Future Schlock ⊗ Solarpunk is a Tumblr vibe. It’s also a practical movement. ⊗ Earth at a cute angle — No.158

This week → Future Schlock ⊗ Solarpunk is a Tumblr vibe. It’s also a practical movement. ⊗ Earth at a cute angle ⊗ Towards the Orthogonal Technology Lab ⊗ Luther and the roots of Nordic welfare states

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.113 was The Manifesto of Rural Futurism by Régine Debatty.

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

Future schlock

Jathan Sadowski with a pretty scathing attack on the “thought leaders” of Silicon Valley’s portrayal and work towards utopias that favour them. I’d rather he’d used “futures” and “inclusive” or “progressive” instead of “utopias” and “real utopias” (since they are visions, not perfect worlds) but it’s nonetheless an excellent entry in a growing collection of articles over the last few years who lift the veil on the techno optimist views’ defects, advocates for much more inclusive, progressive, and clear-eyed futures, and remind us that we need to (I’m paraphrasing Madeline Ashby here) pick the futures we want and advocate for them loudly and repeatedly.

For decades, we have been largely trapped within the boundaries of techno-capitalist futurism, pseudo-utopias that have been largely purged of any radical content. […]

But in practice this [(Sidewalk Labs)] would mean not creating a city from scratch but claiming territory where people already lived. Building the dreamscape of the future required them to first colonize the cityscape of the present. […]

To some, scuttling a smart-city project may seem defensive and reactionary — a rejection of the future. But it is only a rejection of one predetermined future. At the same time, it is a positive affirmation of a world in which decisions about governance and development are not already dictated by corporations. […]

By embedding its values and goals into concrete technologies, capital seeks to assert dominion over the future — constraining what type of social change is viable. This makes techno-politics a natural battleground for staging struggles over what utopias are imagined and whose utopia is materialized. […]

When movements do present real alternatives that would make material improvements to people’s lives — like defunding police, cancelling debt, or enacting a Green New Deal — they are often dismissed as idealistic nonsense and empty slogans.

Solarpunk is a Tumblr vibe. It’s also a practical movement.

Intro to the term and interview with Jay Springett. I’ve covered this before but worth a read to further flesh out our understanding of the movement’s goals and foundational ideas. Also a good match for the previous article, since it’s exactly what Sadowski talks about; developing ideas of real utopias and carrying them forward in opposition to dystopias, cyberpunk nightmares, and Silicon Valley brotastic overreach. The highlight below, quoting Adam Flynn, is an especially useful short encapsulation of Solarpunk.

[T]he true crux of solarpunk. It centers ecological responsibility, and it maintains a fundamentally DIY impulse — community-minded, self-sustaining and, importantly, hopeful. […]

An eye toward decentralization. Ecological awareness. A long-term approach to design. Can it be beautiful?

Given its nature, it’s easy to imagine prepper culture being attracted to peer-to-peer and other solarpunk-friendly technologies, but solarpunk has nonetheless managed to stay animated by principles of community and hopefulness rather than collapse terror.

More → From the article, a list of 69 cornerstones of solarpunk.

Earth at a cute angle

Come for the gorgeous satellite imagery, stay for the philosophical conclusion on knowledge sharing. More seriously, Robert Simmon shows, through multiple examples, the value of oblique views vs “nadir” or map-like views we are used to.

But to me, the most interesting aspect of oblique imagery is the way it reveals the form of a landscape and acts as a bridge between our lived experience and abstract data. […]

The connection between what we see from the familiar ground-level viewpoint and the novel, top-down perspective of a satellite view is what makes oblique imagery so powerful. Likewise, presenting new information in the context of pre-existing knowledge is an essential element in successfully communicating unfamiliar ideas. In both science communication and data visualization, it is essential to use the familiar to build a bridge to the novel. […]

In your own discipline, try to find the examples that connect the tangible to the intangible, the every day to the exotic, and the known to the unknown.

Related → Also at The Journal of the Data Visualization Society’s Nightingale, Understanding Map Projections.

Towards the Orthogonal Technology Lab, v0.1

Some weeks ago I wrote the post Fellowships as a service, a couple of months back I wrote On projects, newsletters, products, and formats, and I’ve included a few articles in the weekly around squads, private communities, and loosely joined professional networks. The above by Matt Webb fits in that still kind of vague but coalescing area of collaborative indie research. In this case he’s outlining an hypothetical think tank – lab to innovate in the B2C product space.

So I guess what I’m asking for is a different kind of think tank, not one that works with recommendations and reports and regulation, but a new think tank that trades in politically opinionated, worked examples that demonstrate, demystify, and de-risk. […]

So there’s a focus on B2C, rather than enterprise, and there’s a focus on the smart assembling of existing tech rather than innovating new tech – though that’s not to say that patentable technology won’t be found. […]

[T]he core activity probably follows a standard innovation pipeline. There’s concepting, prototyping, and development work, all separated by gates, and a healthy cull at each gate. […]

[O]rthogonal innovation, a series of quite ordinary steps but simply in a different direction

Luther and the roots of Nordic welfare states

Honestly, I don’t know enough about Lutheranism, or the culture and politics of the Nordics to judge how strong an hypothesis this is, but I like it. Hit reply if you have thoughts, opinions, or even better, facts on this view.

To achieve this Luther worked to combine the numerous guild and parish alms funds into one local fund which was administered by the city council. He created the municipal social work when he put this principle into practice in the city orders of North Germany. […]

Lutheran emphasis on the responsibility of the society created the Nordic welfare system in which the state is the major actor in health care, social care and education. Lutheran nations not only have enviable welfare states today but were also the first nations to achieve full literacy rates.


Header image: Data Visualization and the Modern Imagination.

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