Developing a Future Vision
This assignment builds on the concepts from previous classes and in formulating vision, Team should address how the following may have contributed to the resolution of the wicked problem in the future: large events (cultural, environmental, technological), changing social/cultural norms and beliefs, changes in the ways in which individuals and communities satisfy their needs, reintegration of place-based wisdom and ways of life, changes in practices and behaviors, systems dynamics (within social and socio-technical systems) and the recent phenomenon of a globally interconnected world. Transition Design argues that a powerful way for stakeholders to transcend their differences in the present is to co-create visions of a future they agree upon. Backcasting from this future to the present creates a ‘transition pathway’ along which ‘interventions’ serve as steps toward that desired future. This assignment aims to introduce long-term visioning as part of the Transition Design approach.
With this fourth assignment, our team has embarked upon a new phase of our project. The first three assignments that our team completed comprised the research and analysis stage. Now, we have the opportunity to apply our insights and imagine what a world would be like without the rising negative consequences of Social Networking Sites (SNS).
Following a consistent thread among our previous assignments, this exercise required a careful balance: SNS is not all-bad. In fact, it has many positive uses and potential uses. Not only is it difficult to envision a world that would turn its back on the richness that is the Internet, but it is difficult to envision a world in which this seems like a good idea. Thus, our future visions paint a world in which the Internet still plays an integral, but moderated, role.
Our goal was to show multiple future scenarios with a variety of possibilities. We wanted to show the plurality of futures and the multiplicity of potential directions. It so happened that throughout our visioning process, our ideas and visions naturally fused into one cohesive “world.” This was unintentional. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing — rather than disparate narratives, we have come to a shared vision. The components of this vision can still be picked up and investigated as discrete ideas.
Existing Beliefs, Assumptions and Paradigms
1. SNS is free to use! The old assumption is that money is at the center of business transactions. Because users don’t pay money, they don’t pay anything at all. In fact, information is a new form of capital, which users hand over from the moment they sign up.
2. SNS executives don’t hold that much power compared to governmental figureheads. The old assumption is that power is hierarchical, but according to Fritjof Capra, new forms of power are networked. SNS executives exemplify the power of networks. Their influence has transcended national boundaries.
3. The old assumption is that tech companies are harmless, cute and edgy operations. In fact, users give away valuable data for free which has enabled tech companies to surpass oil companies as the most valuable and powerful corporations in the U.S.
With just an acceptance of these initial three paradigm shifts, communities will realize that the amount of power held by SNS companies now threatens the hegemonic power of government. They may also realize that by freely sharing information, they are giving away their most valuable resource. But wait — there’s more:
4. Social Networking Sites are owned by private entities. In future systems, they may be community owned.
5. The Internet is a privilege that can be eliminated from one’s life if access is too expensive. However, even today, it is difficult or impossible to accomplish many basic tasks or live a comfortable American lifestyle without access to the internet. We anticipate a future in which it is considered at the least, a basic utility (like water or electric) or at the most, a fundamental human right.
6. Internet use has no tangible effects — it is an unlimited resource. While Internet use itself does not leave a massive footprint, we learned that it does contribute to carbon emissions and rising ocean temperatures in certain areas where data centers are stored. Furthermore, the production of the hardware necessary for Internet use, such as computers and cell phones, drives unethical practices such as the mining of Conflict Minerals and underpaid factory labor.
7. Only my “friends” or people I consciously allow into my network on SNS can view the content that I post. My content is mine. The truth is that anything you post online, even in a private message, becomes public and the property of the platform.
8. What I see on friends’ SNS profiles is an unbiased view of their life. Really, most people construct images of themselves that are only somewhat accurate portrayals, censored to appear more happy or successful. Out of all the paradigm shifts on our list, this is perhaps the most mature, as many people already are aware that this construction of identity affects our relations to one another and ourselves.
In the year 2030, the hardware necessary for social networking has been reduced dramatically in size, allowing its production to take place on a much smaller scale. Technology has progressed such that local communities recycle and process their own discarded materials and repurpose them to create “Cubes,” small devices the size of dice that can holographically project the computer or smartphone interface onto any surface.
The unfair labor practices around the production of smartphones, computer chips, and other hardware have ceased. No more are conflict minerals mined; no more are factory workers in other countries vastly underpaid to assemble our technology.
On the home front, acquiring a Cube is a cost-effective and highly personal process. In most cities and towns, there is a Cube shop. Depending on the user’s level of interest, they can either consult with a regional manufacturing expert to produce their Cube, or they can sign up for training to learn how to assemble their own. If a user wishes, they can learn to produce their own Cube, from the point of recycling the raw materials (empty cans, bottles, out-of-date hardware) up until the point of completion. Users are able to create their Cubes with different colors and aesthetic designs; people take great pride in their creations and the process of learning and making together strengthens community ties. The most knowledgeable and talented users can themselves become regional manufacturing experts of their own volition.
