Playing the future
The next year will see us exploring the possible worlds we could be living a generation from now, says Pat Kane
2013 will be the year when thinkers and doers crawl out from under the rock of recession-era pessimism, and start to stretch their muscles again. It will be a year for optimists and futurists to start exploring the landscapes of the possible - confident that this is the best response to any calls for "growth" or forward momentum.
Intellectually, it's fashionable to question our innate sunnyness about the future. Behaviouraleconomists and "nudge" thinkers call this "optimism bias" - our savannah-era tendency to underestimate the difficulties and overestimate the benefits of any project. It's a convenient truth about forked human nature, in an era where the limits to our endeavours - whether financial or economic, environmental or demographic - seem daunting enough for anyone's ambition.
But what if we went with the grain of our enthusiasms, and played imaginatively with our sense of the future, rather than cower before the conventional wisdom of doom and gloom? Trying out possibilities in a safe space, in order to explore all our options for survival and flourishing - this is as much a by-product of our natural human optimism as any "predictable irrationality" tut-tutted over by politicians, or their helpful academics.
In 2013, Nesta intends to create this space in which we can play the future - exploring possible worlds in which we might live, a generation from now.
Much can occupy this space, which will officially consist of a monthly schedule of talks, papers, mainstream articles and web videos, of prototyping processes and recorded practices, all leading up to a major two-day trans-media event in London's Old Truman Brewery, on 28-29th September, 2013. But the challenge is to bring true diversity to this play-space, in order to maximise its adaptive potential.
Possible worlds begin with acute questions. Yes, science and technology trends point to an ever-increasing ability to control matter, living or inert. Yet how do we match that to our growing sensitivity about the deeply complex systems (whether biosphere or global market) in which we are all embedded?
Yes, our daily life is accelerating into a "real virtuality", where screens, networks, simulations and games make up the primary datum of our experience. Yet where do our bodies and sensualities fit within this imaginarium - and not just our old inherited equipment, but the new faculties promised by smart drugs, longevity therapies and cyborg enhancements?
But we want to equally focus on how these transformatory processes might impact on daily life - the occupations, institutions, friendships/family relations, convivialities and social struggles by which we mark our days. To that end, we will invite writers and marketers, activists and musicians, philosophers and dramatists, in order to imagine the small narratives as well as the grand ones of the coming future. It's not just about where our techno-science might be by the middle of this century - but where our ethics and pleasures, our families and lovers, our prosperity and power-relations will be too.
After a half-decade of recession, both in spirit and economics, we should let our innate euphoria triumph over the general dysphoria for a while. In a harsh world, imagining possible worlds is the most natural thing we humans do. It's also the most resourceful thing we can do, too.
Pat Kane is Nesta's Lead Curator for the event on possible worlds. He is a writer, musician and play/games consultant