio/video]
• Bjornerud, Timefulness** [pdf book excerpt]

Episode 3: Seven Generations in the Anthropocene
Activity: Field trip –– bring water bottles and comfortable shoes
Guest: Dr. Nicole Heller, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Long Short:
• Claire L. Evans, The Evolution Of Life in 60 Seconds
Reading & Media:
• Matza & Heller, Anthropocene in a Jar [pdf chapter]
• Nixon, The Anthropocene: The Promise and Pitfalls of an Epochal Idea [pdf chapter]
• Brannen, The Anthropocene is a Joke [online article]
• Davis, The Wayfinders ∆ [online audio/video]
• Pinker, A New Enlightenment ∆ [online audio/video]
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 4: Stories and Timespans
Final assignment launches (25%)
Guests: Acharya Adam Lobel, Point Park University; Michelle King, Learning Instigator
Long Shorts:
• Donolinio Studio, 100 Years in 10 Minutes
• Helixaeon Inc., Helix
Reading & Media:
• brown, Emergent Strategy [pdf book excerpt]
• Haraway, Staying With the Trouble [pdf book excerpt]
• Fallows, Civilization’s Infrastructure ∆ [online audio/video]
• Mahbubani, Has the West Lost It? Can Asia Save It? ∆ [online audio/video]
Activity: Meditations on the long now
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 5: Design for the Long Run
Guest: Professor Jo Guldi, Southern Methodist University, author of The History Manifesto
Long Shorts:
• Schich et al., Charting Culture
• Heal the Bay, The Majestic Plastic Bag
• Önduygu, The History of Philosophy [interactive web tool; explore in your own time]
Reading & Media:
• Brockman et al., Possible Minds ∆ [online audio/video]
• West, Why Cities Keep on Growing, Corporations Always Die, and Life Gets Faster ∆ [online audio/video]
• Guldi, The Designer’s Role [pdf]
• Guldi & Armitage, The History Manifesto [pdf book excerpt]
Activity: Co-creation in class
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 6: Living in a Material World
Guest: Professor Jonathan Chapman, CMU School of Design, author of Emotionally Durable Design
Long Shorts:
• Madsen, Into Eternity (Trailer)
• Kalina, Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day for 12.5 Years
Reading & Media (**optional):
• 99% Invisible, Ten Thousand Years [podcast]
• Sandia National Laboratories, Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant** [pdf report]
• Christian, Algorithms to Live By ∆ [online audio/video]
• Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design [podcast]
• Powers, The Overstory [pdf book excerpt]
• Urban, Your Life in Weeks [blog post]
Activity: ‘Mattering’ workshop
Class-led presentations conclude

Episode 7: Creation Crit
Activity: Reviews of final project submissions

A few billion years into deep time with Mark Baskinger | Photo: Stuart Candy

Assessment

25% Participation and engagement in class
25% Presentation and leading discussion
25% Weekly reflections (minimum three required; due the Monday after each class by 5pm)
25% Final project

