Borges, Welles, Baudrillard, Ballard, Dick and Caronia: Creating Futures

After the Near Future Design workshop held at the Wired NextFest in Milan: 8 hours, 48 people, 5 Near Future Design concepts produced on the theme of Telepathy.

You can see some of the results in the Near Future Design Facebook Group, where you will also be able to get to know the people who joined us in the workshop and all the others, including our wonderful students from ISIA Design School in Florence, who have presented the first book about Near Future Design published in Italy.

Workshop Near Future Design

Workshop Near Future Design

We started off with an introduction about our vision about what is and can be Near Future Design, merging multiple practices and disciplines – across ethnography, technological studies, design fiction, transmedia storytelling and more – to

  1. gain better understanding of the current State of the Arts & Technologies and of the emerging Curious Rituals and Strange Now, recurring patterns of human behaviours which are happening, but for which we don’t yet have clear social codes and understandings
  2. unite these understandings to form a series of Future Maps, maps of possible futures which can show not only futures which are technically and technologically possible, but also in synch with the transformation of human beings, as described through the Curious Rituals and Strange Nows
  3. use the Future Maps to describe concepts for possible products, services, processes, interactions and practices which are likely to emerge in the near future
  4. design these products/services/processes/practices through Design Fiction, creating pre-totypes, early prototypes which not only include the prototypal implementation of these objects and services, but also of their diegetic character and characteristics, their being suggestive and scenographic, their ability to suggest the possible emergence of the practices and processes connected to their existence – be them positive, problematic, or in-between, across social, political and anthropological scenarios – and, as a consequence, to give shape new languages, codes and imaginaries which are able to transform our possibility to imagine and create new futures, opportunities and possibilities
  5. use the Design Fictions in a World Building process, using Transmedia Storytelling, to design the world in which these pre-totypes might come into existence, trying to give answers to questions like “what would be the world like, if this product/service/process/practice would actually exist?” and “what would be in this world?”, “how would human interactions, relations, knowledge and understanding of the world be transformed?”
  6. use the Transmedia Storytelling to create the product/service/process/practice’s manifestations in this possible future world, in cities, urban environments, online, offline, in advertising, human interactions and across a variety of different, coordinated media, to create an immersive experience, in which the design becomes a simulacrum, a state of suspended disbelief in which it is impossible (or, at least, difficult) to understand wether the object is fake or real, thus enabling people to actually being inclined to adopt the new languages, codes and imaginaries emerging from its (possible) existence, and use them to construct and express their own vision on the world, including this new possibility
  7. observe these resulting forms of human expression to gain better understandings of the reactions, to go beyond the idea of technically/technologically possible futures, and to understand the expression of desirable, preferable futures.
the Near Future Design process

the Near Future Design process

At the end of the workshop we joined Bruce Sterling in a discussion about the importance of performing such processes, and about the radical transformation and addition to the role of Design which they represent: you can find a description of the talk here, on Wired (in Italian).

During the talk, we selected a series of quotes from a series of writers, philosophers and movie directors, to highlight the social, political and philosophical implications of the creation of Near Future Designs, and on the possibility to create and use new codes, languages and imaginaries to build our world and futures, through expression, communication and performance.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

“The people who write novels have to take the infinite reality and make it finite, give it an order. A novel has a beginning and an end: for this it is a finite world. The tale, instead, is the only infinite literary genre. A good tale is a story which does not have a beginning and end. To describe the infinite, you sketch a trace of it, which is also infinite. A tale is a trace of infinite.” – Jorge Luis Borges

We used Borges’ quote to describe the necessity to create open narratives, the importance of the need to avoid describing complete, prepared, pre-determined futures, to enable people’s possibility to create their own futures. The question “what comes next?” can be an opportunity for performance, for the creation of our own future, the way we desire and prefer it. Too often it is an act of passive consumption: someone telling you “this is the future”, and you adopting it.

The library of Babel

The library of Babel

The Library of Babel is an hallucinatory universe composed by a spatially infinite library made from hexagonal halls, which chaotically collects all of the possible books of 410 pages, in which are all the possible permutations and combinations of letters and numbers.

 

In the library, all the possible books of 410 pages are present. Therefore it is present the Book of Truth, all of its variants including its opposite, and human beings do not have any way to distinguish one from the other:

 

« Starting from this incontrovertible premises, he decided that the Library is total, and that its shelves record all the possible combinations of the 25 alphabetical signs, all that we can express, in all languages. Everything: the detailed story of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the truthful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of all these catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of the true catalogue [...] the translation of each book in all languages, the interpolation of each book in all of the other ones. »
– Jorge Luis Borges

This piece from the Library of Babel was used to allude to the need for our active participation to the description of the future, among the infinite possible ones. While the futures are infinite, many do not make any sense, multiple are dangerous for us, or in opposition to our desires, expectations and ambitions, and so on. From all of them we can potentially learn something, develop new visions, imaginations, ideas, desires, languages and codes. We cal use all of these to create new realities, new codes, and to enact them in performance, with our daily lives.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Once, a friend of a friend showed Picasso a Picasso. “No, it is fake”, answered the painter. The same friend got hold of another presumed Picasso, and Picasso said that also this was a fake. The friend took another one, but this was fake as well, said Picasso. “But, Pablo”, said the friend, “I have seen you paint this with my own eyes.” “I can paint a fake Picasso just like anybody else”, replied Picasso.

