This week → World building ⊗ Imagine other futures ⊗ Our shared storm ⊗ Astonishingly hyperconnected ⊗ Kogonada, Nick Foster, and Liam Young
A year ago → A favourite in issue No.164 was The edge of our existence: A particle physicist examines the architecture of society by Dr. Yangyang Cheng.
World building and storytelling are two of those over-exposed words but don’t let that make you skip over, it’s a good piece by Alex Danco on using world building around projects. As you might have guessed from the issue two weeks back, labels, groups, pods, and communities have been on my mind, even more so following two good chats this week. Here Danco is talking more about a company setting but it can definitely be read for a variety of perspectives. Offering a variation on “everyone works in sales, even if they don’t realize it,” he argues that “everyone’s job is world-building, even if they don’t realize it,” which is even better tailored for a “world of abundant narrative and complex choices.” Everyone likes a good story, and even better if it’s set in a captivating ‘world’ that people can be drawn to and want to participate in, so how do you create something that attracts and mobilizes? The piece mixes systems thinking, complexity, time, purpose, and he closes with a few metaphors to get us thinking on what to address.
The more complex or valuable is whatever you’re trying to sell, the more important it is for you to build a world around that idea, where other people can walk in, explore, and hang out – without you having to be there with them the whole time. You need to build a world so rich and captivating that others will want to spend time in it, even if you’re not there. […]
If you want to change how a system works, and move the system into a new steady state that’s closer to your goal, sequential effort won’t do much. What you need is parallel effort: you need several different things to happen, all at the same time, for the system to actually move in the direction that you want and stay there. […]
Initially you’ll have to walk them around and show them what’s in your world, but your goal is to familiarize them with your world sufficiently, and motivate them to participate, to the point that they can spend time in your world and build stuff in it without you having to be there all the time.
I might need to just stop linking to Noema and trust you all to regularly read their site, but in the mean time here’s another article from them, this one by Chiara Di Leone. ‘Better futures’ and ‘other futures’ are topics I’ve covered here a number of times, I’m pointing to this one because the author takes an approach I haven’t seen before. She looks at the IPCC’s scenarios, which are necessarily quite ‘status quo compliant’ in terms of politics, and then takes us back to the early uses of scenarios in the creation of futures, and the tone often taken from the “cinematic grotesque of black comedies.” According to Di Leone, the IPCC approach to scenarios “fails to open different worlds and possibilities that are closed to us. Using scenarios as ways to reproduce the present gives us soft, tolerable corporate jargon.” She wonders if comedy can help shake up an increasingly flat future. Sadly, she doesn’t expand much on the question, but it’s a useful perspective to consider.
The social and economic aspects of the IPCC’s future scenarios are merely different flavors of extractive capitalism: They all include economic growth, obsolete measurements of “well-being” and undefinable concepts like “sustainability.” Worst of all, they frame climate change within the bounds of some imagined cost-benefit analysis, as if the writers are only going so far as to answer the question: “Until when can we extract and exploit both the planet and workers without threatening our way of life or profits?” […]
There is no way to produce predictions that are apolitical, agnostic to a certain ideology or economic system. There are the futures that preserve the status quo and the ones that challenge it by building truly different worlds.
Interview with Andrew Dana Hudson, one of the better known voices in solarpunk. His upcoming book Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures started off as his master’s thesis and the IPCC’s (again) Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (the SSPs) models. Perhaps the most distinctive part of the interview, is in the setting for solarpunk and where in the future it is placed. Lots of visions of the genre are about an aesthetically pleasing world of intermingled green and tech, he puts the emphasis on the ‘punk’ part, pre pleasing world, and “a movement to shove us onto a better path; to demand a more radical/holistic/just transition.”
[N]ow that we’re here, most of us don’t get to be cyberpunks, like cool hackers or badass mercs. Most of us are cyber-proles, living under the bootheel of the platforms, the algos, the plutocrats. […]
… give us alternative models of governance/family/school/work/care; and to generally use imagination and hope to resist and beat back the rising tides of denial, delay, despair and profiteering. […]
[W]e’ll need a lot of energy to remove a Lake Michigan’s worth of carbon out of the atmosphere, in order to stabilize the climate and roll back ocean acidification. Call that Big Chemistry. But probably there’s room for Big Computation and Big Culture as well.
“Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked problems that cannot be solved without science and policy that acknowledges this integration.” The author presents a good case for the entanglement of these two sides of the anthroposhitshow we find ourselves into and the need for “convergent research in ecology, evolutionary biology, geology, and paleontology to enable a deeper understanding of biodiversity dynamics.”