Selected Bibliography

• Bjornerud, Marcia. (2018). Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
• Borrows, John (Kegedonce). (2010). Drawing out law: A spirit’s guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
• Boulding, Elise. (1990). Building a global civic culture: Education for an interdependent world. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
• Brand, Stewart. (1994). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. New York: Viking.
• Brand, Stewart. (1999). The clock of the long now: Time and responsibility. New York: Basic Books.
• Brannen, Peter. (2019, August 13). The Anthropocene is a Joke. The Atlantic.
• Brannen, Peter. (2019, October 11). What Made Me Reconsider the Anthropocene. The Atlantic.
• brown, adrienne maree. (2017). Emergent strategy: Shaping change, changing worlds. Chico, CA: AK Press.
• Carse, James. (1986). Finite and infinite games. New York: Free Press.
• Chapman, Jonathan (2015). Emotionally durable design: Objects, experiences and empathy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
• Chatwin, Bruce. (1987). The songlines. New York: Viking.
• Collins, Jim and Jerry I. Porras. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: HarperBusiness.
• Cullinan, Cormac. (2011). Wild law: A manifesto for earth justice (2nd ed). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
• Delanda, Manuel. (1997). A thousand years of nonlinear history. New York: Zone Books.
• Escobar, Arturo. (2018). Designs for the pluriverse: Radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
• Ghosh, Amitav. (2016). The great derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable. Haryana, India: Penguin Books.
• Gleick, James. (1999). Faster: The acceleration of just about everything. New York: Pantheon Books.
• Global Business Network. (2003). Looking Forward To Learn: Future Scenarios For TestingDifferent Approaches To Managing Used Nuclear Fuel In Canada. NWMO Background Papers 8–5. Toronto: Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
• Griffiths, Jay. (1999). Pip pip: A sideways look at time. London: Flamingo.
• Guldi, Jo and David Armitage. (2014). The history manifesto. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
• Haraway, Donna. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
• Haskins, Caroline. (2019, May 6). AirPods Are a Tragedy. Vice.
• Hora, Stephen C., Detlof von Winterfeldt and Kathleen M. Trauth. (1991). Expert Judgment on Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Sandia Report SAND 90–3063. Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories.
• Johnson, Steven. (2006, October 8). The Long Zoom. New York Times Magazine.
• Kohlstedt, Kurt. (2018, January 26). Beyond Biohazard: Why Danger Symbols Can’t Last Forever. 99% Invisible.
• Krznaric, Roman. (2019, March 19). Why We Need to Reinvent Democracy for the Long-term. BBC.
• Macleod, Joe (2017). Ends: Why we overlook endings for humans, products, services and digital. And why we shouldn’t. Closureexperiences.com.
• Manaugh, Geoff. (2019, April 18). Move Over, San Andreas: There’s an Ominous New Fault in Town. Wired.
• Matza, Tomas and Nicole Heller. (2018). Anthropocene in a jar. In: Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett (eds.). Future remains: A cabinet of curiosities for the anthropocene (pp. 21–28). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
• Morin, Edgar and Anne Brigitte Kern. (1999). Homeland Earth: A manifesto for the new millennium (trans. Sean M. Kelly and Roger LaPointe). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
• Morton, Timothy. (2019). You never know how the past will turn out. Journal of Futures Studies, 23(4): 97–100. doi: 10.6531/JFS.201906_23(4).0009
• Nixon, Rob. (2018). The anthropocene: The promise and pitfalls of an epochal idea. In: Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett (eds.). Future remains: A cabinet of curiosities for the anthropocene (pp. 1–18). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
• Ozeki, Ruth. (2013). A tale for the time being. Edinburgh: Canongate.
• Powers, Richard. (2018). The overstory: A novel. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
• Rao, Venkatesh. (2011). Tempo: Timing, tactics and strategy in narrative decision-making. Ribbonfarm, Inc.
• Sardar, Ziauddin (ed.). (1999). Rescuing all our futures: The future of futures studies. Westport, CT: Praeger.
• Spier, Fred. (2015) Big history and the future of humanity (2nd ed.). Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell.
• Stapledon, Olaf. (1930). Last and first men. London: Methuen.
• Stephenson, Neal. (2008). Anathem. New York: William Morrow.
• Sterling, Bruce. (2014). Pace Layers. In: Susan Yelavich & Barbara Adams (eds.). Design as future-making (pp. 214–224). London: Bloomsbury.
• Tabet, Michelle. (2013, January 22). The scale of tomorrow: Architects as agents of change. ArchitectureAU.
• Trauth, Kathleen M., Stephen C. Hora, and Robert V. Guzowski. (1993). Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Sandia Report SAND 92–1382. Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories.
• Walker, Rob. (2019). The art of noticing: 131 ways to spark creativity, find inspiration, and discover joy in the everyday. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Some Other Media and Resources