– Orson Welles

This quote by Orson Welles points out the problematic aspect of deciding “what is real”. Reality is always an interpretation, originating from cultural, political, social and subjective elements. Reality is a code and a space, and multiple of them exist at the same time, built through language and practice (performance). By questioning reality we can enter a state of openness to possibility, in which we can perform reality, creating new ones, constructively (Picasso painting the fake Picasso).

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of artificial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

– Jean Baudrillard

This quote from Baudrillard describes the relation of “fake” and simulation with reality. “Fake” is not “not real”, it is another real, which interweaves itself with the consensual reality, creating new spaces of perception, cognition and imagination. It defines new possibles, new possible realities, which will be interpreted by human beings and by societies, who will react and perform accordingly. Fake is real.

J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
– J.G. Ballard

This quote from J.G. Ballard explains the role of Science Fiction within our societies. Science Fiction as a probe, as an exploratory performance into possibility, into possible worlds, to open them up for discussion, expression, critique and enactment. A sensor for “the possible”. We believe that the same can be said for Art.

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

If you think this universe is bad, you should see the other ones.

– Philip K. Dick

This quote from Dick describes the possibility to take into account a plurality of different futures, and the critical aspects of this consideration, which opens up not only the opportunity of understanding, describing and designing (for) them, but also highlights the importance of embracing active modalities to describe our desired, preferred futures, and to enact them through the performance of our daily lives.

Antonio Caronia

Antonio Caronia

It is not a random fact that futurology is developing in an historical moment such as the present one, in which we are witnessing a radical mutation of our planet.
Wether we call it “post-industrial society”, “information society”, “technotronic age”, “superindustrial society” or “third wave”, the progressive emergence of a new reality is clear: the situation of the planet is changing, in the ways in which we work, in our lifestyles, in the social and political conflicts, in economy and love, in the institutions and in the codes of behaviour.
Understanding this mutation is essential to direct it, to deal with the emergencies and with the effective risks of catastrophe (environmental, social, economic) which will not address themselves. The work on the understanding and forecasting of the future seems essential to adequately confront with all of these issues. At the condition which this work does not generate a caste of super-technicians who assume for themselves the right to decide – alone or together with the bureaucracies which govern us – everyone’s destiny.
On the direction of this destiny the last word pertains to the people: there must be no doubt about this.
–Antonio Caronia

 

The presentation can be seen on Slideshare:

Wired NextFest and Near Future Design: 8 hours of workshop and the exploration of possible futures

Art is Open Source and ISIA Design Florence will be in Milan at Wired’s NextFest on May 17 for an immersive 8-hours workshop on Near Future Design, and for a performative conversation with Bruce Sterling on the opportunity of materialising possible futures right now, using Design Fiction.

It will also be the chance to launch the first book on Near Future Design published in Italy by our students at ISIA Design Florence, with an introduction by Bruce Sterling. (you can download the book here:  http://www.artisopensource.net/NFD-NextFest2014.pdf )

 

Near Future Design is a series of practices and methodologies through which we can explore possible futures in participatory ways, highlighting current transformations in human societies, in technologies and in their relations and mutual influences. Through this, we can create Future Maps which describe these possible futures, and use Design Fiction to implement pre-totypes, early prototypes built through actual objects and services, but also through the use of transmedia narratives: the manifestations of these objects and services of our possible future, across different, coordinated media, to make them credible and likely.

As we have highlighted multiple times, in the era of knowledge, information and communication, Near Future Design helps in the construction of the languages, visions and of the imaginaries which will enable us to actually create our futures, hence giving rise to our motto: “The Future does not exist! It’s a Performance!” A performance for all of us, to create our futures with every imaginative action in our daily lives, and for organisations, companies, governments and more, who wish to stimulate people into critically and collaboratively thinking about their preferable, desirable futures, and to actively participate in their construction.

The Workshop at Wired’s NextFest

On May 17th 2014, at 10am, at Wired’s NextFest, in the Aula Magna, Museo di Storia Naturale, (in the “Giardini Indro Montanelli” park, Corso Venezia, 55, Milano, near the Metro station “Palestro“) we will hold an immersive 8-hour workshop on Near Future Design.

We will choose a scenario, create a Future Map, and design our “New Normal”, the future scenario in which our future product/service/action/behaviour will be perceived as being normal, common. We will do it through Transmedia Storytelling: we will enact a coordinated, systematized strategy online, in the streets, on social networks, in shops and, in general, ubiquitously, across digital and physical media, which will make our Design Fiction come alive.

