A Thousand Tomorrows 13/11/2013 11:30
Recently, Dutch prime minister Rutte suggested that he does not believe in visions defined as comprehensive blueprints that promise to solve societal problems all at once. (…) A country, a society does not fit into a single mold. According to Rutte, a vision is something that offers perspective to people. Some opinion makers labeled Ruttes speech as a managerial pep talk instead of presenting a motivating and inspiring vision. Others suggested that while Rutte is busy saving the Netherlands from the reality of the crisis, theres no time for discussion or reconsideration of alternative futures (and thus alternative visions on that future). Since not deciding is also taking a decision, the way the crisis is handled can never be free of an – albeit implicit – underlying vision.
The current aversion of some political leaders with respect to ‘visions’ and ‘envisioning’ stands in stark contrast to the attention the subject receives in academia, business (consulting) and society at a broader level. Scientific research, our day to day practice and political history suggests that visions provide direction for actions and behavior and are able to create identity and strengthen communities around shared goals (see for instance Wieka and Iwaniec, 2013). The most well-known example of vision creating momentum and collective direction, is president Kennedys 1961 State of the Union in which he proposes to land a man on the moon – and bring him back to earth safely. In 1969 – six years after Kennedy was assassinated – America achieved its ambition, en passant laying the basis for decades of technological progress. Another inspiring example of vision is the Dutch Delta program: a continuous effort which has kept Dutch feet dry up until today, decades after it was started after the high seas disaster in Zeeland back in the 1950s. So if this is what a vision can do, why have some politicians become so averse to visions?
Often mentioned reasons are the urgency of the now and short-terminism in general. However, these are not the only ones. We must also assess the role of new and traditional media (and their interplay) in creating the urgency of now and societys proneness to hypes and the short-term in general. Startling statistics show our – and politicians – strong preoccupation with the now. European electorates have since mid-2010 replaced more than 75% of the leaders of the European Unions member states. Italy has had a startling 62 governments since 1946.
These factors provide an attractive explanation for political obstinacy and lack of vision in general. However, as Pieter van Os shows, recently it has also become bon ton to bash politicians for their alleged lack of vision, intelligence, opportunism, proneness towards hypes and the poor quality of their media appearances.
Whats new?, you might wonder. Well, whats new is that is has become normal for elites – and not just for populists in the classic sense – to categorically dismiss politics and politicians. Van Os warns that this anti-political attitude easily develops into a anti-democratic, nihilistic attitude, e.g. what do we need democracy for in the first place? This viewpoint often embraces the idea that national politics play a marginal role in todays globalized world. Van Os convincingly shows that this is not the case and that there are enough political issues left for fierce and passionate debate in and outside of national parliaments.
Winston Churchill once famously said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” And democracy only thrives when a multiplicity of visions collide in public debate. This way, visions foster debate and demarcate the start of it, instead of demarcating the end of debate by providing detailed blueprints and guidelines.
Please note that most links referred to above are in Dutch.
Image: European Parliament
A Thousand Tomorrows 09/11/2013 16:08
While over the past few years much of the public’s attention was drawn to a ‘Grexit‘ scenario, some are pointing at Germany as the country which exit might benefit the Eurozones economic prospects. In an enlightening episode of Tegenlicht (partly in Dutch) more light was shed on this proposal initially coined by George Soros last September in the New York Review of Books. In his opinion a German exit (aka Dexit) would benefit the remaining Eurozone countries and through this the European Union.
This poses not one, but a series of interesting “What if … ?” questions regarding the future.
The rationale behind this statement is as follows. Currently European debtor countries rely on the transfer of money from north to south and due to ongoing austerity policies are (and will be) unable to restore their economies competitiveness, even in the longer term. At the same time, the German economy keeps growing, hereby increasing Germanys dominant position in Europe and further bringing the Eurozone out of balance. Soros bottom line is as clear as it is frightening: Europe fails because we are trying at all costs to retain the Euro in its current form. At one point people in both northern and southern Europe will just no longer accept either the transfer union and/or ongoing austerity without improving perspectives.
Another sign indicating a German exit is becoming more salonfähig is the emergence of a new political party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – that would rather see Germany leaving the Eurozone. Despite not attaining the 5% threshold clause during the German elections last September, AfD received over 2million German votes. According to AfD, Dexit will be beneficial to both Germany and the southern European countries. While being against the Euro, the AfD has emphasized once and again that it does not reject the European Union. It would therefore be short-sighted to position AfD in the ever growing group of anti-European politicians and movements. Even more so since the AfD itself has so far rejected cooperation with distinctively Eurosceptic and anti-European parties such as the UKs Independence Party (UKIP) lead by Nigel Farage in the run-up to the European elections in spring 2014.