• Long Now Foundation, Seminars About Long-term Thinking (SALT) lecture series (audio and video)
• Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi (documentary)
• Jonathan Blow, Braid (video game)
• Randall Munroe, xkcd (webcomic), various timelines
• Ben Robbins, Microscope (tabletop game)
• Lasse Lundin, A Trip Through Time Seen Through The Eyes of a Fir Tree (tabletop game)
• Thomas King, The Truth About Stories. The 2003 CBC Massey Lectures (audio)
• Situation Lab, The Thing From The Future (card game)
• Michael Madsen (dir.), Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (documentary)
• Ainscow, Rae, Woodward et al., Deep Time Walk (app)
• Brian Eno, The Microsoft Sound (composition): original; slowed 4000%; Q&A in SF Chronicle
• Dash Marshall, Very Slow Movie Player (video/design)

***

Much gratitude to my students, to our fabulous guest informants and colleagues, and to the Long Now Foundation for the inspiration.

Do get in touch with any questions, suggestions, or tales of experiments of your own that this may feed into.

Update 11oct19: Added to the bibliography Peter Brannen's piece published in the Atlantic today; revisiting and reconsidering his previous, sceptical discussion of the Anthropocene, maybe the most controversial reading covered in the class.

Related:
> Design is Storytelling (includes a kind of overview of a decade's teaching)
Bringing Futures to Stanford d.school
> American Futures (SAIC project)
> Future Documentary (SAIC course)
> Guerrilla Futures (OCAD course)
> Adopt-a-vision (OCAD project)
> Killer Imps (RCA visit)
> Future-Jamming 101 (UH Manoa project)
Some . early . posts .  written . while . at . Long . Now (02006–08)

Monday, September 30, 2019

The School of Worldbuilding


Bauhaus Futures is an edited collection just published by MIT Press to mark the 100th anniversary of a short lived but profoundly influential institution.

Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 01919, the Bauhaus was an interdisciplinary and international school of design whose charismatic and encompassing vision has had a tremendous impact on design, architecture and art over the past century. As Tom Wolfe wrote, "“It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus."

This new book's point of departure is a provocation, "What would keep the Bauhaus up at night if it were practising today?"

With my longtime Situation Lab collaborator Jeff Watson (USC School of Cinematic Arts), the point of departure for our own contribution is a kind of playfully manifesto-ish contemporisation of the Bauhaus, whereby "the school of building" becomes "the school of worldbuilding" and the motto "Art Into Industry" becomes "Art Into Reality", tying the ambitious reach of the original to emerging imagination-ramifying practices in transmedia storytelling, cinema and media production, game design (alternate reality games, larp, etc), activism, and experiential futures. A sample:

The School of Worldbuilding responds to the question, “how might we design a better world?” by turning it on its head: “how might we world a better design?”
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding is not as interested in what we can do in imaginary worlds as it is in what we might do with or through or occasionally in spite of them, in this world.

The School of Worldbuilding sees the role of the educator not as a purveyor of content, but as a certain kind of game master. It sees the role of the student not as a receptacle, but as a certain kind of player.
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding is political because the imagination itself is political. Power and authority contour and transform social imaginaries just as those imaginaries contour and transform power and authority. Indeed, domination and liberation alike depend on the imagination. What revolution ever started anywhere but in the imagining of a different world? And what tyranny ever lasted without mastery over imaginal resources?
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding confers no degree. To be a student of worldbuilding is to commit to exploration and experimentation as a way of life. Graduation is not only impossible: it is undesirable. To graduate from the School is to fail out of it.

(And so on.)

Edited by Laura Forlano (IIT Institute of Design), Molly Wright Steenson (just down the hall at CMU School of Design), and Mike Ananny (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism), the book Bauhaus Futures includes contributions in a wide variety of formats from a fantastic lineup of writers.

The full text of The School of Worldbuilding can be found here.

The book is now available for order and is set to ship within the next couple of weeks!

Related:
> I Design Worlds (Interview with Liam Young)
> Reverse Archaeology / The Time Machine (Assignment)
Design is Storytelling
> How to Build a World (Video)
> The Thing From The Future