The Subversion of Paradoxes: Remembering Better Near Futures

After a stimulating year devoted to utopias, our 2018 research theme revolves around two fascinating and extremely relevant concepts: subversion and paradoxes. We aim to explore, understand and use them to deal with the contradictions, collisions and coexistence of realities, cultivating action plans for the next 7 years around our annual event: IAM Weekend 18 (27–29 April 2018) in Barcelona and beyond. Here, we guide you through the origins, subtopics and purpose of this theme.

Introduction: Dealing with the Hypernormalisation of “Real Reality”

The complexity, lack of logic and apparent overwhelming nature of ‘current events’ (a.k.a. Trump, Brexit, Climate change, refugee crisis, nuclear vibes, etc.) is deriving in a threatening hypernormalisation, full of contradictions, collisions and coexistence of realities, where the internet is playing an active and defining role. So much so, in fact, that the ‘Upside Down’, Alice’s ‘Wonderland’, and other parallel universes aren’t exactly far off from our own…

As acclaimed director Alejandro G. Iñarritu said in a recent interview:

“15 years ago the Internet was an escape from reality. Now reality is an escape for the Internet. We have lost the ability to be in awe of the complexity and power of real reality,”

These are modes of thinking and being occurring and mirroring simultaneously to our own to the point where it has become a ‘chicken and egg’ situation 🐣

“The internet is a reflection of our society and that mirror is going to be reflecting what we see. If we do not like what we see in that mirror the problem is not to fix the mirror, we have to fix society.”
– Vint Cert, a.k.a. “The Father of the Internet”

In other words, as sociologist Nathan Jurgenson said in IAM Weekend 17 “what happens on the screen is also real”…

But instead of burying ourselves in a ‘shallow wormhole’, new perspectives, on macro and micro levels, outside and within these systems and universes can be far more effective, and feeling and being hopeful becomes a subversive act.

What if we use paradoxes to challenge ‘real reality’?

Part I: Using Paradoxes to Invent Utopias

In 2017, we explored, we imagined, we discussed, we prototyped and we shared ‘The Renaissance of Utopias’, always with a critical optimism, questioning technology narratives and demanding better metaphors, following the valuable legacy of Bauman, which btw raised important questions as “Why are we teaching humans how to code and machines how to learn?” or “Why are we still trapped in the “man vs. machine” tales, why should intelligence be artificial and also why is it trending?, expanded in opinion pieces we wrote for our media partners LS:N Global and CRACK Magazine.

“We have heard enough from Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. We need to truly think differently. We need more philosophical thinkers — younger Žižeks, Chomskys or Baumans, and especially Haraways because the gender gap in philosophy is also scary.”

In this journey, we understood the urgent need of moving past archaic binary-mindsets such as ‘offline/online’, ‘real/virtual’, ‘black/white’, ‘left/right’, ‘male/female’ and most importantly ‘utopia/dystopia’.

As Bruce Sterling concluded in the closing act of IAMW17, “you gotta have an exit strategy from a utopia”

Utopias and dystopias, both in plural, work together as tools for individual empowerment, collective hope, imagination and consensus, as well as for critical understanding and skepticism. Because a utopia used in singular and binary terms, will only be someone else’s dystopia as Jurgenson also highlighted.

We also called for action and thinking towards the motto of “Let’s get political as we all get digital”. Understanding politics from a broader perspective than just the people (politicians) and systems (mainstream democracy) we have delegated the important task of distributing and using power, we can now by more aware of how the political layer of our individual and collective internet behaviours is being hijacked, manipulated and concentrated by a few corporations, corrupt global organisations and leaders.

Armed with a better understanding of utopias, futures and the internet, the next question is how can we invent what happens next?

For 2018 (and beyond), we keep getting philosophical, political and post–paradoxical, reframing paradoxes as futures-thinking tools, aiming to explore deeper how we can use them in the internet age, instead of feeling trapped by them, to better understand reality and be more empowered to invent collectively better futures.