The nature of the hologram projections reminds the users of the ephemeral nature of the internet and SNS — in the year 2030, this is a relatively new phenomenon and no studies have been completed that prove this — but many observe that people seem less tied to their phones, and more engaged in their surroundings.
Future Vision System and Narrative
As a precursor for context, we developed a narrative for a future vision scenario that follows the everyday practices of a future city resident. Below is the outlined future system in terms of scale.
Over a meal, some friends are talking about going fishing in a nearby lake. One of them, Liza, doesn’t know how to fish. Everyone recommends learning how at the community center.
One of them brings out their Cube and they search on the Internet for community classes.
They find out that there are no teachers in their town, but that there is a teacher in Quito, South America (countries no longer exist and we live in a world full of interconnected villages, towns, and cities).
At the community learning center, they make the digital requirements for what they need and run it through the app scanner. The app scanner converts their text into a digital application that will connect them with the fishing teacher in Quito. They pay for the creation of the application by using a local currency that can be earned via doing work for the community. In this case, Liza writes articles for the community. The fishing class is posted on the community events calendar and other people become interested.
Using community fishing poles, the participants of the class go out to the nearby river to start their first lesson. Liza brings her Cube and using the application that she and her friends made, Mateo, the fisherman from Quito, is able to teach the class how to fish via holographic projections. He is able to observe the class actually fishing and gives them feedback in real time about their form and technique because he can also see them three dimensionally. While practicing, Mateo tells the group about the different local fish and about the river they are fishing in.
After the lessons end, Liza is able to prove what she has learned in a practical examination and then being credentialed. Liza can now add fishing to the skills she possesses, and contribute to the community’s skill-sharing economy.
Liza goes recreationally fishing with one of her good friends from the course.
Based on what their catch was for the day, they get paid in local currency or they pick up food or other products from the other vendors. Liza can now contribute to the local economy in a new way and has diversified her skill set and the community’s ability to obtain food. Later, Liza joins her friends for fishing on the lake and they are all amazed at her abilities. She recommends everyone try learning something new at the community center.
It was a refreshing working experience to shift from an analytical mindset to a creative mindset. We had an initial, brief meeting after class to discuss initial ideas and agree on what we would each prepare — some examples of future visions and a list of existing assumptions, beliefs, and paradigms around SNS.
Our next meeting built upon these ideas. When we met, we happened to run into a peer who facilitated a few rounds of the game, The Thing from the Future. This game was useful as a creative warm-up exercise. It also helped us think about everyday life in relation to the larger concepts at play in our project.
During the rest of the meeting, we brainstormed possibilities for future scenarios and systems, based off of the negative effects we have been discussing throughout the semester. The process of playing with these ideas in conversation led us to some shared insights, such as whether an internet connection in the future would adopt the nature of a basic utility, a universal human right, or neither. We also asked some questions for which we came to no cohesive conclusion, but which were nonetheless intriguing to ponder, such as whether in the future, internet connections will still consist of wi-fi or some other form.
The end goal of this assignment was much less defined than in previous assignments, which allowed us a certain amount of freedom. We used our lack of set parameters to deeply explore our ideas.
We ended this meeting with the agreement that we would each flesh out a few of our ideas to form four separate future visions.
When we met again, about a week and a half later, we compared future visions and found that — amazingly — our ideas fit together almost seamlessly. We all incorporated a few key concepts into our visions — a return to the local; streamlined/minimal hardware; an emphasis on SNS to foster in-person connection; and local networks of experts and skilled people who coordinate via SNS.
Max-Neef’s Theory of Needs
The table above, an analysis of the present and future scenario using Max-Neef’s Theory of Needs, and a reflection on the assumptions and beliefs of the current situation helped us create our vision of the future. By using the categories of the Theory of Needs, we were able to untangle the complexity of our problem and see some possible ways of creating synergistic satisfiers that addressed the problems we have now. This helped us lay the foundation for our vision and start creating narratives using these future scenarios.
As a way of envisioning futures based on the trends of the present, we found it especially helpful to reflect on our multi-level perspective chart. This gave us an understanding of what processes in the regime were affecting the type of innovations arising in the present, and the landscape level phenomena that are driving current behaviours and stigma. For our developed vision, we latched primarily on to the development of the hardware behind SNS and the social role of SNS. We touched upon each of the landscape levels, but particularly focused on the regime of local networks.
