This week → Kim Stanley Robinson on inventing plausible utopias ⊗ Ethnographies from the Future: What can ethnographers learn from science fiction and speculative design? ⊗ Using government IT to teach and build public infrastructure ⊗ The great unravelling: ‘I never thought I’d live to see the horror of planetary collapse’ ⊗ The city as page one
I’d probably file this under thought experiment, as it’s still (to my eye anyway) an incomplete framing from Drew Austin but an attractive exercise nonetheless. He parallels the transformation of newspapers’ front page physical constraints by the digital, with the current reframing of cities during the pandemic. “Maybe a city is fundamentally a system for organizing information rather than an inherently physical object,” he says, citing architecture theorist Sanford Kwinter, to argue that “‘urban,’ then, is a phenomenon as fluid as other media, distinct from the cities where it has historically been found.“ To ponder.
According to McLuhan’s expansive definition, cities themselves are media: Not only are they stuffed full of every conceivable kind of “content,” but they are also, increasingly, the content of other media, particularly the internet. […]
[T]he internet has also evolved into the operating system for meatspace, furnishing more of the navigational tools and information systems that the built environment once exclusively provided via features like wayfinding signage and grid layouts. […]
As information becomes more and more fluid, the physical objects—the media—that formerly transmitted it become less and less functional, until symbolism is the only role left for those objects to perform.
This one by Laura Forlano (via Shannon Mattern) is from 2013 and I didn’t have/take the time to dig further in this use of design fiction but it’s a super interesting one. Forlano looks at ethnography as a form of time travel and argues that for certain topics they must find ways of studying the future. In the piece she opens the door to using codesign, participatory design, and speculative design to open up new topics of inquiry, bridge both analytical and generative practices, and even writes about “design friction” which “would use the alternative futures and storytelling methods from speculative design in order to interrogate the gaps and seams that we uncover through ethnographic research.”
Increasingly, narratives from science fiction (as well as speculative design and design fiction) are being used as modes of imagining alternative futures in a critical and generative way (without being technodeterministic) in emerging research and design practice, and these practices have much promise for ethnographic methods. […]
From deep hanging out (Geertz, 1998) to interviewing lead users (Von Hippel, 1978) to adopting and experimenting with emerging technologies themselves, I developed strategies that allowed me to glimpse cultures, patterns and behaviors before they were widely known or understood.”
As such, the objects that are created are not the solution to a design problem but rather objects with which to think creatively. […]
We need better ways of turning our descriptive, analytical accounts into those that are prescriptive, and which have greater import in society and policy. We may do this by inhabiting narratives, generating artifacts to think with and engaging more explicitly with the people formerly known as our “informants” as well as with the public at large.
The reliably smart and insightful Bianca Wylie on the potential and opportunities for governments (particularly cities) to reappropriate the direction and creation of technology. She reminds us that tech doesn’t have to be created for commercial purposes, there’s nothing in code that’s inherently capitalist, there’s space for collaboration with the public, as well as an “opportunity for governments to engage as both a funder and resource creator for digital literacy.”
Nothing about software code is inherently capitalist; code can be used as a civic material for non-commercial ends. It can also be open source and shareable when the conditions are right. And governments are perfectly situated to give public technology more oxygen and attention. […]
Technology offers a way to build out new spaces for collaboration and design. This moment could be used to evolve government technology work into something better funded and supported, including how unionized positions impact how government tech is created and maintained. […]
Newness of approach and organizational design is where there is more opportunity. This is about looking at maintenance with fresh eyes as well, including the options to retire programs, services, and even roles.
The Great Unravelling: ‘I Never Thought I’d Live to See the Horror of Planetary Collapse’ ⊕ See Note
Is there need for a trigger warning for this piece? Australian climate scientist and writer Dr Joëlle Gergis (who was also a lead author on the sixth IPCC report) starts from her country’s black summer, the immense loss of animal life, the parallel mass bleaching event recorded on the Great Barrier Reef, the intense heat, and goes on to explain how we are careening into the “great unravelling,” the horror of planetary collapse she never expected to live through. We know all the facts but reading the despair in Gergis’ words is one of those jarring reads we sometimes try to dodge, yet need to contemplate.