But a philosophical approach is not enough. We also need to translate the critical, planetary and long-term thinking into narratives and actions. And this is why we are embedding a tool from resistance, a tool to deal with contradictions, a tool equally used by comedians, artists, terrorists and meme creators: Subversion.

Overall our main goal with ‘The Subversion of Paradoxes’ is to actively question binary mindsets, which are now being augmented by the binary nature of the 0s and 1s embedded in digital technologies, and instead evolve into the inclusiveness of spectrums, highlighting the plurality, variety and beautiful imperfections of humanity, which applies to everything from gender to politics.

In a nutshell, we aim to subvert paradoxes, question the status quo, challenge dominant cultural narratives, binary mindsets and structures; refreshing the meaning of subversion by stimulating fostering planetary, long-term & critical thinking/doing. In other words, using the internet, instead of being used by it.

“If you found a contradiction in your own thoughts, it’s very unlikely that your whole mentality would break down. Instead, you would probably begin to question the beliefs or modes of reasoning which you felt had led to the contradictory thoughts. In other words, to the extent you could, you would step out of the systems inside you which you felt were responsible for the contradiction, and try to repair them. One of the least likely things for you to do would be to throw up your arms and cry”
Douglas R. Hofstadter, in GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH: AN ETERNAL GOLDEN BRAID
GIF by Bait Studio

Part II: The Next 7 Years

After reflecting on what happened in 2017, we took away 3 key learnings:

👍 Utopias have an expiration date and that it’s totally fine. But now we need to imagine, cultivate and invent new internet utopias.

👍 Looking at the futures of everything, from work to fashion, at the same time, from the perspective of apparently mundane behaviours, not only from market trends, has a huge social value.

👍 Current issues, from climate change to the “death of the Internet”, demand that the criticality of futures-thinking conversation evolves from a collective understanding into collaborative actions across sectors, borders and generations.

With these learnings in mind and thinking about life cycles and our personal not-so-random obsession with number 7, we decided to frame the conversation about the near futures of everything, in a familiar 7-year horizon, and attach to the 2018 theme a BIG yet simple question:

How do we want to live, work, eat, learn, exchange, design, dress, create, play… in 2025?

Teaser for IAM Weekend 18

Following the research approach we initiated last year, we are breaking down the theme in five topics, labeled with short and provocative titles designing for emergence and speculation, opening space for better questions and escaping from predictions.

After a year of the “POST-xxx” a prefix overdose, we picked a preposition to go further “BEYOND-” and 5 non-objects: algorithms, disciplines, clicks, desires, and dreams, to package the futures of three connected areas responding to IAM’s Triangulation Speculative Research approach, pursuing the idea that everything is connected owing to the fact that, well, EVERYTHING is!

So, what can algorithms, disciplines, clicks, desires and a dreams have in common? Let’s shift into the topics of The Subversion of Paradoxes, which will be explored further in the different sessions of IAM Weekend 18 next April:

BEYOND–ALGORITHMS: The Futures of Automation, Work & Identity

We live in a world where identity has become increasingly fluid and in flux — and can even take on non-physicality. With automation and algorithms, we encounter several problems and contradictions, chiefly, the present dangerously inverted relationship between algorithms adapting to us — are we going to let algorithms define us? Automation, Work, and Identity work in a symbiotic way and we must ask ourselves what contradictions we face in each sector individually and together.

Imagine the implications, accountability, and decentralized control that can arise from perceiving data as embodied, as naturally a part of yourself as your left arm. Rather than contributing to the hyper normalization of corporation use of algorithms and exploitative use of your individual and our collective data, by seeing our data as an extensions of ourselves, we can demand more ethical practices that we are in control of.

BEYOND–DISCIPLINES: The Futures of Arts, Design & Learning

A transdisciplinary approach to learning suits our fluid, in-flux identities as does reimagining and redesigning everything from classroom layouts to subjects to the discipline narrative in education.

