the future

a few weeks ago, i popped over to london to take care of a few things: there were a series of excellent exhibitions on that i didn’t want to miss (i’ll write about them later); there were some friends i needed to touch base with; and there was a little symposium about the future to attend.

thrilling wonder stories, part II was organised by geoff from bldgblog and liam from tomorrows thoughts today at the architecture association in london.* and featured a stack of writers, gamers, interactive designers, artists and researchers talking about a whole range of fiction-based ideas about the future and its possible construct.

check out the list of amazing people involved!

oh, and did i mention it was free? charlie and i were there at 10:30am, expecting a marauding mass of architects falling over themselves to be part of the discussion. turns out architects aren’t quite like that.

i don’t really consider myself much of a futurist – sometimes i’m disappointed when discover that i’m actually too romantic to readily cast aside old ways of behaving in favour of new innovations. but i’m  really attached to the idea of innovating and changing and mixing it all up so that we don’t get caught up in our stinking thinking.

and unlike my dear friend rob who thinks that kind of talk is bollocks, i do actually believe in the idea (one i think i’ve garnered from bldgblog or russell davies or some other awesome brain) that in aiming way forward to gain 10, with the inherent ‘backdraft’ of life, you can still actually gain 3.

science fiction (inc some of its design associates like buckminster fuller and pentagram), is an excellent tool for designing for the future in this way. if you get wacky and can really design for ‘a galaxy far, far away’ you might just unlock something that will be functional for a building that will be great for 10 years’ time.

or, free from the constraints of ‘must be viable’, you can end up with ‘could be possible’ and you start to solve problems that no one has bothered to think about yet, whilst still make them believable to an audience firmly sitting in the present day. language, imagination and concept rooted in fact. ftw.

so, the day was split into 5 sessions (perhaps a little OTT, by the end of it all), but each session started to unpick different aspects of designing for the future.

i didn’t really make very objective, journalist notes like rory did, so my report of the day is going to be quite subjective and perhaps influenced by where the ideas took me, rather than what was actually said.  (if that isn’t a caveat for sloppy reporting, misquoting and laziness, i don’t know what is!)

the ideas which floated my particular boat i’m calling designing for hiding, the smell of the moon, and using changed behaviour through gaming.

designing for hiding

geoff manaugh spoke about geologists dealing with nuclear waste having to come up with a protocol to signify to future generations: DO NOT OPEN THE CAN!!. basically, there’s a stack of toxic waste being drilled into the earth, which is all fine and dandy for us who can read a sign or two, or who have the means to be in communication with the culprits. but how do you build a vault to hide that garbage, with those 60,000 years in the future in mind. given that we’ve no concrete idea about what stonehenge, the pyramids or macchu pichu are trying to tell us – how can we expect the equivalent to understand what our ‘wrong way go back’ signs might mean.

not only did this particular feat of language and signification pique my interest, but the whole idea of designing for the hidden was exciting too.

everyone knows that if you want to hide something, put it in plain sight. the real outcome of a tunnel, maze or complex series of encryptions is not safekeeping, but a means of revelation, discovery and inquisition. the safe is the best kind of learning tool. it got me thinking of other ways to use this kind of design process. maybe the best way to teach young boys to read is to bury books in a well, or the hide ideas about sound behind a glass soundproof door.

the smell of the moon

now, when i told this story to my scientific photographer friend, of course i didn’t have all the facts and he picked holes in it straight away (spoil sport), but the idea and the possibility of what this means still totally floated my boat.

nicola twilley presented a story about perception from the moon – astronauts on one of the apollo missions recalled the particular smell of the moon – that it was something like gunpowder. they brought back a sealed sample of the moon dust and no aspect of its chemical added up to smell anything like gunpowder. which means that the way humans smell on the moon is different to the way we smell on earth.

which of course calls into question our whole perception of life itself, but also about the possibilities for the actual science of earth and/or the moon itself. if we perceive things differently away from earth, whose to say that things aren’t actually different here. and if the chemical properties are different away from the moon, whose to say that what we believe is on the moon is not completely different. like, what if we only see a desert of sand and dust and fuck-all, but

now all of this is fascinating from a philosophical point of view, but the reason i think this kind of ‘what if’ thinking is important is for other areas of existence. like the perception of power, or the perception of life itself (like the couldabeen arsenic-ingesting bacteria from last week).

which leads me onto…

changed behaviour through gaming

ed stern spoke about the splash damage game brink, which was an intense FPS multi-player, multi-level game with some amazing architectural and wayfinding structure inbuilt. he spoke about the need to really make things work – “a barrel needs to big enough to really hide behind and small enough to jump over”. each level had varying levels of decay – this being based in a future in which war is being waged. the imagery was brilliant and the architectural possibilities for archiving and spatial experience were super exciting.

when talking about designing the next version of the game, ed said that “it would have more women in it” –  highlighting the fact that v1.0 was all blokes**. which had me thinking about a game solely designed on feminist or gender equality principles – it could be a completely different world: social organisation could be different, motives and spatial organisation could be altered –  imagine what that could actually look like!

and what would the kids who played that game grow up to be like, if they had already experienced a world in which women and men really were treated equal? what if gaming is used to construct alternative social dynamics in which we experience an altered perception, reinforced by haptic and sensorial memory. i mean could we equalise men and women? could the israel/palestine conflict be solved through gaming?

epic win.

UPDATE: so it turns out jane mcgonigal has presented some similar ideas, and join the company and method are also doing work on the small ways in which you can use play/gaming for changing behaviour.

*here’s the chain of promotion: @roryhyde;@sheseesred;@CharlieGower + @johndodds (who watched it live on the interwebs). who sez we’re disconnected, yo.

** although the lead character, i noticed, was an afro-carribean man – something i haven’t really seen in macho gaming this far. not that i’m a gamer, per se – i have zero dexterity.

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