Here is the Workshop’s page on Wired: http://nextfest.wired.it/events/near-future-design-lab-designing-new-normal/

Here is the link to register to the workshop: http://www.smappo.com/event/536c87dc4a6fb_near-future-design-lab-designing-the-new-normal.html

The Talk

On May 17th 2014, at 7pm, at Wired’s NextFest, in the Red Dome, (in the “Giardini Indro Montanelli” park, Corso Venezia, 55, Milano, near the Metro station “Palestro“) we will hold a talk with Bruce SterlingJasmina Tešanović, Oriana Persico and Salvatore Iaconesi to engage in a performative conversation on Near Future Design and Design Fiction: imagining the objects (and societies) of the future(s).

Learn more about the Talk on Near Future Design here: http://nextfest.wired.it/events/near-future-design-immaginare-gli-oggetti-e-la-societa-del-futuro/

 

The Book

During the talk we will also introduce the first book on Near Future Design published in Italy, with ISIA Design in Florence, featuring the incredible Near Future Designs by our 2013 students.

Learn more about the projects here: Near Future Design at ISIA Florence

Download the Book here: http://www.artisopensource.net/NFD-NextFest2014.pdf

The book is also distributed via QRCode on the May 2014 edition of Wired Italy, in the article below:

Near Future Design on Wired

Near Future Design on Wired

Transmedia Design

Fake and real. Simulacra and simulation.

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of art)ficial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

This quote from Baudrillard’sSimulacra and Simulation” allows us to understand very precisely simulation’s role in human society and perception.

In the media environment in which we are constantly immersed, people constantly interpret what they experience using signs, signals and clues which are real, fake, simulated, relevant, unrelated…

Going back to Baudrillard:

Thus all hold ups, hijacks and the like are now as it were simulation hold ups, in the sense that they are inscribed in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media, anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences.

This observation describes what is called Hyperrealism. “More than real “. More than real because, to an extent, the “real” depends from what media show about it, from how they show it.

If I think of a holdup: although I have never really experienced one, I know how it goes, how it unfolds, how it develops. Because I have already seen it, millions of times, in movies, television, youtube videos, images. I know what to expect, what happens.

a Bank Robbery

a Bank Robbery

If I close my eyes, and think “bank robbery”, I will see images, hear sounds, imagine emotions, fears, excitement, the adrenaline rushes of all the participants involved: the bank robber, the police man, the hostage, the clerk.

I don’t need to actually be in a bank hold up because, through media of multiple types, I have been there a million times.

In our contemporary world, things become even more complex.

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

In each instant, we are constantly immersed in a multitude of flows of information and communication: the things we see, the signs and signals, the displays which we’re surrounded from, the advertisements, the things we see with the corners of our field of vision, people, their gestures, dress-codes and the ways in which we interpret them, sounds. And our smartphones.

Think about arriving in a city for the first time. You’ve never been there before. Do it.

which city is this

which city is this?

Only a few years ago, when this happened, you really did not know much about the city: maybe you had a couple of addresses (of your hotel and a restaurant which a friend advised you to visit), you could have seen a couple of postcards or pictures, you could have read a guide… not much.

Now, everything has changed.

When you arrive in a city for the first time in your life, you have already seen it: on Google Maps, or even Streetview. You have seen pictures, read reviews, gathered opinions and experiences on TripAdvisor, asked around on Facebook, and maybe even found a few friends to meet there. You might even be couch surfing in someone’s home. Maybe you already know that a certain neighbourhood in the city is dangerous, or interesting, or full of artists, or stores.

Let’s push it: maybe you went to that city because of something you read/saw online, in the first place. Something online made you change our behaviour, or take a certain decision. If you had read something different, maybe you would have gone to a different city.

Again: you could imagine that city, have feelings for it, even without having actually been there. Simulated. And, thus, real.

That city, thus, is not only made from buildings, streets, shops, squares, houses, parks and other physical objects.

It is built from a variety of different media. Some of them very physical, like concrete, wood, glass, asphalt. Some of them immaterial, like digital information, images, videos, text, emotions, experiences, data.

All these meda entangle with each other and with our perception, forming the way in which we perceive reality.

augmented city

augmented city

The landscape is now composed by trees, buildings and digital information.

We can use the “traditional” senses to perceive all of them: sight, hearing, tactility, smell, taste.

Other, new, senses add up to the “traditional” ones, or modified senses, which we learned to use in more recent times. We do not have 5 (or 6) senses, but a higher number of them.

For example the sense of proprioception, which is among the senses which has undergone massive transformation in recent times: the feeling of being in a certain place. Where are we when we are non Skype, on Facebook, or while we look at Google Earth?  We are in a different, other, place, which is not where our physical body is, not at our friend’s house, not on the screen, but in-between, suspended, Other.

It is necessary, in our contemporary world, to understand how to deal with this and similar facts, with this dimension.

This is fundamental for Design.

a chair

a chair

Let’s imagine designing a chair.

