Note — Dec 13, 2020

Defuturing the Image of the Future

Seen in → No.154

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Quite a lot packed into this piece by Andrew Blauvelt, connecting to a number of articles shared over the last few months. He looks at how inventions of futures are often extensions of the present, how acts of design are small acts of future-making, how the “world’s fair prototyped the future as a marketplace, first as a stockpiling of goods (a consumer’s paradise) and later as a showcase of the newest technologies (a technophilic utopia).” How these creations colonize the future by removing the possibilities of others’ to create different ones, and how the 20th century’s negative futures (citing Fred Polak) lead to a decay in culture.

Calling for a “defuturing of the future” (re-opening all possibilities), Blauvelt closes with Brand’s pace layers, wondering if affecting the upper pace layers in a such a way could affect the slower moving ones positively.

All acts of design are themselves small acts of future-making. In the process of illustrating ideas, fabricating models, drafting plans, or prototyping solutions, designers shape what does not yet exist. In this way design is both propositional and prospective—it offers renderings and mock-ups, schematics and drawings, and instructions and code in the hope of instantiating a future. Design attempts to script the future by projecting its desires (and those of others) forward in time. As Susan Yelavich has declared, “Design is always future-making.” […]

[T]he static exposition of otherness “defutured” these cultures, not only in the minds of most visitors, but also in the imagination of many of the colonized, vanquishing possibility and agency over their future. […]

“We need to remind ourselves that the future is never empty, never a blank space to be filled with the output of human activity. It is already colonised by what the past and present have sent to it. Without this comprehension, without an understanding of what is finite, what limits reign and what directions are already set in place, we have little knowledge of futures, either of those we need to destroy or those we need to create.” […]

As long as a society’s image of the future is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full blossom. Once the image of the future begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture cannot long survive. […]

Our images of the future are, perhaps appropriately, post-human and post-nature. They are by turns pessimistic and optimistic, fateful and fanciful. Although decidedly futuristic, such images of the future are survivalist strategies and presumptive forecasts. They are the future posing as today’s speculative solutions to yesterday’s wicked problems.