The Renaissance of Utopias: Inventing What Happens Next

IAM Journal
Published in
9 min readNov 28, 2016


At IAM, we foresee a convergence in the futures of media, education and the arts, driven by the evolution of internet cultures. This belief underpins everything we do, and each year we set ourselves an annual research theme to explore and speculate about these topics in more depth. Here, we’re excited to share this process with you and launch the theme for 2017!

Photo: Workshops at IAM Weekend 16

Introduction: Exploring futures

First and foremost, it’s important we explain the values we have been cultivating and sharing in schools, organisations, workshops and events during the last 7+ years. Combining our backgrounds in psychology, futures research and strategy, and our attraction to chaos, imperfection and randomness, we developed the following core principles:

  • Beyond thinking about the future as a single destination, we should think about Futures in plural;
  • Beyond consuming the future as a product, Futures should be used as tools and processes;
  • Beyond the mental paradigm of predicting the future, we should embrace the idea of inventing Futures.

Too often we think of ‘the Future’ as a faraway destination, something distinct from us and defined by others, and by keeping these principles in mind we can encourage the active process of demanding and inventing better futures, for all of us.

Learn more about Brian Eno’s definition of scenius on Episode 1 of We Are Internet (04:53)

By having a research theme each year, we have been able to speculate about and imagine these possibilities by cultivating a scenius that is shaping the futures of media, education and the arts.

Part I: Connecting the dots

As Steve Jobs once said, “we can only connect the dots looking backwards”; we must go on experimenting, learning and discovering, and only later will we be able truly to understand how everything fits together.

To that end, through research, experiments, videos and unique events, over the past two years we have been building on each annual theme to develop a broad yet thorough understanding of these influences. In doing so, we strive to empower individuals and collectives from all the walks of life to invent better futures.

Taken from Pearl Jam’s video of “Do The Evolution” (1998)

In 2015, our inaugural theme was The Evolution of Internet as Culture, which is fundamental to understanding how we can connect the ecosystem shaping the futures of publishing, learning and creativity. With this idea in mind we launched the first IAM Weekend, our annual event held in Barcelona every spring that gathers a unique mix of 300 influential and curious minds to discover, inspire and connect, through (non-TED-like!) talks, workshops, networking sessions, talent markets, creative showcases and commissioned projects that take place during and after the event.

The year’s projects included extensive research, collaborative artistic experiments and the release of our first video series We Are Internet , which was broadcast on Portuguese TV and has been screened at several schools, companies and institutions, taking the stories, ideas and insights collected in Barcelona to more than 100,000 people around the world.

Photos of the first screening of We Are Internet at London College of Communications in December 2015, in partnership with UAL Futures.

From these explorations, we confirmed that by sharing knowledge and working together, we can collectively imagine and invent better futures in order to respond to the world’s scary new realities. As Jeff Hamada said at IAM Weekend 15:

“let the fear of letting fear dictate your life dictate your life”

an idea that is linked to the keystone of our manifesto:

Internet has a random mood
Our societies are more networked than ever. Connectivity brings complexity. And complexity brings uncertainty but also serendipity. We welcome curious minds, because in randomness we trust.

The IAM Weekend 16 tote bag

For 2016, we built on these ideas by setting the theme From Complexity to Emergence. Through our research we discovered and connected relevant voices from the worlds of media, education and the arts who shared their ideas at IAM Weekend 16, celebrated last April at the science museum of Barcelona.

Kicking off with a session on The Bigger Picture of Internet Cultures, where strategist John V. Willshire developed the idea of Metamechanics to better understand how the internet works, and closing with The Futures of the Future session where a science-fiction filmmaker, an artist and a critical futurist shared their impassioned pleas to think actively about what we want our futures to be like, the key lesson was that within this uncertain and complex environment we need to strive for the social, political and creative progress that we want.

Photos: IAM Weekend 16

So as we transition into our next research period, this is precisely what we’ll be tackling head on. How do we stop consuming ‘the Future’ simply created for us by corporations and the other usual suspects? How do we use the internet to imagine and share alternative narratives of futures?


Part II: Redefining a 500 year old idea

With this year being the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s book Utopia, we think utopias have emerged as a useful and provocative tool to invent better futures in the Internet Age. By using utopias in this way, not only are we referencing a period of great human development, the Renaissance, but we are also suggesting new meanings to the term.

Instead of considering utopias as a perfect but nonexistent world, we can redefine this 500 year old, powerful idea as a way to evolve beyond contemporary dreams and help us navigate the uncertainty of our times.