The German option is a relatively new kid on the block among numerous others solutions to the seemingly dormant yet also persistent Eurozone problem. Others suggest a temporary Eurozone exit of certain nation states in order for these countries to be able to implement a series of structural reforms and a currency devaluation to restore competitiveness and lower debts or the introduction of a parallel currency for the Eurozones triple A nation states (in Dutch).
The question is what is needed for a flaring up of the Eurozone crisis. A hint towards an answer to this can be found in Joris Luyendijks intriguing anthropological research targeting Londons financial sector. Luyendijks banking blog – for which he interviewed over 200 financial sector in- and outsiders – and a recent article (in Dutch) by him, suggest how things easily could get out of hand again. Luyendijk claims that we are up for another, yet worse, financial crisis and that we do not have a single clue about whats coming. He uses a frightening but powerful image of the past to portray the future that possibly awaits us: Imagine yourself standing in Chernobyl and the reactor is up and running again, but the old management is still in charge… According to Luyendijk that is the current state of affairs in Londons haute finance (and not the banker at the end of your street).
So what if we are indeed at the eve of the outbreak of another financial crisis? And what if governments have to step in once more to save banks all around Europe? Will they? Can they? Would European citizens once again tolerate the tremendous flows of money on the one hand and the austerity policies on the other? What if the UK, Germany, or another country would opt out?
A Thousand Tomorrows 22/04/2012 19:56
In times when losses caused by excesses become evident, the thirst for increased sobriety (as in: simple, no frills) peaks.
As such, references to ‘the new normal’ have appeared ubiquitously and with increasing frequency during peaks of the ongoing economic and financial crisis. Gradually the term has been picked up by many ‘leaders’ across the globe as the embodiment of the need for business (and politics) to adapt to new times, with new systemic laws, new equilibria, new codes of conduct, etc.
‘Outwageous‘ golden handshakes, boardroom benefits, management bonuses, etc. are under public attack. Yet not only monetary instances of inflation increasingly attract criticism, also the widening gap between consumption value and meaningfulness for example, as well as boundless branding without proof of substance. The ‘new normal’ and the whole notion of what is ‘normal’ and how we value it, shows itself in a myriad of ways.
Nerds become rockstars, rockstars ‘show off’ with their lack of eccentricities and prime ministers travel economy class. Fashionistas celebrate craftsmanship, timeless quality without the glitter, a single color sweater of top-of-the-line pure wool is the ultimate cool. Boring to some, enviably stylish to others. In fact, some have already started calling boring the new cool. Two years ago, James Ward even organized a packed conference entitled “Boring 2010″. The tranquility of boredom creates time … time to discover things anew as well as new things. Yet again, sobriety can mean more than ‘boring’. It may just as well refer to a profound craving for substance, for meaning or simplicity lost.
According to various branding agencies, in the next few years we are likely to witness a strong increase in the amount of plain products (e.g. Muji, ±0 etc.) and packaging, (near)logo-less brand building; products and services speaking for themselves, their qualities as well as their weaknesses without layers of deceiptful make-up.
Products, services, behaviors … Already we see bike design gaining more attention and attract a more loyal following than that of many cars. Along similar lines of this quest for meaningfulness and qualities of life, slow lifestyle alternatives – related but not limited to slow food – are making headway as they remind people to question assumptions about life in the fast lane.
In a way ‘sobriety’ also implies the reappreciation of the small big valuable things in life, all of which can be ‘created’ and experienced, few of which can be bought, since their value often escapes the narrow definition of value as celebrated by consumption society as we (used to) know it. Not the reset of value to a forgotten baseline but a transformation of the systems of value and the meanings they deal with, is what characterizes and propels the thirst for sobriety to new heights.
Image: painting by Giorgio Morandi
A Thousand Tomorrows 05/04/2012 19:50
April 1st is traditionally April Fools’ day one day a year on which we celebrate pulling pranks on each other. In many countries, every one from John Doe to national media play along and give it their best shot to play tricks on fellow citizens. The format is simple. As in a game of make-believe, we are led to believe something that is not true. Our envelope of reality is temporarily enlarged to include things that normally lie beyond its limits.