When I design a chair, I’m not designing an object. I’m creating a story.

A story which is the result of the entanglement multiple elements, including the chair’s shapes, materials, structural properties.

lots of different chairs

lots of different chairs

But also of a series of other elements. What do I mean when I say or imagine a “chair”? What does someone with a different culture or background mean by it? What do I expect from a chair? What do I like, hate, fear, desire from it? Which chairs have I experienced, seen, wanted, worked with in my life? …

It is an intricate story, built from formal elements, cultural ones, experiential ones, affective ones, emotional ones, and so on. Regarding me, and also all the other people which this chair is for, or who will see the chair in the store and recognise it as a chair, feel desire, attraction, repulsion, fear, love, seduction, and other emotions, feelings and meanings for it.

This is, as we were saying, even more complex in the era of ubiquitous information, in which search engines (like the image above, which is obtained by performing an image search for chairs), social networks, websites, augmented realities and more add multiple other layers to this, generated by people, companies, organisations and more.

This is not a new thing.

It has always been there: objects (and products, services, ideas, narratives…) have been stories which people interpret using their own cultures, contexts, cues and backgrounds since the beginning of mankind.

Let’s think of an incipit:

I was alone, at sea

I was alone, at sea

“I was alone, at sea.”

If you close your eyes, and try to visualise this incipit, what is happening in it, what do you imagine?

Different people imagine different things.

Some will think of men, women. Some will thing about homes, rafts, yachts. Some will think about sadness, or meditative states, or fear, danger, or happiness and love.

What does this mean?

It means that we create the story ourselves, in our minds.

It means that a writer (or designer, or…) never has complete control of the story, of how different people perceive it, imagine it, experience it.

It means that we build the story ourselves in our minds by harvesting a series of clues which are disseminated across a variety of media. Clues which are relevant, irrelevant, collateral, coming from what the writer wrote (or the designer designed, or developer developed, or interface designer designed…) and filtered, changed, transformed according to what we know about the world, the things we have seen and experienced. Or from what we desire, expect, envision, prefer.

Or even shaped by what we have seen online, in the streets of our city, on a billboard, or with the tail of our eye somewhere, or by something we have overheard on the bus, casually listening to what other people were saying.

All this clues, the ones we use to create the story in our heads, are disseminated across a variety of media.

Henry Jenkins defines Transmedia as:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

In relation to design, we can use this definition as a starting point, to imagine Design as an act of World Building. Of creating Worlds instead of Objects.

What IF

What IF

If we do this, we would probably try to give answers to a series of “What if?” type questions.

What would be in the world if the object (product/service/application/artwork…) existed?

We know that cars exist not only for the existence of automobiles as physical objects.

We know that cars exist for a number of different reasons, possibly even more important that “cars” (as object) themselves (thing about, for example, if I don’t own a car: its other manifestations could be more important for me than the car itself in knowing about cars’ existence in the world).

Cars exist and we know it, also because we know that repair shops exist, insurance policies, parking tickets, parking lots, car advertisements, gas stations. There are people who publish pictures of their car and with their cars on social networks. There are accidents. There are people who desire certain cars. People who talk on the phone telling their friends that yesterday they ran out of gas and they had to leave the car in the middle of nowhere and walk home. There are prizes in which you win cars. There are cars lovers websites. And cars haters websites, for multiple reasons. There are car factories, and people who work in them. The same people who are on strike when the car factory in which they work shuts down because the production of cars has moved to China, or to some place else. There is the guy who invented the hydrogen car of the future. And many more manifestations of cars.

We know that cars exist because there are all of these things. And all these things exist because there are cars.

What would happen if we took away “cars” (as physical objects) and left all their other manifestations in place? With all probability, we would still think that cars exist.

In general, there are a number of transmedia manifestations of the “car” phenomenon. Which is not an “object”, but a Transmedia Narrative, a Simulacrum.

And, thus, let’s go back to the Simulacrum:

Simulacrum

Simulacrum

Designers (and artists, politicians, lawyers, and more and more professions) are transforming themselves, wether they realise it or not, into Transmedia Storytellers: professionals who are able to enact world-building processes by designing a Simulacrum through its coordinated manifestations across a variety of different media.

The objective of this type of actions, is twofold: to intervene on “reality” and to “loose control of the story, in controlled ways”.

First: to intervene on “reality”. On consensual reality, on the things and scenarios which we have learned to recognise as real, socially, culturally, psychologically, cognitively and more. To create a transmedia path in which the object (or product, service, law, concept, artwork…) becomes present in the world not only through its physical/digital presence, but also through the presence of its transmedia manifestations.

Not designing objects, but designing worlds.

This permits a powerful transition: to shift the perception of what is possible. By creating a World, instead of an object, we can provide the clues which allow people to believe in the possibility for this World (and for the object/service/artwork/law…) to exist.

And, second, to loose control of the story, in controlled ways.