We must move past the visions of the future in films and literature that are so often negative dystopias, predicting an impending doom that is about to overcome the world. At times, the world around us can seem just as scary, if not more so, but by redefining how we use utopias (and better understand the role of dystopias), we want to harness our collective imagination to invent futures that are inclusive, diverse, ongoing processes that we can be active in shaping.

By following Carl Sagan’s advice to combine skepticism with imagination, we can challenge our perceptions of time, identity and reality.

By embracing alternative narratives and perspectives, we can escape from our echo chambers and better understand the challenges we will face in the next years.

By taking dreams seriously, we can empower more people to transform reality inspired by shared dreams, and take an active role in demanding and inventing better futures.

Because now, our task is to invent what happens next.

And so, we’re ready to get deeper into the theme of 2017:

The Renaissance of Utopias

Part III: Remembering futures

Today we are starting an ambitious year-long journey, created to explore, imagine, discuss and share utopias with a critical optimism, through research, collaborative experiments, editorial projects and events, fostering unexpected connections between collectives and individuals around the planet, because In Randomness We Trust.

The climax of this journey will be our third annual event, IAM Weekend 17, hosted in April 27–30, 2017 in Barcelona. We will use Mercat de les Flors, a dance house, a design & engineering school TBA and other unexpected locations to go deeper into The Renaissance of Utopias.

Across five interlinked sessions we’ll be asking fundamental questions, not only about the roles of media, education and the arts in the Internet Age, but also about issues relevant to the world today such as labour, identity, diversity and reality, because we think it’s time to get political just like we all got digital.

Here the five sessions/topics of IAM Weekend 17 that will also guide our research and content development plans next year:

The complexity brought by internet cultures has scrambled our sense of time, forcing culture, politics and arts of the past, present and future to coexist. How can we redefine arts and the creative process to respond to the complexity of this networked society?

Our unhealthy fixation on what work and jobs mean to our self-worth” is stopping us defining the education, politics and society of tomorrow. How will automation change our conception of work? What role could ideas as universal basic income play in societies? What should happen after capitalism?

As the youngest member of the IAM Family, Elise by Olsen, said at IAMW16: “We are becoming borderless and genderless, and it’s time to work towards being ageless, too.” How do we prevent and break algorithmic, mental and physical ‘Berlin walls’ and encourage a coexistence of generations, identities and disciplines going forward? How can we use the internet to challenge cultural stereotypes and embrace more sustainable planetary thinking?

As we move away from a post-industrial society, how do we build creative ecosystems instead of just replacing it with contradictory “creative industries”? How can creativity evolve beyond this commercialism? How can we empower young people to follow their passions and what opportunities does this paradigm shift bring to the futures of work and education?

With the evolution of virtual, mixed and augmented reality, and the influence of post-truth politics and agnotology, what happens to our perception of reality? Are we trying to avoid the realities we face in the world? In fact, what is reality?

In order to go deep into these fascinating topics, we’re curating a line-up of speakers for IAM Weekend 17 that we cannot wait to hear from, including Zygmunt Bauman, who gave the world ‘liquid modernity’, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, who is fearlessly challenging the stereotypes built around muslim women in media, and Nathan Jurgenson, social media theorist and researcher at Snapchat. We’re also more than happy to announce that activist/feminist/filmmaker Jasmina Tešanović and her husband, the cyberpunk novelist and journalist Bruce Sterling, will also be joining our growing family — we couldn’t be more excited about the year ahead!

As we explore, celebrate and welcome The Renaissance of Utopias, we invite you to discuss, imagine and create with us. The world is undergoing a seismic shift, and together, we can envisage alternative possibilities and invent better futures for all. As Professor Bauman says:

“To measure the life “as it is” by a life as it should be (that is, a life imagined to be different from the life known, and particularly a life that is better and would be preferable to the life known) is a defining, constitutive feature of humanity.”

With a new kind of long-term collective imagination grounded in critical optimism we can empower more people to go beyond the fragile idea of ‘making your dreams a reality’. Instead, we can start transforming reality, inspired by shared dreams that respond to the challenges we’ll face over the next few years (or decades) and reflect the imperfect beauty of the human condition.

By challenging what we say, do and think today, we can draw the dots that, in the future(s), we’ll look back on and connect.

As Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams write in the last page of the book that inspired us to explore this theme: “our task now is to invent what happens next”.

Welcome to The Renaissance of Utopias!



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