A Thousand Tomorrows 20/03/2012 09:07
Like many technologies, (visually) augmented reality is moving from the environment, into the hands, on- & into the bodies of end-users. From pilots’ head-up displays, to BMW’s augmented reality windshield and Corning’s augmented windows and glass surfaces, to smartphone apps such as Layar, future envisionings of the technology become increasingly intimate.
Researchers at Washington State University (USA) and Aalto University in Helsinki (Finland) are making headway with the development of active contact lenses with embedded LED microarrays that allow pixels to be superimposed on natural vision. The lenses are powered by gigahertz-range radio-frequency energy from a transmitter nearby.
First experiments with rabbit’s eyes, showed apparently no side-effects. While current models of the lenses been limited to a few pixels, they might not immediately give you “contact lens TV” or Terminator vision, but they could already be used for example to warn the hearing-impaired of certain obstacles. Other possible uses for active lenses include biosensing (e.g. Swiss Sensimed uses them to monitor fluctuations in intraoccular pressure) and drug delivery … perhaps even a fake biometric ID of course.
Browsing the world around you like an IKEA catalog might be a vintage design groupie’s wet dream, but fast-forward and we might just as well see today’s streets filled with individuals texting away at their mobilephones replaced by streetviews of people apathically staring into the void or smiling as they see the ugliness of their surroundings superimposed by surrogate imagery (your own personal visual antidepressives).
A more direct approach, bypassing lenses altogether, is to plug into one’s visual cortex directly. More information passes there than meets the eye. Just imagine …
“And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand”
- “Iris”, Goo Goo Dolls
Image via Prof. Baba Parvik’s Research Lab, Washington State U
A Thousand Tomorrows 03/02/2012 13:13
Image shows Gatewing’s X100, Ghent (Belgium).
A Thousand Tomorrows 14/09/2011 11:25
In 2001 researchers from the Max Planck Institute made a breakthrough in so-called neuro-electronics by “Interfacing a silicon chip to pairs of snail neurons connected by electrical synapses“. In the meantime we have seen progress in brain gate experiments, in implants to provide relief for a people with Parkinson’s disease, neuro-prosthetics to help memory function in Alzheimer patient, neuro-engineers over at Stanford University are trying to create a silicon version of the human cortex through neuromorphing (transistor-based neurons & neural circuits), the Human Brain Project brings together 13 universities, research institutes and hospital with the aim of building a European research facility that will simulate the human brain and exploit the results etc.
Recently, IBM researchers unveiled “a new generation of experimental computer chips designed to emulate the brain’s abilities for perception, action and cognition.” The so-called ‘cognitive computing chips’ have been developed within the context of the DARPA funded SyNAPSE project.
“Making sense of real-time input flowing in at a dizzying rate is a Herculean task for today’s computers, but would be natural for a brain-inspired system. Using advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry, cognitive computers learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and rememberand learn fromthe outcomes.
For example, a cognitive computing system monitoring the world’s water supply could contain a network of sensors and actuators that constantly record and report metrics such as temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics and ocean tide, and issue tsunami warnings based on its decision making.”
See also IBM’s Dharmendra S. Modha’s keynote video on cognitive computing.
In a way – by having a chip learn ‘in situ’ in the brain or any neurological situation for that matter and transfer the learned patterns to another implantable chip – the technology can be said to point towards a wetware version of Douglas Engelbart’s notion of Intelligence Augmentation.
As it is usually the case with such breakthrough developments, people’s imagination runs wild. What if we could transfer ‘tricks’ related to how animals process sensory signals to the human? What if next-generation thieves would start stealing skills by adding something to you rather than taking something away? What if humanitarian emergency situations could benefit from these advances by ‘broadcasting skills’? What if the microchip could become fully bio-based? The past weeks we have seen everything from benevolent neuro-prosthetics to Manchurian Candidate-like scenarios pass the revue. While advanced applications might still be years off, the societal debate around the possible impacts of envisioned uses for these technologies is worth carrying out now.
A Thousand Tomorrows 10/08/2011 19:25
Designer and University of Dundee graduate, Patrick Stevenson-Keating became inspired “by the pioneering work of Professor David Deutsch of Oxford University, and the earlier work of Professor Hugh Everett, who argue for infinite copies of ourselves existing within multiple universes”.