Show multiple future scenarios
In this assignment, we are encouraged to think about the future in which the wicked problem will be solved as a 180 degree turn from the current situation. While we were brainstorming new assumptions in the future, there were a lot more possibilities rather than a single narrative. As Stuart Candy said in one of his lectures for our Transition Design class, “Because the future is unwritten, it is plural.” We would like to explore various scenarios concerning how the problem will be solved to different extents, such as 90 degree turn rather than a dramatic shift. One challenge for this plural scenario is determining how different degree shifts affect different solutions in each scenario.
Difficulty and value of world building in each single scale
It is relatively intuitive for designers to construct network connections between different scales, such as connect household activities to neighborhood scale. However, it is quite difficult to build up the network connections within a single scale, especially in the everyday life scale. For example, when we think about having a meal at a local cooperative restaurant, it is not an intuition to relate eating to walking rather than driving, or using reusable bowls. The problem might stem from the fact that the world building process needs more details and awareness which are likely ignored when we actually practice everyday life.
Though it is difficult to build up the whole world networks in each scale, the vision of the future in a complete narrative or story in each scale is valuable. This will help us capture the connections between different everyday activities and contribute to the systematic thinking in a horizontal way.
We could realize the construction and sharing of the world building vision by playing games, such as The Thing from the Future, or writing fictions to capture the detailed moments of the future, or playing video games in which a world is built. For this assignment, we started by playing The Thing from the Future to help us think through the complexities of creating a world. If this game, or another future world creating game/activity, is played multiple times, it will help participants become more able to think through world building. This improvement in ability is similar to learning improv. At first, people stumble and can’t create a cohesive scene, but by playing games and practicing, everyone is able to improvise and work with ambiguity. In the same way, playing future-oriented games will help participants become accustomed to thinking about the future.
Different future time frames
We think the future time frame is supposed to tailor to different wicked problems, as every problem is dealing with different time scales and influential elements. In our case, we chose to adjust the time frame from 2050 to 2030, since SNS is intimately related to the development of technology which progresses in a rapid way compared to other things. As a comparison, if we studied ecological wicked problems, we might need to expand the time frame to 2100 or further. Under such circumstances, we could observe the changing patterns of the earth, or other ecological stakeholders, to help us picture a more meaningful future vision. We need to adapt the year of the future scenario for the speed of the cycles of the problem for it to be the most meaningful (e.g. digital technology has a rapid cycle and environmental change has a much slower cycle).
A possible future structure for this visioning assignment
Through this assignment we thought about the process of creating future worlds. In our discussions, the idea of a more structured process surfaced for working on this assignment:
- A Max-Neefian analysis of the present day situation of the satisfaction of needs of the wicked problem.
- Unpacking the metaphors of the wicked problem.
- A preferable Max-Neef Theory of Needs for the future condition.
- World building support (science fiction world building questions and world building guides, as well as future world building resources such as The Thing from the Future, Stuart Candy might be able to point us in the direction of other games/activities based in Future Studies).
- Use the Futures Wheel to think through secondary and tertiary consequences of the ideas in the emerging world.
- Update the vision of the world using the secondary and tertiary consequences as the catalyst to add further detail and depth to the world.
- Repeat starting at step 3 to create as many possible worlds as desired to show the plurality of the future.
- Continue the Multi-Level Perspective from where we ended in Assignment 3 to one of the future worlds. This can be filled in more detail in Assignment 5 and 6.
The benefits of using a structure similar to this one is that learners will gain more experience using Transition Design and Futuring tools, the worlds that learners create will be more detailed and have greater depth, and the steps support learners in their development of visions by scaffolding the process. By creating a more detailed vision, learners will be able to easily complete Assignments 5 and 6, which use the vision as a basis.
Stratification of Concepts
I (Christi) wish that we had the luxury of time so that we might return to the drawing board of SNS. Due to tight deadlines, we limited our scope early in the semester. In any feasible scenario, we would be forced to set limitations to our exploration. However, if we dedicated some time to a reassessment of the overwhelming amount of information we began with, it might lead to the generation of powerful ideas. The way in which we focused our project was beneficial for achieving strong work under short deadlines, but it has the potential to lack depth. There are certain areas we have chosen to ignore, such as the massive political power that SNS holds, especially in light of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In addition to the important areas that we have (intentionally) neglected due to the constraints of what is realistic for us to tackle, I sometimes feel as if I have over-simplified some of our core concepts for ease of use. We began the semester with a gigantic, complex Wicked Problem map; however, over the course of these assignments, we have distilled this system into a collection of portable concepts. I sometimes worry that my perspective on SNS has become too generalized; certain; stratified; stale. With time to step back and study, once again, the entire system with a fresh set of eyes, perhaps this “settled” mindset could be shaken once again.