Posts about ‘events’

Making located futures


A while ago I was thinking about the idea of located futures – narratives of the future that explicitly locate themselves in a particular place, reflecting the concerns of the people that constitute it. I tried to explore some of the theoretical foundations of the idea in a paper. However, the point of the idea, for me, was always practical. I think that the process of constructing actual located futures would be a valuable activity for people to undertake.

The point of ‘located futures’ is that they pay attention to the embodied and experiential nature of space. So it seems inappropriate to produce a simply textual account of a possible future for a space. Instead, I want to explore how a group of people can create a way of experiencing a place as if the future they imagine was somehow already present. The intervention they create breaks the boundaries that keep the present and the future separate. Their response to the experience helps them to understand their role in bringing this future about, and the impacts this possible future might have on their lives. It’s about speaking to their hearts and imaginations, and text isn’t very good at doing that. But without doing that, futures remain theoretical and present action seems less necessary. And the focus of this whole process is to help people connect the future to their present actions.


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Past and future things: future first. I’m coming to the UK again in April, presenting a paper at CAL 2011 on a framework for analysing mobile learning activities: snappy title is “Topological, Semiotic and Rhetorical Scapes: A Framework for Analysing Mobile Learning Experiences”. Looking forward to seeing Manchester again, it’s been years, and I’ll be stopping off in Bristol and London either side.

And last month I spoke at a couple of events in Beijing, with X|Media|Lab, at the China Science and Technology Museum, where I talked about using narrative and our hardwired cognitive habits to create immersion (with examples from Slingshot and Theatre Sandbox), and at the Beijing Association for Science and Technology, on mobile science games. Beijing is huge, China is exciting, and I’m really interested in seeing what people do with games and learning there.

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Talking about looking at past and future things


I’m talking with Andy King, from the soon-to-be-opened Museum of Bristol, this Saturday at the Arnolfini. We’re going to be “In Conversation” as part of their Futurology programme, and I think it should be really interesting. I hope so, anyway, as it’s a public event.

I mailed Andy with some thoughts about what we could talk about, and I’m going to put them here as well, in case we don’t get round to them: I think some of them are things I’d like to follow up.

So, I’ve been thinking about what history and futures studies have in common, and what makes them different, and it seems to me that in each case there’s a kind of common-sense assumption about the discipline (if that’s not too grand a word for futures studies) and the way it works that might not be how it seems to those who try and practise it.

For example, a common-sense view of history might be: things actually happened a certain way in the past, and the historian’s job is to find out what that was as accurately as possible. But actually, my sense is that historians are very finely attuned to the idea that there as many pasts as there are historians, and each age’s view of what happened before it says as much about the dominant ideas of the time as it says about previous events.

Similarly, a common-sense view of the practice of looking at the future might hold that things will turn out a certain way and no other, and that if we know enough about present circumstances we can say confidently what that might be. But actually, most respectable futures practitioners would say that dominant ideas about the what the future might be say more about the attitudes and assumptions of the age in which they emerged than about the way things might be in the future, and that it’s more useful to consider a range of possible alternative futures.

So there’s something both have in common, perhaps – trying to counter dominant popular ideas about what each discipline is for – and a difference – futures studies might focus more on examining alternatives.

Or perhaps another talking point could be around the way time is represented in each. I don’t know very much about how historians discuss the representation of time, but from the perspective of someone trying to talk usefully about the future it’s been fascinating to see the ways different models of how time works shape conversations about the future (sometimes ‘the future’ is waiting for us, presumably having started at the other end of time’s arrow and travelled backwards to meet us; at others, it never arrives, being perpetually deferred to be invoked as a call to action in the present).

Ethics might be another interesting area of discussion: how far ought we, as people who talk about people who for various reasons are not with us at the present moment, whether because they’re dead or not yet born, to extend the respect we show living people to people of the past or the future? If rights to privacy, respect, understanding and so on are universal, shouldn’t they be extended through time? But is there a difference in the degree to which they’re entitled to such rights between people who have lived and people have yet to live?

Another useful area to think about might be to consider what each discipline offers to society: what use is it to talk about the past or the future? Are there different arguments for each, or are there general arguments to do with enlarging our understanding of the way in which people and societies work that support both?

We could move from that into thinking about the ways each act as a force of authority within society: the weight carried by ‘tradition’, the effect of ‘government forecasts’, the self-fulfilling prophecies of science-fiction and the ways historical dramas rewrite and refine national identities.

There’s maybe something to be said about the balance between detail and timescale, the ways in which it’s harder perhaps to be detailed the further one moves from the present (until you get far enough away to say what you like). Or a discussion about the way each generation thinks it’s the first to have ever lived in the present (those beforehand must have known they lived in history, and the ones after us must surely know that they live in the future). Or maybe just a recognition that both of them are attempts to answer questions that lie at the heart of trying to understand our place in the world: asking “what happened? What will happen?” is a fundamentally human thing to do.

Let me know how appealing any of these conversations are, or what alternatives we could consider. We could do worse, I suppose, by just telling each other what we do all day. I’d love to know more about your

So there we are – that’s what we’ll talking about, I hope, for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon. Come along!

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…dear boy, events. Lying about the future into the tannoy of the Arnolfini; running around Bristol chasing a giant ball around an infinite pitch (and making my debut as a commentator for Korean Lazer Ball); watching Quantic’s new film and seeing him trainspot records afterwards; meeting lots of local authority people who were really keen to think about the future; sorting out my dissertation and getting started finally. Lots of other things.

Right now I’ve just booked a place in the airport car park (am off to the coast near Málaga for a few days) and I’m transferring Tito Paris to my phone for the flight. One bid for something interesting to get off in the morning, and I’m done for this week. And when I get back I should talk about some of these things in a bit more detail.

I’ll probably start with the Ghosts of Birthdays Present, though. If you’re in Bristol over the next couple of weeks and fancy helping out some of those marooned in the hereafter, let me know in the comments.

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Interesting Sounds


On Sunday I got myself down to the Arnolfini for Interesting Sounds, an event that grew out of Russell Davies’ Interesting events. I couldn’t stay for the whole day, unfortunately, but what I saw was fantastic. Adam Harding showed us his reconfigured guitar, moving the essential parts into a rectangular board that can be played like a dulcimer: the distancing effect of changing the relationship between player and instrument suited his delicate abstractions. Jon Pigott showed us the Sonic Marble Run (see video below).

Grace showed us a video of the Dynion Dance Group dancing on Swansea’s Sail Bridge, choreographed by Paul Granjon. Matthew Olden demoed the latest version of Jungulator. Allen Argent showed us more MaxMSP madness, with a set of patches enabling collaboration and control across networks (my favourite was Netverb, which added reverberation effects computed from the shape of the network: echoes from a virtual room whose walls are made out of TCP/IP packets). We saw John Wild’s Sounds from the Perimeter Fence, recontextualising the site of the Olympics: gorgeous, bleak sounds, as you can see below.

I talked a little bit about an idea I had for making it nicer to be outside in cities:

- it’s all a bit jumbled at the moment, but I’d like to try making an antibeep and see if it works. I tried to make one using two Buddha machines, but it didn’t really work.

And then I just had time to see David Hanford’s Sound Chair (a thirties chair with speakers in the back and base and controls on the arm like a supervillain, intended for the subsonics produced from the beats of two analogue oscillators) and Tom Bugs demoing his analogue intricacies, it was lunchtime and time for me to go home.

I missed most of the rest of the day, but I think video and audio from the day will be up at soon. Can’t wait for the next one.

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