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.

In the meanwhile follow us and join in like this:

Open Data as Culture: science, arts and technologies to co-create possible futures

How can Sciences, Arts and Technologies collaborate together with Societies, Communities, Administrations and Businesses to foster a culture of Openness, Transparency, Freedom and Empowerment?

We will find out in Trento, at the ICT Days event, together with Trento rise, the Bruno Kessler Foundation and the Department of Engineering and Information Science of the University of Trento.

The event will be on April 2, 3 and 4, 2014, in several locations across Trento (see http://2014.ictdays.it/en for info and program).

Our intervention will be on April 2nd, 2014, at 3:15pm, at the University of Trento, in the “Polo Scientifico e Tecnologico” in room B107.

We will use some of our projects such as VersuS, ConnectiCity, Human Ecosystems, and also Enlarge Your Consciousness and Incautious Porn, to highlight and reflect on how a radical transformation is needed about what we imagine citizenship to be.

It is a transformation which is linguistic and of the imaginary. It is about the shift of what we perceive as possible, to understand and embrace new ways of working together, of relating, communicating, making decisions and getting things done.

From our point of view, in the era of knowledge and information, we have all the tools we need (more are, of course, welcome, as long as they are open, accessible and usable).

What is missing is not found at the level of technologies, methodologies and techniques.

It is at the level of desire, expectation, emotion.

We find ourselves at the edge of a scenario in which we can reasonably transform what we expect economy, knowledge, public space and governance to be.

We call this possibility Ubiquitous Commons: the possibility to create a number of knowledge-based, recombinant Commons which radically augment the well-being of our ecosystems (human, relational, economic, social, political, natural…).

Our work is dedicated to enacting global states of performance, in which everyone is engaged into embracing this possibility in constructive ways, using arts and creativity to interweave scientific, technical and technological possibilities with our imaginaries: a linguistic virus which shifts our perception of what is possible.

La Cura, after the presentation at Transmediale 2014: Afterglow

So, we gave a presentation about La Cura at yesterday’s panel at Transmediale 2014 Festival: Afterglow:

here are the slides for the presentation:

At the end of the slide, a visualization of the activity of La Cura, and of the enormous amounts of relations which have been created in the project was shown:

We wanted to focus on a few of the slides we presented yesterday, as we feel it is very important to highlight their meaning in the overall scheme of the La Cura performance.

The first concept we wish to address is the idea of Disappearance: when you become diseased with cancer, the first thing that happens is that you disappear.

You disappear as a human being, and are replaced by an encoded, simplified, medicalized version of yourself. You are literally replaced by your data. Doctors, people, nurses do not look at you, but at your medical data, at your images, the results of your exams.

This is a great loss, because, obviously, people are much more than data. They are emotions, relationships, cultures, beliefs, communities, philosophies, subjectivities, desires, expectations. This distinction has great political and social implications.

During the presentation, while highlighting the impossibility of obtaining an image of my cancer while I was in the hospital, we pointed out the radical difference which runs between the concepts of availability, accessibility and freedom (or, even, with autonomy).

They represent different levels of the way in which it is possible to determine one’s life, amidst a society, communities and within a network of relationships.

In these times, we have become prone to falling into the trap of mistaking the concepts of availability (even abundance) and accessibility with the ones of freedom and autonomy.

Of course this equivalence is obviously not valid, with the main differences lying in the domains of the imaginaries, of desire and of opportunity. We can have all the abundance in the world, but it is nothing unless we have the possibility to develop the imaginaries to construct visions about the world which we want to enact, the desire to form such imaginaries and, then, to enact the visions, and the opportunities, as subjects and members of communities and societies, to share and enact our visions.

Current times are not times of financial crisis: they are the times of the crisis of imagination, of desire and of the capacity to create shared opportunities as societies.

This scenario is closely connected with the progressive processes of encoding that are characterising our societies. Things such as relations, health, environment and social participation are progressively becoming things you buy (in the many senses according to which things can be “bought” in the digital era, as social networks have shown), rather than things you do as a society.

The entire project and global performance of La Cura is, possibly, all dedicated to breaking the code of this approach. In La Cura the medical data serves as a metaphor for this precise objective: reclaiming humanity going beyond its encoding through data. In La Cura, data is reappropriated and transformed into desire, through a global, shared performance.

In this way, we have tried to describe the emergence of a peer-2-peer welfare model, in which entire communities (potentially global) participate in a sense or reciprocity, of mutual support: the sense of a society whose well-being depends on the well-being and freedoms of all of its members.

This concept allows to research on the possibilities to enact practices in which the money and financial based economy to which we are used to is transferred into another domain, to a different set of economical systems. A transfer from one economy to a multiplicity of other ones, based on emotions, desires, emergent voices and perspectives.

In these kinds of transfer we see many of the possibilities which will fuel our opportunities in the near future.

The Near Future of Education: a potential revolution, at ISIA in Florence

Crisis and Transformation of the Education system: the Near Future of Education in Florence.

What happens during a crisis? Transformation.

Necessary change.

Note: this article was originally published on Luca De Biase‘s blog under the title “Crisis and Transformation of the Education System: The Near Future of Education in Florence”

Update: you will be able to follow the updates of the ISIA Process in Florence on the Near Future Education Lab on Facebook, or on the pages of Nòva24, on il Sole24Ore in the next few days (follow the FB group and this site to know more)

the Assembly at ISIA Florence

the Assembly at ISIA Florence

This is what is happening in ISIA, Florence’s school of design, where the students are leading a disruptive effort to co-create their own future of education.

When faced with semi-bankruptcy originating from the financial cuts, and with the certainty of being thrown out from the buildings in which they reside because of the lack of government funds to pay for the rent, the teachers and students at ISIA Florence started a protest. Flash mobs, social network campaign and city interventions were enacted to protest against the probable closure of the school.

students assembling in Florence

students assembling in Florence

Soon enough it was clear that this was only the latest of a never-ending series of states of emergency, and that dedicating all this effort towards resolving one problem, would not change anything for the future, that would still be characterised by a sequence of emergencies, one after the other.

A decision was taken.

Starting from the Near Future Design course, and quickly spreading to the whole school, we decided to reinvent our reality with the most our powerful tool: the Design. We started building the Near Future Design of Education, to push a bit further people’s perception of what is possible, and using this shift to enact a performance, in which the design actually comes to life.

The students are now in a constituent phase, in which they will unite into a Foundation – or other form of legal organisation –, organised using Holacratic models. This new organism will enact the design, by changing the rules of the game. Stepping away from protest mode, and moving into the making mode by changing roles: from subjects begging their rulers to receive hearings and a few coins to survive, to partners, co-creators of the future of the education system.

joining in the revolution

joining in the revolution

From the point of view of the course, the story will have a peculiar twist. At the end of each academic year it is common practice for the students to produce a publication featuring their Near Future Designs and the methodologies and techniques used to conceive and implement them.

This year’s publication will assume a very distinctive form: a series of European projects – which will be actually presented – and a open toolkit (made from software, tools, information and opportunities for interaction and interconnection), to make the process replicable and scalable.

The story has just begun, and you will be able to follow and take active part in it on the physical and digital pages of Nòva24, on Il Sole24Ore, and on the many forms of presence which this wonderful group of students will be maintaining on social networks and in cities.

The future does not exist: it is a performance, which we enact with every single one of our decisions.

Design, philosophy art and business

What do arts, design and philosophy have to do with business?

[ this is the english version of our article which appeared on the SIMI Newsletter, in Portuguese. SIMI is Brazil's Open Innovation System]

Let’s start from art.

The arts have a crucial role in society.

They are sensors and suggesters of new imaginaries.

According to Marshall McLuhan, “the artist is the person who invents the means to bridge between biological inheritance and the environments created by technological innovation”.

According to Derrick de Kerckhove, one of McLuhan’s most successful alumni, “few people apart from artists are capable of predicting the present. [...] The role of the artist today, as always, is to recover for the general public the larger context that has been lost by science’s exclusive investigations of text”.

Roy Ascott, one of the world’s best known artists and researchers to have adopted technologies in syncretic ways, describe the role of the artist as the figure which is able to confront with a world which increasingly sees its content and meaning as created out of people’s interaction and negotiation. A world which is unstable, shifting and in flux; which parallels life, not through representation or narrative, but in its processes of emergence, uncertainty and transformation.

Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist, social scientist, semiotician and cyberneticist who helped extend system theory and cybernetics to social and behavioural sciences, and who developed the science of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in various fields of science, thought that art was the only possible way to satisfy the need of finding solutions through radical changes in our way of thinking, or even to our way of knowing: a new (or ancient) mindset in which conscious purpose would be viewed as only a minor and rather suspect part of mental life.

The job of the artist is to not to praise or condemn technology, but to bridge the gap between technology and psychology.

Arts are about possibility, and opportunity. About sensing the present (the contemporary) and exposing it, in ways that suggest reflection, and the insurgence of imagination. About the opportunity – through artworks and performance – to shift what is perceived as “possible”, as “imaginable”.

And, in this, to promote people’s activation, in a continuous virtuous loop in which, once the boundary between impossible and possible, fake and real, prohibited and allowed is shifted, nothing is the same anymore. Because perception has changed.

Art is also the opportunity to let new imaginaries emerge directly from people.

For example, imagine a writer, in his novel, writing: “I was alone at sea.”

Some readers will imagine a stranded castaway, desperately balancing on a wooden log. Some will imagine a beautiful yacht, and the main character sunbathing on its deck. Some will imagine something else. All of them will produce their own mental model of the scene. For some the main character’s hair will be blond. For some others it will be black.

They will participate in creating the world which the writer is describing. They will become active, engaged by the narrative. They will become performative creators of their own version of the world.

This is a very interesting modality, especially if one is able to “listen” to these different world being built in people’s minds. Comparing them, evaluating them, understanding what is desired, envisioned, preferred.

All this, through art. Art as a sensor and as the enabler of the participatory performance which activates people to (re)imagine their present and, thus, their future.

Design starts from where art left off.

Design is about, literally, designing. Imagining that which is not yet there. Interweaving anthropology, ethnography, economy, engineering, technology, communication to create the future.

The future does not exist. It is a performance. It assumes forms as we build it, as we create it, as we take the next decision.

When a designer begins designing a chair, the chair does not yet exist. Not even the concept exists yet. To create the chair’s concept the designer needs to gain understandings about what people think a chair is, what is it for, how much they are willing to pay for it, what material could it be made of, and so on. Learning not only to give answers, but, most importantly, how to find the really important questions to ask.

The same kind of discourse could be done to design a new product, service or technology.

There is an interesting and valuable short-circuit to be made in this process, when we imagine interweaving the design process to the arts.

The emergence of Near Future Design (NFD).

To all effects, this process has revealed to be very valuable for multiple global companies.

It is safe to say, for example, that planetary relevant enterprises such as Google or Amazon today base their entire medium-term strategy on the idea of Near Future Design.

NFD is an interdisciplinary process which can be described in the following steps:

  • understand the consensus reality and the established narratives;
  • understand the “strange now”;
  • foresee the future possibilities and
  • design for the new normal.

In other words, it is an anthropology-based approach which starts off by observing and gaining understandings about the “consensus reality” and the “established narratives” (that which we all agree upon as possible, feasible, “normal”).

Then moves onto understanding the “strange now”, the composition of the rituals (new meaningful recurring patterns), gestures, practices and processes which are rising in importance, becoming more common, but are not yet generally accepted and understood.

For example a “strange now” of a few years ago was represented by people going to music concerts and video-recording them using their smartphones. It has now turned into a common practice, so much that there are images of numerous people at concerts all holding their smartphones up in the air: even a few years ago it would have been very strange, if not incomprehensible; now it is normal, so much that there are dedicated products and services which leverage this precise gesture and practice. This was a “strange now” just a few years ago.

In turn NFD explores the future opportunities, the state of the arts and technologies, to get a sense of what might be behind the corner, all the technical and technological possibilities which are young or even not yet in the market, and which have potential to becoming more important.

All this is added up in the design for the “new normal”, the “next thing”: the act of uncloaking, of using all this knowledge and understanding which was gained in the previous steps, to extrapolate and highlight current trends to present the sheer breadth, of, often unsettling, future possibilities that lie ahead of us. Using, for example, Superflux‘s wording for it: interrupting the Normality Field, and moving on.

This is exactly what enterprises such as Google or Amazon do, enacting powerful strategic cornerstones through these powerful actions.

For example Google’s Car, Balloon, Genetics projects are simulacra. There is research and experimentation behind it, but the most powerful part of their composition recipe is about NFD: an exploration in the “new normal”, describing “tomorrow’s normality field”.

This has tremendous effects: an organization is able to shift hundreds of millions of people’s perception of “what is possible” and of “what is normal”, and to start millions of conversations about it. The proposed vision obviously adopts a new normalcy field which is in perfect synch with the brand’s values and objectives. In this case: Google Inc. will be able to help mankind to solve some of its most pressing problems with the environment, energy and health, as long as human beings provide as much data about themselves as possible.

Or we can think about Amazon’s “delivery drones” recent example. It was a hoax, a fake: no-one at Amazon is currently working on delivery drones. But the “perception of the possible” has shifted for millions of people, and the discussion has started: people have joined into a global performance in which they are expressing their desired, preferred future of delivery services.

These and other examples, some of which are of the highest possible caliber, make this disruption clear.

It is an inversion of cause and effect. The effect comes before the cause. Causing people to take action and starting global conversations about their desired, preferred futures. And designers and entrepreneurs ready to listen to these expressions to, finally, design the causes.

It is the performance of the future: it is Near Future Design.

It is enacted through Transmedia Storytelling, through the creation of entire worlds, of simulacra (according to Baudrillard‘s definition) in which a suspension forms, on the possibility to discern what is “real” from what is “false”.

For what people know, Google Car’s project could even not exist at all: for all practical reasons it could be completely forged through computer graphics and condescending testimonies, to transform the sense of possible and to start the global conversation, to understand people’s desired and preferred futures, and to activate them. Of course we know that Google Cars exist, but to all practical purposes, they might as well not.

This modality is bringing enormous disruptions across sectors and domains.

For example in Energy.

More traditional Energy companies, like Chevron, Shell and the like, are suffering a forced transformation. Their most aggressive competitors are not other traditional energy companies. Not anymore. For example it is interesting to assume that Chevron’s biggest competitor today would not be British Petroleum, or PetroBras, but Google. Because Google, through perfectly executed Near Future Design has shifted the way in which hundreds of millions of people perceive an Energy Company to be. It has changed the rules of the game. It has transformed the “Energy Company” from a company which produces and distributes energy, to a company which deals with information which is used to coordinate and systematize the actions people who produce their own.

And this is just one of the examples.

We can now go back to the beginning, to the role of the arts: sensors of contemporary society and shifters of the “perception of the possible”, by creating worlds – transmedia narratives – which engage people in activating themselves into a global conversation about their desired, preferred future.

There is a lot of art – of poetics – in everything that we have discussed so far.

It is about opportunity through anthropological performance, through co-creating our futures, the “new normal”.

It is Near Future Design.