This is, possibly, among the main opportunity for design in the Era of Knowledge, Information and Communication. The rise of Open Source, peer-to-peer production models, participatory and mutual economies and many more elements constitute evidence for this.

As described, we can use Transmedia Storytelling and World Building techniques to induce a state of Hyperreality. We can create Simulacra.

When this happens – when Hyperreality happens, when we design for Hyperreality – we do not create copies of reality, or their expansions or extensions. We create a new reality, a different one.

This allows us – as described by Deleuze – to establish a privileged position, which allows us to observe the phenomena of our world, and to open new spaces for their critical discussion.

By creating Hyperreality, we create languages and imaginaries, through the shift in perception of possibility: because we learn that something Other is possible, we acquire new language and new pieces of imagination.

And we can (and will) use them to express ourselves.

The Design becomes, thus, a platform for other people’s expression. It becomes a participatory performance.

This is of fundamental value, because through this modality people will not only able to express around their perception of possibility, but also and more importantly on the level of preferability, and of desirability. Expression not only on possible futures, but also of preferable, desirable ones.

From our point of view, this is an exceptional new role for Design and Designers.

 

Note: this post is the transcription of our contribution to the event on Transmedia Storytelling which was held at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

The event is the result of the Master in Public & Exhibit Design we hold in La Sapienza University in Rome.

This year we collaborated with artist Maria Cristina Finucci on her Garbage Patch State project, by creating a complex Transmedia Narrative. Here below is the publication of the results of our work:

 

Human Ecosystems at TEDxDanubia

Join us in Budapest for TEDxDanubia, where we will present the Human Ecosystems project, and some surprises about the digital lives of cities, the ways in which people express in urban contexts and on the possibility to create a new form of Public Space, in the era of Information, Communication and Knowledge: Ubiquitous Commons!

TEDxDanubia will be held on May 15th 2014,  at the Uránia theater (1088 Budapest, Rákóczi út 21., Hungary).

This year’s theme is “The Age of Uncertainty

From TEDxDanubia’s website:

We live in uncertain times, probably more so than ever before. The pace of change is accelerating, the amount of information and choices is overwhelming. A merging biological and technological revolution is transforming our reality. The gap between rich and poor has widened to unprecedented levels. Population growth and human induced ecological changes are creating unforeseeable risks on a planetary scale. The balance of power is shifting rapidly between East and West, North and South, while the whole planet is becoming defined increasingly by interconnectedness and interdependency, and our capacity to meet the new challenges is greater than ever.

At the same time we are losing sight of or even faith in our traditional reference points and guiding posts. New challenges, new threats and new opportunities await us behind every corner. Opportunities have never been greater and more widespread. But our world is also filled with the sense of crisis of all kinds, from financial to moral, from global to personal. What kind of world are we heading towards? Are we on the brink of a new phase of our evolution? How do we find our own way in this new world? How do we make wise choices in a new and uncharted territory when so much is at stake? How do we find meaning and purpose to our lives? What does progress mean? How do we turn the new and threatening challenges into opportunities?

Among the speakers and performers: Taghi Amirani, Orsolya Nemes, Anna Baróthy, Boggie, Pál Honti, Scott Summit, Gábor Forgács, József Baranyi, Miklós Antal, György Nógrádi, Bobby Sager, Márk Süveg Saiid, Krisztián Nyáry, Marge, Laurie Garrett, Annamária Kádár, Nikhil Goyal, Péter Pozsár, István Kenyeres, Freelusion, Andrew Hessel, Emily Levine, Sena Dagadu.

The Near Future of Education

 Introduction

With students, designing the future of the education system. A fundamental action towards a shift to a participatory, inclusive knowledge society. This post describes the structure and methodology of our action.

Note: This post is the result of the conversation which we had at CyberResistance in Milan, at the Cantiere.

 The Future does not Exist.

In our approach to Near Future Design we try to create a state of suspension in which it is possible to explore multiple versions of future scenarios and to engage people from different cultures and backgrounds to enable them to become performers, able to express themselves in highlighting not just (technically/technologically) possible futures, but desirable, preferable futures.

Near Future Design: infinite futures

Near Future Design: infinite futures

There are a few steps involved in doing this.

The first step is to create a Future Map.

From our point of view, the building a Future Map involves the combination of a technical/technological activity together with an ethnographical/anthropological one.

The first one involves the comprehension of the current State of the Arts & Technologies: current technological advances, promising research, patents, new products, trends, etcetera. Given proper and reliable information sources, this task is rather simple, in that it requires to keep updated.

The second one is fairly more complex, as it requires the comprehension of the Established Narratives, the Strange Now and the Future Possibilities.

The Established Narratives describe our common understanding of consensual reality. Given a certain topic or domain, the established narratives enclose the forms of consensus which is accepted within relevant communities or cultures: “normal” things within the domain, as they are culturally, traditionally and commonly understood.

