Thinking Preferably

In 2014 we had the pleasure of hosting several futures and design practitioners in a seminar talking about “Thinking out Loud about possible Futures” as part of our Data Ecologies series. A number of the participants came together afterwards to collect some of our ideas about that discussion and other discussions we had been having, the result was the book Futurish, available as PDF or E-book.

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Our work with imagining futures has continued since then, with projects and workshops, facilitation and free developments. We have refined our ideas, learnt ever more about the history and culture of futures thinking and the ways that it can be used and misused, and carry on using these techniques ourselves. In particular we have developed the basis for the Turnton 2047 series of installations, an ever deepening collection of fragments of everyday life in an imagined European coastal city in 2047. Early in our development we realised that there were few indicators that western industrial society was going to change soon, so included a lot of aspects of ongoing ecological destruction projected into a future with ocean level rise, autumnal heatwaves and ecosystem collapse. However we wrapped this dystopia up in a collection of utopic responses, based upon a projected late realisation that “Change was our only chance” that implemented radical social, political and economic adaptations to the ecological crisis.

This approach, developing not only possible but preferable scenarios and the details of everyday life in these scenarios, has remained a backbone to our work. It is all too easy to imagine collapse, or at least a Hollywood or right-populist version of it, or some heroic utopia of star travel and glossy future-malls. Diving into the questions of how these utopic and dystopic trends could play out in combination and effect our everyday lives; there is perhaps harder, but ever so more interesting ground to work over.

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Futures Literacy is an ability to think out loud about possible futures. A number of simple techniques, from card games to future wheels and critical uncertainties, can be used to help push the imagination beyond the obvious answers; there are many more. With Covid-19 maintaining its position in our vision, temporarily obscuring concerns about climate, income inequality, carbon, migration and the Paris agreement, perhaps it is time to take the time to think out loud a little bit more about how things might play out.

As an experiment, we have enabled comments below, we hope that discussions can indicate some interesting repercussions of what is happening now and where it might lead us. Moreover, given the spectrum of possibilities, perhaps we can begin to think about ways of tending towards preferable futures (work-life balance) and away from less desirable futures (curfews). Enjoy the process, and share anything you think might need to be shared.

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