Across IAM Weekend 16, we delved into a broad array of topics influencing the futures of media, education and the arts, but one unifying theme was the need to prepare for and take control of those futures. In every field there’s a growing need to think outside the box, and in our final session, on the Futures of the Future, we heard from those who are making sure that in preparing for the days ahead, we’re building a positive, meaningful world.
The session kicked off with a conversation between IAM co-founder Andres Colmenares and Adam Bainbridge, a.k.a musician and producer Kindness. While the discussion was wide-ranging in nature, it consistently returned to the power of the Internet to create and empower communities. While social media can often be a place of criticism and negativity, these same tools also allow us to create and maintain strong, boundary-less societies that spring up around the talent, genius and positivity afforded by the democratised space of the Internet. In turn, this encourages us to debate important social issues that will influence us for years to come.
In the music industry, these same tools now form the basis of promotional strategies, which are also increasingly orientated around ensuring that a listener’s visual experience (of artwork or a music video) is as rich as their experience of listening to a song. Yet, as Adam noted, this speaks to the growing trend towards addictive stimuli that we chase after while forgetting context and reason. Taken to its extreme, this leads to the dissolution of authorship and the narrowing of culture. To ensure that less popular work isn’t drowned out, we therefore need to ensure the democratising power of these platforms isn’t turned on its head.
Taking a more explicitly critical stance was Scott Smith, Founder of Changeist. Scott argued that as a society, we must avoid thinking of the future as an abstraction, and be active agents in defining what we want and need from it. Instead of finding futurism “notionally interesting”, we must instead engage with the future from a grounded point of view. Not doing so leads to the commodification of questions like ‘what is the future of…?’ and ‘the world in 2017!’ (N.B.: the future doesn’t work to the calendar year!)
In turn, our culture is continually recycled; we “wallow in retro-futures”, rarely taking active control of what comes next. To break this process, Scott implored that we have to embed a sense of agency into our processes and engage with design and policymaking rather than letting both develop within their own bubbles. When we utilise our community of shared intelligence, we can be party to building the future of the future, and in doing so, reconfigure what is so often conceived as something we can just buy on a shelf and take home.
How we go about critically engaging with futures depends just as much on our engagement with the present. In a joint talk, Wellness and El Guincho detailed their shared ethos for parodying consumerism and our increasing desire to simply buy the futures we want. Throughout much of their work, Wellness have explored how consumers use fashion as a means of building identity, and they turned this critical approach into action once again when teaming up with Pablo Díaz-Reixa a.k.a El Guincho to visualise his latest album Hiperasia.
The album was inspired by the Spanish-Asian supermarket of the same name, which often puts no effort into displaying its products, and Wellness programmed an online Hiperasia world — inspired by the Chinese counterfeiting economy — to parody the real-life supermarket version. In doing so, Wellness and El Guincho examine the relationship between the physical and digital worlds, underlining that the creation of meaningful, interactive experiences can allow us to engage with ideas we often take for granted as we move forward.
Closing the session, Wanuri Kahiu outlined the pressure for African creatives to make important, sophisticated work because the dominant narratives about the continent are so often about poverty and struggle. As a result, this limits generations of Africans from making things just for the sheer enjoyment of doing so; they learn that they can’t create for fun because they’re not fun.
The result of this is a perpetual cycle where ever fewer Africans embrace their creativity to make silly, unimportant things; a generation of people are told they can’t create as they don’t fit the role of a creator, leading to a greater sense of impotence and disenfranchisement. In response, Wanuri champions a movement of African artists to create for the sake of creation and embrace frivolity. Such a movement would show the happiness of African creativity to the wider world, removing the social constraints that limit both artists and artworks.
The session capped off a weekend of intriguing, boundary-pushing ideas, highlighting that we have a duty to ourselves not just to be consumers of the future, but also to think actively about it, rather than just accepting what comes to us. Social, political and creative progress have to be strived for, and while they represent a broad array of perspectives, Adam, Scott, Wellness, El Guincho and Wanuri speak to the same truth: only by critically engaging with the world around us will we be able to improve on it.