The Strange Now describes the emergence of recurring patterns, rituals and other behaviours. Although having become recurrent, these behaviours do not yet benefit from widespread social understanding, comprehension and encoding: they are commonly understood as “strange”, peculiar or curious.

The Future Possibilities describe what people in relevant cultures and communities perceive as possible, feasible and technically/technologically advanced and desirable regardless of their actual technological feasibility, present or future: they describe people’s perception of possibility, in the future.

All these elements are combined into a Design for the New Normal. Its objective is to merge the two types of results into the description of near future designs: the “things” which will be normal a short time from now; the next normality field.

The Near Future Design is represented in a series of ways and it becomes a Simulacrum: a state of suspension of disbelief in which the Design is implemented using a Transmedia Narrative whose objective is to make it as believable and likely as possible, so much that it becomes so entangled in consensual reality that it eventually becomes it.

In particular, this last phase, happens by means of imagination, performance and desire. It is a language-based operation, in which a linguistic landscape is created which allows for the emergence of new imaginaries: people become performers by apprehending new languages, which allow them to imagine new things and concepts and, in turn, to bring them to life, through desire. The performance of the future: people’s perception of what is possible shifts, as they experience a transmedia simulacrum which is so likely that they start using it, eventually making it become true and, in the process, express themselves on what is their desired, preferred future.

This is exactly what we are doing with the education system.

The Near Future of the Education System.

Together with the students at ISIA Design in Florence we are using Near Future Design techniques to design the Near Future of the education system. To do this, we are following the the full Near Future Design methodology outlined above, and we are enacting the transmedia simulacrum in two ways: by enacting a transmedia narrative which will be started shortly, in the following phases of the action, and by adopting the model we’re designing, performing it and using it ourselves, to experiment it on the field according to an agile methodology, by designing it, implementing it, releasing/using it in its beta version, and by redesigning it according to a series of iterations, forks, merges.

Here below is an image which describes the structure of our initial design, further detailed in the next sections.

Near Future of Education structure

Near Future of Education structure

Assumptions

Assumption number 1: decent education has an really high entrance/access barrier.

If you have a lot of money, you don’t have a problem with the current education system. If you can afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars which are needed to attend the best (and not-so-best) schools in the world, you really do not feel the crisis. You have laboratories, personalised courses, a good student/professor ratio, tutoring, mentorship, auditoriums, libraries, equipment, etcetera, you have it all.

Too bad that not many people have all of this money. And even of the ones that do, most of them rely on Debt to obtain access to these schools, and debt – as we have learned – comes with an awful lot of implications.

Assumption number 2: current education models are mostly competitive rather than collaborative.

Competitive models may be adequate for the industrial era, but they are not for the networked, information/knowledge/communication era, which is based on collaboration, universal access and inclusion. All of which are critical to the creation of social capital and the ushering in of a sharing economy.

Assumption number 3: knowledge as a common.

Not only because, as Rifkin puts it, it allows for marginal costs to tend relentlessly towards zero, with all that this implies, but also (and most of all) because, as Bauwens frames it, in the framework defined by Contributory Commons (provided by the Civil Society) and Ethical/Solidary Economy (the Reframed Corporation), an Information & Knowledge Common is enabling and empowering, and should be defended as a strategic asset.

Assumption number 4: perceptive, cognitive, attention and strategic models for education.

The ways in which we learn, collaborate, work, design and relate have radically changed. From a perceptive and cognitive point of view, and from the perspective which sees the emergence of novel modalities in which multiple disciplines converge, different roles become entangled, serendipitous actions become strategic and, in the passage from atoms to bits and back, the production of knowledge and information becomes a performance which is cultural and linguistic, and which is polyphonic, interconnected, emergent in nature.

Assumption number 5: need for a new definition of “value”.

From the P2PValue project page:

Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is a new and increasingly significant model of social innovation based on collaborative production by citizens through the Internet.

In this framework a novel definition of “value” must be found, encompassing the well-being of the ecosystem, and in a mutualistic sense, progressively loosing the definition of “value” determined by the market sale price of products and services, and embracing one which is mutually determined, at a peer-to-peer level.

On top of these 5 initial assumptions, the State of the Arts & Technologies and the Strange Now analyses have provided indications about 11 axes in which we have dimensioned our proposed design. You can read more about the 11 axes of transformation on the NearFuture Education Lab’s blog on Nòva24.

The Foundation

Why create a Foundation to explore the Near Future of Education?

There are multiple answers. Two are the most important ones: to enact a strategic shift, and to host, protect and preserve the Knowledge Common that is at the center of ecosystem.

First: to enact a strategic shift.

a strategic shift

a strategic shift

In the current situation, a hierarchical organisation of things and processes is in place: governments and companies deal with each other to establish policies and strategies which are applied to, in this case, schools and universities and, by them, to students and other participants. This has major political, social and economic implications. And, maybe most important of all, is not flexible, resilient and capable of adapting to the transformation of cultures, societies and the environment, or to take into account people’s and communities’ desires, visions, expectations and emergent behaviours.

