Saturday, March 15, 2014

Whose future is this?

In 02010 and 02011 a series of earthquakes devastated Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, and left large parts of the downtown core in ruins.

Last October I gave a talk at TEDxChristchurch called Whose Future Is This?* Without presuming to comment specifically on the official plans now afoot for the rebuild, I urged Cantabrians (and others) to recognise that, as a matter of principle, the future we get is co-created in community – it is a story that we tell together – and should not be treated as scripted or predetermined.

Here's an interview I gave for The Press in the leadup to TEDx.

Video of the talk itself was recently put online.

This was the fourth annual TEDx gathering curated by the Ministry of Awesome's incomparable Kaila Colbin, who brought me over from Toronto to contribute. I was honoured (and a bit dumbfounded) by a report in Christchurch's daily newspaper the following day that listed my talk as the highlight of the event.

The author of that roundup, journalist Will Harvie, subsequently got in touch to say that he had begun thinking about what it might be like to create an edition of his newspaper from a future year, perhaps 02031 or 02036. His interest came in the wake of a story I had recounted during the talk, about the extraordinary #16juin2014 cross-media experiential futures campaign in Tunisia during the Arab Spring in 02011, which helped get the country back to work following the turmoil of revolution, painting a vivid portrait of how the next phase of national life could look.

I have now learned that the idea of news reports from various Christchurch futures has made its way into reality, with a series of articles by various contributors, set exactly 20 years after the worst of the earthquakes – in parallel versions of 22 February 02031.

This is the first case I can think of, offhand, of a newspaper bringing to life the stakes of today's choices by reporting diegetically from alternative futures (i.e., mutually exclusive logics rendered in the same medium, cf. our guerrilla postcards from the future intervention). There are of course more instances of papers or magazines – either officially, as here, or 'unofficially' – issuing reports from a single scenario.

It is most encouraging to see these strategies for experientialising multiple futures spreading and impacting how people imagine and discuss their options: steps towards a participatory platform of public imagination.

Well done, then, to Will Harvie and colleagues at The Press – I hope the experiment was a success, and that this forward-looking exploration continues.

Update (23mar14): Will Harvie got in touch last week to provide pdfs of the original publication – now embedded above. He points out that much credit for this journalistic experiment is due to Press editor Joanna Norris who 'risked her reputation much more than anyone else involved and had the cojones to see it through.' Also, 'Full credit to Camia Young for allowing us to publish her students’ work.'

[I'm grateful to Kaila Colbin both for the invitation to speak, and for the video, and also to Gapfiller's Ryan Reynolds for the tipoff about the future news.]

* This title is a riff on Ken Kesey's famous question to the Merry Pranksters, "Whose movie is this?" – for more background see page 128.

Related posts:
> Tunisia, 16 June 2014
FoundFutures: Postcards from the Future
> New York Times Special Edition
> Designing Futures
> Travelling without moving

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