We must move away from consumption of education and move into critical thought and dialogue with an education system that embraces, challenges, engages, and includes students from all over the spectrum (including those with learning and mental challenges). Equally important is balancing the learning of histories with the importance of futures-oriented learning, along with the evolution of the arts & design practices.

BEYOND–CLICKS: The Futures of Commerce, Advertising & Privacy

How much monetary and political power goes into a mere click? The online monopoly triad of corporations, Facebook, Amazon, and Google present us with this major paradox of the internet: a source for decentralized power has now become majorly centralized through the influence these corporations have especially in the realm of commerce, advertising, and our clicks.

Interesting associations begin to take place when observing the connections between commerce, advertising, and privacy — the more they know about us, the less we know about them, and the more we seem to buy. A collective digital consciousness of our data footprint and metadata is needed and can be achieved through increased digital literacy, a healthy internet, and alternatives to existing business models.

BEYOND–DESIRES: The Futures of Fashion, Food & Sex

Let’s talk about sex (and fashion and food). The lack of ethicality, high consumption and hyper-capitalistic tendencies in fast food, fast fashion, and porn all call for a redesign of desires.

We need to seriously question the act of consumption, our own habits regarding it, and the inevitable continual fetishization of it, particularly within emerging economies over the next seven years. What do routine behaviors such as dressing, eating, and having sex look like in a post-capitalist 2025?

BEYOND–DREAMS: The Futures of the Planet, Power & Reality

Dreams and dreaming makes us human, but what is it that we collectively dream of? More importantly, why? What dominant narratives surround them? Planetary thought and action is desperately needed with the onset of climate change and ever-rising threat to our oceans — political problems that are far from natural (disasters) and are very much man-made.

What do we dream of when we go beyond the limits our global political systems impose on us?

Dreams often place us in realities outside of our own real realities. To make dreams happen, however, it is equally important to be aware of the real reality that surrounds us just as it is to be conscious of how our dreams come to be. Today’s real reality consists of a lot of imagination and hyper normal reality at play when it comes to CGI, completely shifting what constituted the “real” in real reality. What should constitute our dream and future real reality? And can sci-fi finally move beyond asking if android dream of electric sheep and ask better, more relevant questions?

Part III: Do You Remember the Futures?

The paradoxical cyclical web we weave ourselves into of escapisms from escapisms distance us from the human and filters our perception and emotions. Technology as a tool for us has transformed into us as the tools for technology, especially as it takes on more human attributes rendering us less sensitive and more impervious. Let’s embrace the paradox, create constructive collisions, and break out of the cyclical system. Measure it from afar, up close, behind, birds-eye style, and beyond.

Let’s look beyond, look forward, look to the next 7 years.

“The Subversion of Paradoxes” will reach its capstone in Barcelona during IAM Weekend 18 on April 27–29 and we are inviting a group of brilliant thinkers and doers from around the globe to lead the conversation, including the Digital Minister of Taiwan, an avatar artist and curator, delegates of the largest broadcaster in the world and a former candidate for Mayor of Detroit. More speakers and special guests will be announced soon.

Beyond the event

But in no way is this the end. IAM Weekend 18 is just a part (a BIG one though) of an ongoing, year long research initiative that is and will be fruitful in events, experiments, publications, curatorial and commissioning projects along with existing and new partners of IAM, including University of Arts London (UAL), ELISAVA, BBC and a few more TBA soon. 
btw if you are an agent of change inside any type of organisation, institution, school or company and want to learn more about how to support, collaborate or partner with us, let’s talk!

And if you are here, reading this last paragraphs, we invite you to think, say and act in a critical, planetary and long-term way about futures, always in plural. And if anything or everything we shared in this piece resonates with you, we invite you to join us in this journey in becoming inventive, revolutionary anthropologists of futures that also place trust in randomness.

“But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow.
But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall.
This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”
— Søren Kierkegaard

Ultimately and constantly we invite you to ask yourself and other this question: what futures do we want to remember by 2025?

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