The transformation we propose is dedicated to creating an environment, a space.

The environment is the Knowledge Common, which is protected and preserved by the Foundation.

The Foundation itself is open, accessible and permeable: anyone can get in, but it is not necessary to get in to make use of the Knowledge Common.

Multiple forms of interaction and interrelation with this environment are possible, such as contributing to the Common, using the knowledge contained there within, producing recipes to it, a particular form of meta-knowledge (and, thus, that is part of the ecosystem itself) which shows how the various parts of the Common can be used together, combined, assembled together with other relations, elements, or even with other recipes.

These forms of interaction can come from inside/outside/edge of the environment/common.

The Foundation, open and accessible to everyone, preserves the Common.

The Currency

The Knowledge Common has a value, which constantly grows.

This value is measured using K-Coins, Knowledge Coins.

K-Coins are a mutualistic currency, which is used to measure how much a person or organisation contributes to the value (well-being) of the Environment/Common.

K-Coins are mutually assigned: if subject A perceives that subject B contributes to the value of the ecosystem (by participation, contribution, production, meta-production…), A can assign K-Coins to B. In other words, K-Coins are proportional to the Reputation which one has in relation to their active participation to the well-being of the Environment/Common.

(some additional info on the ways in which we are designing the K-Coins may be found here: http://p2pfoundation.net/Near_Future_Education_Lab )

Agile Ecosystem: pull, fork, watch, merge

All the things we have seen so far (and the next to come) represent knowledge, as well.

The Future Map, the definition of the Foundation (its statute and regulations, for example), the K-Coins definition and the software needed to make them work, the collaboration and relation tools… everything that we describe here is part of the Knowledge Common that constitutes the core of the Environment, of the Public Space, that we are describing.

As such, they can be freely accessed and used.

Using the Git metaphor, they can be watched (to know how they’re changing), pulled (to use them), forked (to modify them, creating your own version) and merged (to take the results of multiple contributions and to assemble them into a new version).

If a certain subject grabs and modifies, let’s say, the Future Map, or the statute of the Foundation, they can use it for their own purposes, but the results remain part of the Knowledge Common, together with their relation with the original version.

This fact has enormous cultural, political and practical implications.

First of all determined by the possible co-existence of multiple versions of everything.

This implies, for example, that if I have a certain vision of the Future Map, of how the future of the education system could be, I could just fork the currently adopted Future Map, modify in ways which reflect my point of view, and put it back up for merging. Then other people will be able to make their own decisions: merge it, fork it on their own and use it, or else. In any case, I would be able to use my own Future Map for my own purposes (in this case, to aim at a certain objective in the transformation of the future of the education system).

In all this, K-Coins allow everyone to express (currency as a means of expression) themselves about their perception of my contribution to the Common, contributing to my reputation and, thus, augmenting the value of the environment/common itself.

This possibility for measure also achieves a virtuous effect: since everyone’s reputation is connected to their active contribution to the well-being of the Knowledge Common that constitutes the environment, and since the K-Coins measuring it are mutually assigned, everyone will be engaged into making positive contributions, thus augmenting their value, thus incrementing their reputation and possibilities/opportunities within the ecosystem.

How Does all this Work?

The Foundation will work as a Wirearchy.

In Wirearchy a social network (in our case it will be a combination of a peer-to-peer social network, and of a meta-social network, operating in piggy-back with major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and in mode physical modalities) hosts conversations, relations and interaction.

From these, the communities of practice emerge: people and organisations interested and involved in certain topics, domains and issues, and making experiments, hypotheses, researches…

Work teams can emerge from all this, eventually including some or all members of the communities of practice as well as participants from the rest of the social network, or even from beyond its (fuzzy) boundaries. Work teams actively work on the domain/theme/issue, eventually arriving at the definition/creation/implementation/deployment of a certain information, knowledge, object, product, service or else.

In this ecosystem, any form of production includes two elements: knowledge and other things (such as objects, products, services…).

All knowledge produced becomes part of the Knowledge Common.

All the rest may be sold, offered, used or else, at the discretion of the producers.

The knowledge produced and put back into the Common defines the “value” of the “project” within the ecosystem, through the number of K-Coins that other people assign to it – from their point of view and if they desire to do so – evaluating how it contributes to the well-being of the ecosystem.

Recipes

Within the ecosystems, a series of subjects produce recipes.

Each project, course, study program, how-to, tutorial… each of these things is a recipe, may contain and use recipes and may be contained in one or more recipes.

Recipes are like the ones for cooking: they contain ingredients, and the instructions on how to combine them to obtain a certain result.

Recipes, as forms of (meta-)knowledge are part of the Knowledge Common.

There can be recipes about what is the education path to become a Designer, an Engineer, a Cultural Anthropologist. Recipes about how to build chairs, drones, particle accelerators. Even recipes about cooking.