There is so much heat already baked into the climate system that a certain level of destruction is now inevitable. What concerns me is that we may have already pushed the planetary system past the point of no return. That we’ve unleashed a cascade of irreversible changes that have built such momentum that we can only watch as it unfolds. […]
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we actively avoid talking about hard realities; darker parts of our psyche are considered dysfunctional or intolerable. But trying to be relentlessly cheerful or stoic in the face of serious loss just buries more authentic emotions that must eventually come up for air. […]
[T]here is great power and wisdom in our emotional response to our world. Until we are prepared to be moved by the profoundly tragic ways we treat the planet and each other, our behaviour will never change.
Short but intriguing interview of KSR by Eliot Peper where they talk about Robinson’s new book in which he proposes a kind of utopian vision of how we might negotiate climate collapse. They also touch on “structures of feeling,” how capitalism devalues the future, the relation between science and science fiction, giving up on purity, and being mongrels. It’s followed by a tantalizing excerpt of The Ministry for the Future.
The giving up on purity (and mongrels) answer was perhaps the most useful for my own thinking. I’m usually attracted to mentions and examples of hybrids, as well as often disliking the too perfect, the too polished. I’d never thought of it from the purity angle but perhaps it’s a dislike for things that are too pure? Slice of my own life I guess but mentioned here in case it mirrors some of your own preferences.
[E]ven in the face of tremendous complexity and overwhelming odds, agency matters. […]
So the moment we’re living through now is a kind of interregnum, the space between two moments with their respective structures of feeling. The in-between can be acutely uncomfortable but also a space of freedom as old habits have ended but new ones not yet been settled. […]
I think the pressure to adapt to reality will include international institutions, because it’s a global existential crisis. And new organizations and even types of organizations are being invented all the time. […]
Stop believing in purity, and abjure the righteousness of that feeling, which so quickly becomes righteous indignation. These feelings are addictive brain drugs, but harmful to clear thought and action. We are mongrels on a mongrel planet, it’s all a mix always swirling together, so go with that and embrace difference and mixtures.
No.146 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🎥 Conference by CIVIC SQUARE a couple of months ago, videos of the talks and panels are now going up: Department of Dreams. “Bold new regenerative futures that weave together the dreams of many. Department of Dreams is a site for unlocking, sharing, manifesting and investing into the dream capacity that lies inside us all.”
- 📡 I haven’t dug into this Ford Foundation project yet but it looks quite good. Creative Futures. “a reimagining of the fields of arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism, a set of concrete action plans to fuel and shape the transformative possibilities to come. In the words of abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, experiments and possibilities.” Here are some of those fragments and pieces, experiments and possibilities.”
- 🔥 🧵 by zeynep tufekci on the lessons not learned by the media. In 2016, I explained how media’s inability to resist mindlessly participating in sabotage purposefully dangled in front of them—instead of doing their job—was, in effect, a form of censorship for the 21st century. The “stars” have barely learned a thing.
- Very good 🧵 by Chris Herd on WFH and the new office space reality. HQ’s are finished: companies will cut their commercial office space by 40-60%. The will allow every worker to work from home 2-4 days a week, and come into the office 1-2 days a week
- 🗺 🤩 🇬🇧 King’s Topographical Collection. “The Topographical Collection of George III contains drawn and printed maps, views and atlases produced between 1500 and 1824.”
- 🤯 🧵 by QC about the Drake equation. it’s ludicrous how few people know about this paper, so, friendly reminder that the fermi paradox was completely resolved in 2018 and it turned out to be because multiplying point estimates of highly uncertain parameters is very bad actually.
- 🇨🇺 The life and death of SNET, Havana’s alternative internet. “At its peak, user estimates hovered around 100,000 IP addresses. Isolated from the internet and beyond the government’s control, young Cubans set their own terms on forums, social media platforms, and local websites. During the network’s decade-long golden era, it offered a rare example of citizen and community exchange in a country where the state carefully controls communication, until the state finally took it over.”
- 🇸🇪 Ikea to buy back used furniture in recycling push. “The Swedish giant will next month launch a scheme to buy back your unwanted Billy bookcases, and certain other of its furniture items you no longer need or want. Under the plan, it will offer vouchers worth up to 50% of the original price, to be spent at its stores.”
- 🤔 🇺🇸 IBM to split into two companies by end of 2021. “spinning off some of its lower-margin lines of business into a new company and focusing on higher-margin cloud [and AI] services.”
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