Nurturing architecture ⊗ Protopia futures ⊗ The internet rewired our brains — No.160

This week → Nurturing architecture ⊗ Protopia futures ⊗ The internet rewired our brains ⊗ A brief history of consumer culture ⊗ We need a new work culture

A year ago → The most clicked article 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.

Dispatch 15 was sent to members 10 days ago or so, which means that Dispatch 13 — Just Enough is now unlocked for everyone, it’s about a mental model I like to use. For new subscribers / as a quick reminder to everyone, my Learning Collection booklet is available at “name a fair price” on Gumroad.

Nurturing architecture

At Next Nature Network, an interview with Dr. Rachel Armstrong of Newcastle University concerning her practice of Experimental Architecture. A transdisciplinary and collaborative approach which touches on design, architecture, sustainability, the more-than-human realm, biology, and fiction. This forward looking practice based in prototyping and steeped in fiction makes for promising visions for architecture, our homes, and cities, but can also be a bit hard to parse between actual buildable work and prospective, since Dr. Armstrong will sometimes mention AI and blockchain where algorithm or software might have done, and talks of some farther off tech as if it’s almost here. Regardless, a bold outlook on evolving the field and engaging some of our pressing societal issues. Note the overlap with the interview in the next piece, which also proposes a bold vision that includes the biological as partner and inspiration.

As such, experimental architecture does not lay down a fixed road map for the future of our built environment, but builds upon continuous experiments and prototypes that are previously assessed and collectively endorsed. […]

The 21st century experimental architecture needs to be not a practice, neither an extension of the 20th century architecture but a practice of worlding. How do we make our worlds? It is not enough to make a building and place it within the existing infrastructures and utilities. […]

In a way, it goes against the industrial course of a designer to a practice of virtuosity that it is unique. It requires a more humble, more integrated but reciprocal form of design, for example, through practices of open source and crowdsourcing. It does not undermine the design process but gives designers a different toolset and a different set of challenges. […]

For me it is about experimenting. It is about fundamental curiosity. Learn the craft that you have entered and then just identify what it is that you care about. Use the things that you care about, to rebel against what you have been taught. Find others that can help you in building your critical community.

Protopia futures

In this outtake from Scenario magazine, an interview with futurist and futures designer Monika Bielskyte to explore her work and thinking on Protopia futures, “a continuous proactive prototyping of possible futures.” One thing which always draws me into her work is that she starts from (or that’s what it looks like from the outside anyway) from a very broad multi-cultural outlook on the past and present, and displays her work very visually, which stands out from the more analytical and often text-based work of most futurists. To really summarize her work and the interview; neither dystopias nor utopias are really desirable or inclusive enough, protopic futures are closer in time, constantly prototyped, evolving, generative, very de-colonized and multi-cultural, include and take inspiration form the biological, and aim to evolve solutions, not simply dreaming out loud.

Protopia Futures is a continuous proactive prototyping of possible futures, and one that pushes back on restrictive narratives of futures imagined by a privileged group of people. […]

“I am continuously dismayed when I read futures reports that keep centring white, Western, upper-middle-class, heteronormative and abled perspectives, and thereby erase the reality of the majority of the world’s population,” she says. What we need, then, is a change of perspective so that we are able to imagine our future differently. […]

And that makes it even more urgent to centre those who could be most directly harmed by any future developments, instead of those who would be the key beneficiaries. […]

It is a proposal that tries to eschew our current cultural imagination of the future and scrutinize and challenge the role of technology. Instead of being used for warfare and surveillance, technology becomes an extension of biology, enhancing human and ‘more than human’ relations and supporting creative expression.

The internet rewired our brains. He predicted it would.

On Michael Goldhaber’s thinking about the attention economy. Quickly; everything we do is a transaction, “we are taking what precious little attention we have and diverting it toward something,” this is used to frame our decisions online, but also politics, GameStop, and power more broadly.