However, for me it’s one of those cases where my conclusion is that basically we (‘we’ humanity, but really, the west) should just retreat as much as possible, reduce our footprint on the planet, and not try to fix things or adapt them to us. Stop messing things up, we’re making it worse. Let’s make ourselves as small as possible and let the adult in the room (nature) clean up the broken bottles and puddles of vomit left by the party. I’m not saying don’t do anything, but let’s stop pretending we can fix things without changing our lifestyle.
Research shows that diverse natural systems tend to regenerate naturally and have higher resilience than engineered systems to disease, fire, and invasive species. Thus, effective strategies for reforestation and afforestation (establishing new planted areas) must take this biological knowledge into account. […]
More pragmatically, can the functional biodiversity produced by over 4 billion years of evolution—that is, biodiversity’s full range of benefits—be approximated by human technological efforts? The answer to this question lies in a comprehensive understanding of biocomplexity. […]
These collaborations must be grounded in an approach that recognizes the immense complexity of natural systems that have coevolved over deep time, as well as a multidimensional approach that looks beyond species to consider the full spectrum of the diversity of life on the planet—from genes to ecosystems.
No.210 Shorts & Asides ⊕ See Note
→ After Yang looks like a very promising movie, here’s an interview with the director Kogonada on crafting ‘organic’ sci-fi worlds and families of the future. “[O]ne of his big goals was to emphasize how the ‘exhaustion of being’ is still something everyone in this world is struggling with as society continues its long process of recovering from multiple calamitous events. … To me, it was like in a society that had some climate catastrophe that was really fatal and really kind of created some humility in society. We led with the idea that in order to survive now, these people had to change everything about the way they approach modern life and that they had to incorporate nature, and it had to be organic. To me, it was about a society that had been really humbled and had to remake the world in order to survive.”
→ Loved this talk that Nick Foster gave for IKEA’s Digital Days, Everyday Futures™. Great ideas, slides, and presentation. Plus, what a great studio setting! Btw, I think this framing/slides-on-the-side/distance from camera makes it look like having a coffee with him, which is way more pleasant to watch than if he’d been filmed on-stage.
→ Equal parts fear and wonder is a short article about a metaverse panel which included Liam Young. I haven’t watched it yet but these bits from the post are already good: “The metaverse is not necessarily going to be a late capitalist Zuckerbergian fever dream … the metaverse will be equal parts fear and wonder … it’ll be both of these things, because no technology has ever really been a solution to anything – it really just exaggerates the conditions that exist.”
- 🐋 💩 🤯 🇮🇳 The squit and the whale: can artificial faeces revive the ocean ecosystem?. “A scientific experiment hopes to restore vital nutrients to the ocean by using fake excrement that would once have been produced by the endangered mammal”
- 🇺🇸 🍎 👏🏼 I’ve been saying they should do THIS for 10 years. More laptops and phones should aspire for better battery life, not thinness. “Apple could have gone thinner, but it chose not to. Instead, it made a laptop that’s a little thicker but also one of the best laptops we’ve ever used, with battery life and cooling that no other computer on the market can touch.”
- 🔊 👀 👂🏼 Oooooohhh. I Heard It In A Magazine is “an online destination for sound culture and the listening-obsessed.” (Via Nicolas Nova.)
- 🤩 🇦🇪 🇬🇧 🇮🇳 Superflux debuts ‘The Library’ at Dubai’s Museum of the Future. “An interactive, varicoloured compendium of life on Earth, The Library manifests as a mammoth installation and an immersive ecological archive of our planet's biodiversity.”
- 🇨🇳 🍚 🐟 Modern study of the ancient practice of mixing rice and fish farming uncovers striking trends. “Inviting fish, crabs, and turtles into rice paddies reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and even increases rice yields, a new study proves.”
- 🤔 💨 🌊 Wind turbines could help reverse some effects of climate change. “Placing wind turbines in deep water could be an important tool in the battle in saving ocean ecosystems from the worst impacts of climate change.”
- 🦠 ♳ Are Microbes the Future of Recycling? It’s Complicated. “They say that to curb the tide of plastic flooding landfills and the oceans, what’s most needed is not new recycling technologies but stronger regulations on plastic producers — and stronger incentives to make use of the recycling technologies that already exist.” (Via Nothing Here.)
Join thousands of generalists and broad thinkers.
Each issue of the weekly features a selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures.