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robertogreco : counter-constraints   2

crap futures — counter-constraint #1: non-progress dogma
"The world’s fairs also offer their insights into this dichotic system. For example, Futurama’s hidden agendas are strikingly revealed in E. L. Doctorow’s novel World’s Fair (1985). As a family leaves the exhibit, the father says: ‘“When the time comes General Motors isn’t going to build the highways, the federal government is. With money from us taxpayers.” He smiled. “So General Motors is telling us what they expect from us: we must build them the highways so they can sell us the cars.”’

Bel Geddes’s vision of super-highways largely came true, but so did various dystopian imaginaries that were generated out of the Futurama vision. In ‘Futurama, Autogeddon’, Helen Burgess describes the way in which ‘a messy, always-under-construction, polluted highway system, beaming cheerfully forward into the future, is reflected back to us in the second half of the century as a degraded landscape in J. G. Ballard’s Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. In these tales,’ Burgess writes,

Bel Geddes’ optimistic narrative of the Interstate has collapsed … because the Interstate system is unsustainable - both narratively and ecologically. The ghosts of the highway call back to us from these future narratives, reminding us that death is just around the next bend.

Progress dogma as an eternally recurring phenomenon

The progress boosterism in the West of the 19th century was followed by two highly regressive world wars. Yet the postwar period saw an almost immediate return to … optimism! Progress dogma was reborn! America, isolated from the worst ravages of the two World Wars, kept blowing the trumpet for progress, and the other western countries followed. The lessons of history continued, and continue, to fall on deaf ears.

Designing counter-constraints

We realise now that we’ve not set ourselves an easy task. These are massive, complex systems that are more easily identified and critiqued than challenged with alternatives. But inaction is no solution. So we’ll go on, inspired by historical examples of how critical approaches have impacted on specific research directions and undermined progress dogma. The public inquiry into genetically modified food development in Europe and the consequent demonising of an entire scientific area (‘Frankenstein foods’) led by certain newspapers is one example of technology being steered away from its intended trajectory. In that case, however, the approach was problematic because the debate was simplified as a contest between good and evil, dystopia vs. utopia, rather than being an open and constructive dialogue. As this article suggests, the reality is often more nuanced and complex than a simple binary opposition can express.

So how do we move toward a more constructive approach to counter-constraints?
Here, as a discussion starter, are some first steps:

1. Stop assuming that, through technology, the future will be better than the present.
2. Be wary of too-positive presentations of technological future solutions.
3. Don’t assume that any of society’s problems will be solved by technology alone.
4. Do assume that for every benefit a new technology brings there will be unforeseen implications.
5. Remember to ask: ‘Progress for whom?’
6. And: ‘What in this specific case does progress actually mean?’
7. Remember that progress is easily confused with automation. Or efficiency.
8. Watch Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self (and then watch it again).
9. Find ways of encouraging a critical perspective in others, without being a dystopian dick about it.
10. Actively start building the future you want, with or without technology.

One approach where we have first-hand experience and that begins to address point 10 is speculative design, which aims to facilitate a more critical and considered approach to future-formation. By countering the constraints that limit normative design to slavishly serving the market, speculative design is free to present futures that are neither explicitly utopian or dystopian. Using this approach we can explore possible scenarios when specific emerging technologies collide with everyday life. Or we can see what happens when we apply alternative configurations of contemporary technologies or systems to generate fresh perspectives on particular problems (a counter-constraint to constraint no. 2: legacies of the past, which we’ll return to in a future post). Speculation is time well spent.

We’ll give further thought to counter-constraints over a game of ping-pong on our rough-hewn autoprogettazione table, followed by coffee and toast. More, much more, to come. "
crapfutures  counter-constraints  futures  speculativedesign  design  2016  technosolutionism  technology  progress  progressdogma  automation  efficiency  normanbelgeddes  eames  productification  utopia  dystopia  resistance  richardbarbrook  processfatigue  eldoctorow  helenburgess  interstatehighways  cars  history  optimism  sustainability  boosterism  adamcurtis  thecenturyoftheself  statusanxiety  bladerunner  pollution  traffic  futurama  world'sfairs  1939  1964  ibm 
february 2016 by robertogreco
crap futures — counter-constraints
"In recent posts, starting with ‘how the future happens’, we have been exploring the factors that keep us to established paths or limit the potential for preferable futures. But as we aim in this blog (and in life generally) to go beyond mere critique, the next batch of posts will outline the concept of counter-constraints.

Counter-constraints take the identified constraining factors and invert, work around, or ignore them entirely to propose fresh perspectives and possibilities. The resulting new ways of thinking about technological futures may be more inclusive, imaginative, socially-orientated, non-corporate, or they might simply facilitate a more meaningful relationship between science and society.

For example, open-source everything can be seen as a series of counter-constraints to restrictive infrastructure such as copyright laws, gated knowledge systems, and complex production lines. Back in the 1970s, Italian designer Enzo Mari sought to democratize furniture construction with autoprogettazione?, a DIY approach to ‘making easy-to-assemble furniture using rough boards and nails’. Mari wrote:

In my job as designer, or rather as an intellectual who contradicts the actual state of things, I try within the network of commissions and projects to ‘smuggle in’ moments of research and ways of creating the stimulus to free oneself from ideological conditioning, standard norms, behaviour and taste.
The book is full of beautiful stuff - we’ve already made two ping-pong tables and a couple of chairs from his instructions. Taking Mari’s lead, it is possible for anyone - without sophisticated tools or machinery - to sidestep the usual trip to Ikea.

Well, almost anyone - you still need basic building skills. The Enzo Mari example also relates to another constraint we’ve discussed, that of education. We’ve used his book to teach students the kinds of skills that are becoming rarer these days thanks to over-digitalisation, the consequential focus on 3D printing and laser-cutting, and the rapid shift toward sealed-box design.

Time for coffee and toast. In our next post we’ll look at how to ‘counter-constrain’ progress dogma.

note: apologies to the Mari purists. We used screws rather than nails for dismantleability."
constraints  counter-constraints  enzomari  2016  diy  furniture  autoprogettazione  inversion  futures  future  design  crapfutures  democratization  1970s  science  society  technology  knowledgesystems  perspective  possibilty 
february 2016 by robertogreco

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