Michael Goldhaber is the internet prophet you’ve never heard of. Here’s a short list of things he saw coming: the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus. […]

Any discussion of power is now, ultimately, a conversation about attention and how we extract it, wield it, waste it, abuse it, sell it, lose it and profit from it. […]

He said that many of the polarizing factors in the country are, in essence, attentional. Not having a college degree, he argued, means less attention from corporations or the economy at large. Living in a rural area, he suggested, means being farther from cultural centers and may result in feeling alienated by the attention that cities generate in the news and in pop culture.

A brief history of consumer culture

Kerryn Higgs reviewing the history of the rise of consumerism. This is probably the frustrating piece for this issue, seeing how there were a couple of points (notably the early 1920s) where western countries could possibly have taken a path towards “a steady-state economy capable of meeting the basic needs of all.” Instead, companies quickly realized that to keep the almighty growth machine going, they needed to make people want things, evermore things, and set out to do just that, to great “success.”

The short depression of 1921–1922 led business leaders and economists in the US to fear that the immense productive powers created over the previous century had grown sufficiently to meet the basic needs of the entire population and had probably triggered a permanent crisis of overproduction. […]

“Mass production is profitable only if its rhythm can be maintained.” He argued that business “cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda… to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable.” […]

”Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

We need a new work culture

I haven’t had a proper job since early 2003 so it’s a bit of a mystery why I’m curious about the future of work and how organizations function. Perhaps in the hope of finding more smoothly working clients, and/or eventually working in very flexible and fluid squads of collaborators that can easily connect to these organizations? Whatever the reason, I pay attention and here’s a manifesto-esque post by Stowe Boyd with some useful and, dare I say, inspiring thoughts on the new work culture we need.

We need a new work culture, one that is larger than company cultures, and one that is not the product of corporate mythologizing or the propaganda of internal communications. We need a deep work culture grounded in science and centered on the welfare — financial, psychological, and physical — of working people, not a shallow culture that glorifies bronze age charismatic leadership while downplaying the strength of emergent order that arises from the messiness of social self-governance. […]

We need to seek fluidarity, a more agile version of the solidarity that unions were based on. Where we don’t have to agree on everything, we only need to agree on a few core principles, like an end to precarity, fair pay for work, fair access to work, fair redress for grievances, and a larger voice in the governance of companies where we work.


  • 😍 🤓 🗺 🐉 Generating fantasy maps. “I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.”
  • 🤯 The uncanny valley is getting flatter by the minute! A sneak peek at MetaHuman Creator: high-fidelity digital humans made easy. “MetaHuman Creator is a cloud-streamed app designed to take real-time digital human creation from weeks or months to less than an hour, without compromising on quality.”
  • 🌌 🤩 This New 10 Terapixel Image of the Night Sky Contains 1 Billion Galaxies. “After 1405 nights of observation over 6 years, astronomers at three observatories have produced an image of the night sky that contains 10 trillion pixels of data and depicts over a billion galaxies.”
  • 🇫🇷 📱 Why France’s new ‘repairability index’ is a big deal. “The repairability index represents part of France’s effort to combat planned obsolescence, the intentional creation of products with a finite lifespan that need to be replaced frequently, and transition to a more circular economy where waste is minimized.”
  • 🤬 🛢 ‘Invisible killer’: fossil fuels caused 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, research finds. “Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution, along with nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China. Death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower.”
  • 🖼 Same Energy is a “Visual Search Engine.” Starts with a mosaic of random images, click one to get a bunch of others with “the same energy.” You can also save searches, etc. Nice.
  • 🇺🇸 👽 🤨 U.S. Navy Has Patents on Tech It Says Will ‘Engineer the Fabric of Reality’. “According to patents filed by the Navy, it is working on a compact fusion reactor that could power cities, an engine that works using ‘inertial mass reduction,’ and a ‘hybrid aerospace-underwater craft.’”
  • 👀 “is a collective of technologists, organizers, and designers who employ arts-based approaches to build communal counterpower.”

Header image: Drifters, a film by DRIFT and Sil van der Woerd.