Design Fiction: Unpacking the Optimistic Futures of Acres Green
In my article, Avatar as Design Fiction, I introduced Design Fiction as a tool for starting conversations about important issues facing the world and for providing glimpses into alternate futures through storytelling that revolve around, or are enhanced by, diegetic prototypes.
To further explore this concept, we shall be considering in this article, one great example of a design fiction piece: Acres Green Speculative Futurescape project, put together by the team at Superflux studios. This project imagines an optimistic future where technology and nature coexist harmoniously, where technology, in fact, is used to enhance a greener world.
An Overview of the Project
In Acres Green, problems of colony collapse disorder that currently threaten bee populations around the world are solved by introducing new pollinators in the form of Beamer Bees that respond to radio waves and go wherever there are plants and crops requiring pollination. In this manner, the flora balance in the ecosystem is maintained, agricultural practices are sustained, food is abundant and cheap, everyone is happy.
A second feature of this future utopia are temperature-controlled living hills. These hills have spacious insides that are made warm or cool by using some special wax produced by the Beamer Bees. The idea is that during the winter the wax solidifies, releasing heat; and during the summer it liquefies, absorbing heat. So that the hills are then always at the perfect temperature, a favorite place for people to meet, socialize, teach and learn, be happy.
The third component of this fiction are autonomous clouds. In periods of drought, or whenever necessary, the residents are capable of generating rainfall with these engineered systems, and directing it as needed to keep the neighborhood green and lush.
The final aspect of this piece are new economies that arise and thrive as a result of the business opportunities created by this new way of things. People make money, people are happy.
Themes and Ideas
The overall theme of this piece is the idea of balance between our impulsive gravitation towards technology and our nostalgic fantasies of a greener world. We “need” technology to live comfortably in the modern world, even to survive some many argue, and yet the rapid disappearance of the earth’s greenery occasioned to a reasonably large extent by advances in technology threatens our social structures, our happiness and, some may argue, our very existence. Can there ever be a balance? Can we have the best of both worlds?
Acres Green proposes that we can. Throughout the piece, there is a direct impact of technology on nature. Technology creates better pollinator species, creating a rich ecosystem and more food supplies. The weather and climate are manipulated and controlled, creating rainfall and sunshine as needed, allowing for the opportunities of social interactions and for community-wide play.
To help us more readily suspend disbelief and escape into this fantastic future, the creators of Acres Green rely heavily on nostalgia and play. They paint scenarios of a simple, happy life, perhaps of a time long ago before the proliferation of technology, except now they invite us to imagine that this simple life can be restored with more proliferation of technology. It is a paradox, but one so very well designed you would hardly notice.
With an overarching playfulness, Acres Green disarms our rational skepticism and engages our empathetic minds, while at the same time creating a story that is more memorable and more useful for the purpose of sparking conversations and promoting ideas.
Issues and Conversations
The future proposed in Acres Green is one where new creatures are developed using bioengineering methods. In the world today, bioengineering methods are an item of debate and controversy. There is a general opposition to the idea of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), with many people wondering whether or not man has the right to tamper with nature, and even if he does, can he do so safely?
With more astounding breakthroughs in bioengineering methods, and within the context of Acres Green, one may begin to wonder : who regulates what should or should not be created? And why should this person/entity/robot be trusted with this responsibility? We may wonder how well Beamer Bees can be regulated, if their stings are perhaps more potent and deadly as a result of their advanced modification, if they would go rogue because of a hidden defectiveness and sting us all to death.
Questions also arise regarding the ownership and pervasiveness of technology. In the world today, technology is a symbol of affluence, of power and can be a tool of oppression and injustice. Would this status quo lead into the future? Would Beamer Bees be used to satisfy the needs of the greatest nations, while the poorer countries of the world, losing all their natural bees, drift hopelessly into hunger until they comply with some directive of their wealthier counterparts?
How might we ensure that technology is not only advanced enough to support a greener future, but is also equitably distributed so that this future is accessible to all?
The Acres Green Speculative Futurescape project is a fine example of design fiction. With beautiful storytelling techniques utilizing play and nostalgia, and with prototypes based on science fact, the project invites us to imagine a utopic future where technology makes the world green again. I like to believe that a version of this sort of future is possible, but it must begin with us starting conversations and promoting both the equitable distribution and responsible use of technology for the benefit of all mankind.