As such he developed the quantum parallelograph, a device enabling users to explore the lives of their parallel selves in parallel versions of the universe. At the turn of a knob and the touch of a button, the device spits out a cash-register like receipt of your life in another parallel world. Hence, through a glimpse at their alternative selves and the world they live in, people are implicitly provoked to question their uniqueness and ponder about physics in general. Another subtle example of critical design or design for debate, a field we are particularly fond of and like to experiment with over here at Pantopicon.
The direct link with alternative worlds links this particular example even more closely with the realm of foresight and scenario analysis. Imagine a few extra knobs or levers to set parameters on future developments and you’d have a tangible future scenario-generator, yourself as persona included!
Keep up the good work, Patrick!
A Thousand Tomorrows 10/08/2011 19:03
On August 2nd 2011, Dutch philosopher, editor in chief and journalist-commentator of NRCNext Rob Wijnberg published a tongue in cheek column entitled “A travel guide to Planet Earth” in the dutch daily: NRC Handelsblad. The same article was entitled “Lonely Planet” on NRCNext. In concordance with his statement on Planet Earth’s Media – i.e. earthlings blogging on whatever they read in newspapers – I hereby ‘blog’ his column (in translation) on ‘a thousand tomorrows’:
Planet Earth is located in one of the most isolated corners of the galaxy. Earthlings are known as hospitable, except to strangers. Please read this guide carefully before departure.
Journey: Between two and four million light years. Consider a jet lag.
Climate: The best time to visit Earth would be between 2011 and 2100. After that the tropical season will start.
Currency: The main currency on Earth is debt, a fictional currency based on which earthlings manage to maintain their non-existing wealth. Debts are the only currency in the universe that are being reproduced in case there are too many of.
Geography: Earthlings have divided their planet randomly into 196 countries. Free travel is permitted, unless you’re poor, hungry, or on the run.
Politics: There are two political movements on Earth: Left and Right. Left hugs terrorists, right breeds terrorists. Terrorists themselves are lonely lunatics who have lost their sense of reality.
Religion: There are two religions on Earth: Islam and anti-Islam. Muslims believe that all people are equal, except gay men, women and non-Muslims. Anti-Muslims believe that all people are equal, which makes them superior.
Points of interest: Earthlings were known for their cultural traditions, until the multiculturalists helped to kill the culture. The last bit was retrenched in order to save banks. The only remaining attraction is the Nationaal Historisch Museum in the Netherlands, which has on show a model of the Nationaal Historisch Museum.
Media: Most earthlings get their information from the so-called ‘Internet’. The Internet is a gathering place for bloggers who write about what they have read in the newspapers that day. In the newspapers of the next day, pieces of what’s been said on the internet are being published. In addition, on Earth every year a thousand books on how the Internet causes people to read less and less are being published.
Hotspots: Greece is the place to be because of low prices. Expect a high credit card bill after returning home. The United States were supposed to be closed by now, but will remain opened until the end of the season - (check usdebtclock.org for opening. Who wishes to visit Belgium will need to hurry.
Although Wijnberg mainly reflects on a future inspired by the present and currently ongoing events, he chose a format not unlike that often employed by futurists to shake people out of their perspective and look at the world through the eyes of a timetraveller or someone coming back from a long journey after 20, 30, … years time. The column shows how ‘distancing’ in either space or time is a powerful perspective-changing tool stimulating critical reflection.
A Thousand Tomorrows 14/06/2011 20:28
While recovering from the banking and financial crisis that hit Iceland hard, the country is preparing for new times. Which better way to start than by drafting a new constitution. Iceland basically copy-pasted Denmark’s constitution when it gained its independence back in 1944, so times seem right to freshen things up. Not only the constitution itself, also the way in which it is written ought to be reflective of the 21st century way of doing things, the constitutional council must have thought, as they decided to post the draft articles on the internet offering citizens the opportunity to discuss, amend, witness and assist in the birth of a new constitution first hand.
“The crowdsourcing follows a national forum last year where 950 randomly selected people spent a day discussing the constitution. If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.
Given that it was intended to go to a referendum, Gylfason said, the idea was that the public should be involved from the start of the process and not just at the end. Social media is seen as a way of making that happen with Iceland’s population among the world’s most computer-literate. “
With activity on just about any social media platform, from Facebook to Twitter, from Flickr to YouTube, the Constitutional Council is working hard to maximize buy-in, to collect feedback and collaboration from the Icelandic public. According to GOOD, “the draft Human Rights section currently contains an expansive clause barring descrimination for just about any reason (including “genotype” and “social origin”) but also guarantees universal mental and physical healthcare, academic freedom, and the protection of natural resources.”
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