A certain recipe may indicate that, before attempting to do something, I should learn something: Recipe to create object X could state that “you can use software tools Y and Z, physical tools K and T, and you have to follow course A, preferably with Mr. B, and it would be better to join Lab C, and you would need the collaboration of at least 1 person who has followed course D and E, and who is proficient in using tool Y”.

Recipes can be produced by multiple subjects: I, for example could produce a recipe about “what you need to learn and do to become a proficient Communication Designer”.

Other people could create similar recipes (starting from scratch, or forking my recipe, for example): other designers, people who think they know what it takes to become a Communication Designer, and more.

One peculiar type of subject which could desire to have its say about this could be, for example, the Italian Ministry for University and Research (the MIUR), or any other governmental institution in other parts of the world. Actually, all of these types of subjects basically occupy their time creating “recipes” – under the form of official study plans, policies, regulations and more. We recognise these plans, rules and regulations as valid and mandatory on the premise that we trust these governmental entities and institutions, and that we acknowledge them the role of the maintainers of the systems in which sciences, humanities and research can thrive and prosper.

It’s a matter of trust, and reputation.

What could, then, happen in the ecosystem which we’re describing?

It may become true that Mr. X’s recipe on “how to become a Robotic Engineer” is valued more (in K-Coins) than the one from the MIUR, other Government Agencies, or even than the one from Stanford, or even MIT. Because…? It can happen for multiple reasons, of course. One of them is that, in the ecosystem, more people have recognised more value (by attributing K-Coins) to Mr. X’s recipe. This would mean that the education ecosystem recognises Mr. X’s recipe more valuable than the one by the Ministry, or by Stanford, or by…

This possibility is disruptive: what could a Ministry of Education, or Stanford, or MIT do in this case? They could produce a better recipe, or adopt Mr. X’s, or fork it or… many more things. Sure is that that they would have to act, in order to bring more well-being to the ecosystem.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

How can I teach in this Ecosystem?

I could offer a course/lab/training-on-the-job/something using the social network, or by participating to a Community of Practice or Work Team (and possibly recognising the need for such an offering), or because I really enjoy teaching a certain subject/practice, or because I have the tools/spaces/conditions to offer it, or else.

In my offering I can use elements from the Knowledge Common, optionally forking them and creating my own versions, which are put back into the Common. I can use recipes, and produce recipes of my own, to be used in the course or outside of it (“my course is needed to learn how to build object X, as described by recipe Y”). The offering can also be included in recipes by other subjects, which deem it as being fundamental for achieving a certain purpose.

These same people may decide to replace a certain element of their recipe with my offering, should they be convinced (and, in this, reputation helps) that mine is better.

Eventually, I will give the course/lab/stage/practice… and the people who have participated (students, recipe-adopters, be that to become an engineer, complete a project, to learn something so that I can then teach it, to learn something for no purpose at all…) may decide to assign me some K-Coins for my positive and active participation to the well-being of the Ecosystem.

From this moment my offering would benefit from increased reputation.

How can I create a project in the Ecosystem?

This scenario works much in the same way like the previous one.

The major difference is in its augmented degree of generality.

To engage a project you have to learn something, use knowledge and information, assemble a certain number of recipes, and more. All to produce, as described, more knowledge and some objects/products/services/other.

Thus, it would work out in the same way.

The social network/communities of practice/work teams scheme could be used to start a project. The project would use elements from the Knowledge Common (be them single elements or recipes…), combining them with courses, laboratories and relations with other people and organisations which would have to have access to knowledge and recipes (either directly or by “going to school”) and, possibly, a certain level of reputation.

In this scenario: the value of reputation in the ecosystem becomes self-evident, as enabler, facilitator, multiplier, accelerator of the action.

How can I learn something in the ecosystem?

You always learn in this ecosystem.

One of the strengths of this approach is the explicitation of this fact: in different moments and contexts of their life subjects will act as “learners”, professors, laboratories, entrepreneurs, producers of recipes, and more.

I could decide to learn in multiple ways: by choosing a certain recipe (based on the reputation of its creator, or for some other reason); by choosing a certain course/lab/other offering; by joining into a project in which I would need to learn a certain thing or adopt a certain recipe.

Or I could even identify that no-one is currently offering a certain course/lab/training/other, and by using the social network/communities of practice/work teams to try to make it available (and this would also be an opportunity for someone to actually create the offering).

If all else fails, I could try to learn by myself in some way, and, maybe, even offer the course myself.

In all this, the usual mechanism applies: of all the contributions which I used (the course, lab, recipe or else) I would be able to assign K-Coins to attribute to them reputation, based on my perception of how they contributed to the well-being of the ecosystem and of the Knowledge Common.

Conclusions

We’re building all of this and, in the next few months, you will see much more happening.

As stated above: this process which we’re building is the first contribution to the Knowledge Common itself.

You all can (and should) contribute to it in any way you can: by participating, designing with us, helping us to communicate, to get in touch with people, groups, organisations, institutions who could be interested in these kinds of developments.

In four words: to make this happen.

More news really soon.

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