In the latest issue of Wired, Found is back; owing, it would seem, to popular demand.
The magazine has also decided henceforth to use a "wisdom of crowds" approach to generating content for the feature.
For the past six years, Wired magazine's Found page has presented our best guess at what lies over the horizon, from touchscreen windshields to organ farming. Turns out, this little exercise in futurism is one of your favorite pages (as we learned recently when it took a short sabbatical). So we've decided to turn Found over to our readers — what do you think our world will look like in 10, 20, or 100 years?
Each month, we'll propose a scenario. Then it's up you: Sketch out your vision, then go to wired.com/wired/found to upload your ideas, see other submissions, and vote for your favorites. We'll use the best suggestions as inspiration for a future Found page (giving full credit to the creators, of course).
Turning to readers for ideas rather than killing the feature for want of internally generated ones is, in my view, a very positive move, and probably overdue.
Still, I find the first assignment a little disappointing: "Imagine the future of the McDonald's Happy Meal."
Not to be a wet blanket, but this is not a "scenario". It's an open ended brand-based brainstorming task. No problem there, necessarily, but it's liable to be more interesting to that particular company than to anyone else. (And why McDonald's? I'd have thought that such a comprehensively culture-jammed entity would be better avoided, to reduce the odds of barrage of clichés. Now, granted; I used McDonald's myself just recently in a scenario to illustrate possible changes in the food system over the next decade. I did however select it freely from among a wide variety of possible approaches.)
Why am I making a point of this? Because in my experience pitching the design brief at the right level of abstraction makes a lot of difference to the quality of what people produce, especially across the set of submissions. The trick is to find enabling constraints, such that the hard edges set down are walls for the imagination to push off from, not tight lines to colour between. Ask the right question, and the variety of responses generated in parallel should be illuminating in its own right, yielding a crop of alternative images of possible futures, not just fodder for an "official" interpretation later. You want the variations in response to be meaningful and interesting. So permit variation along interesting dimensions: different futures for an established brand are likely to start cute, and get boring fast (except, as I've said, for the owners of the brand); on the other hand, variations on what comprises a meal is an incredibly rich site of human diversity. Think of all the wildly differing cultural responses to that problem: now, applying that kind of anthropological thinking over time is key to the art of futuring. Helping other people do that is also an art.
So what? Well, for a future artifact design task, unless this is an exercise in product placement, in which case brand is all important, I'd suggest that the Happy Meal assignment both underspecifies and overspecifies at the same time. Solution to the latter problem: a looser (less constrained) subject, more open to an interesting multiplicity of interpretations (e.g., the future of fast food; or lunch; or snacking; or ways to spend five dollars). Solution to the former problem: a more specific timeframe (e.g., a meal in 02019, as in the warmup task for Superstruct) or hint about the type of scenario (e.g., fast food in a post-Singularity world).
Also, the display format for entries (squashed into a box inset at the bottom) does not display readers' contributions to their best advantage. How about them getting their own page, collectively if not individually? Should the new strategy for generating contributions prove successful, I would expect that to change.
Still, meanwhile we can welcome this encouraging sign that Wired realises where some of its best ideas are likely to come from in future.
> Is Found really lost?
> Future-jamming 101
* 16.09 on the header seems to be a typo, the October edition is 16.10.