This is Issue 28 of the Design Fiction Newsletter and this is your commercial interruption.
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(cue intro music)
Okay. Now, back to our regularly scheduled newsletter.
Have I mentioned this before?
If you’re going to play at imagining the space of what’s possible — that is, if you aspire to see the world without blinders on, to see beyond the edges of your workstation, cubicle, home office or wherever else — an indispensable skill is to be able to see the world differently.
See. Imagine. Ponder.
Look for inspiration, not solutions.
Seek out the unexpected and unanticipated. Loosen the guardrails that stop you from saying what you only think is absurd, or childish, or inconceivable, or that you think you might get laughed at.
(In a workshop recently I offered that we imagine a world where Facebook — this was before it was Meta — is a public benefit corporation. Stunned silence was followed by what sounded like a horse laughing. I was lightly and collegially mocked and the topic moved on. It’s fertile terrain ready to be harvested for some imaginative possible futures, which is different from saying I think it’s probable or even likely and, for the worse of things, this particular gathering was so solutions focussed that there was no space for the imagination, in the fullest sense of things.)
Now, imagine this: in 1967 there really was no such thing as jogging.
“Surely,” you think, “humans have jogged forever, right? Like..ever since they had to put a bit of distance between themselves and something chasing them, yeah?”
Yeah, well — that last bit is a near certainty.
But, was running away (or towards) “jogging”, or was it something else, like was it more something like — “chasing after dinner”, or “avoiding being eaten for dinner”?
How did such that wasn’t about more primal survival come about?
How did the critical-for-survival kind of running transition to the kind of running that would spawn a global pastime and, like..whatever..trillion dollar network of consumer activity?
How did jogging derivate from the kind of necessary skill that is performed during battle and thence an athletic event to demonstrate and compete and reveal prowess at military skills like running, jumping over barricades and walls and the like (and thence the Olympics, now in support of that trillion dollar universe of consumer activity?
Well, let me pose a possible answer that is less relevant to the historical record than it is to an insight into the futurists’ mindset which is to say, useful for the Design Fiction mindset.
First principle: observe the taken-for-granted. Be curious about the banal, normal, ordinary, everyday. Look at everything from breakfast cereal to bedtime stories as worthy of inquiry, as worthy of remarks.
Everything ordinary is remarkable. Take nothing for granted.
It’s easy to take jogging for granted nowadays. I can stick my head out the window here in Los Angeles and see any number of people, people + dogs, people + people, pretty much jogging every which way.
People even wear clothes that look like they may have been jogging when in fact they haven’t. They were just stepping outside to grab the newspaper. Or maybe they were out at the clubs. Or maybe they were just on set in a rap video.
(You know what I mean.)
In 1967 Bill Bowerman, who would go on to found Nike, imagined a future where people did physical fitness. To do so, he had to find a way to represent the future he imagined, so he wrote a manual of sorts.
The book is called “Jogging.” When I look at my copies what I see is a determined, active, passionate imagination doing everything it can to depict a possible future wherein, well..people “jog”.
Today we take it for granted to the extent that we don’t even wonder.
What it was to “jog” in 1967 was bizarre.
“I’m going to do this thing..this ‘jogging’ thing.”
“Eh? What the heck are you talking about? Don’t do that. You’ll get caught. People are going to look at you nervously, I’m telling you. Stop. Best case outcome is you’ll get lightly and collegially mocked.”
Look here: on the cover of the earliest editions of the book, right there on the damn cover, he has to define it: “A DETAILED INSTRUCTIONAL GUIDE TO JOGGING (LIGHT RUNNING AND WALKING)..”
I mean..this is great stuff. Great stuff. What you see on the cover and in the copious images (back when printing images in a book was definitely not a routine thing to do!) is an epistemological monkey wrench. Knowledge is being crafted and poured into this material package of pages, images, explanatory texts.
This guy is in Chuck Taylor's — and his Sunday-go-to-meeting waist belt!
30. Image after image shows us what jogging looks like and how to do it properly. Image after image routinizes the act, allowing us to possible see ourselves in the models doing the jogging (particularly if you’re white, but we’ll leave that to the side for now.)
31. So, why do I share this in the context of Design Fiction?
32. It’s because the power of the Design Fiction mindset comes from accepting that change is a constant..
33. (dramatic pause)
34. The future as seen through the Design Fiction mindset is to accept that change requires imagining a different world..
35. ..and then actually materializing the implications of that world in the form of the Design Fiction Artifact — the thing that one would find were one to time travel to that possible future and grab a few things to bring back.
36. That’s hard to do in the sense that it’s not easy to do.
37. Not everyone gets how to time travel in this fashion, I realize that now. I used to take it for granted that this was something everyone did, or could do naturally and routinely.
38. (But then I saw the Meta presentation a month or so back and I thought like..oof. What the heck. Shame on the futurists who helped produce that strategy.)
39. Bowerman went through the trouble of writing and publishing a manual for a possible future in which people ran to “REDUCE THE WAISTLINE” and to “PROLONG YOUR LIFE”.
40. It’s fun to think that this manual for jogging was what Bowerman brought back from a jogging future.
41. Like, in his imagination he had seen a possible future and did the Design Fiction thing (not really..there was no Design Fiction in 1967), and rather than writing a report he wrote a book as if jogging was a thing.
42. (It’s especially fun because ‘jogging as futuristic’ is so beautifully adjacent to what we routinely consider futuristic — no network connected end-points, no blockchain, no cyber-this-or-that. People, in a world, doing a thing that from the situated perspective of, say, 1967, seems weird and unexpected and alien.
43. Really, it’s remarkable to imagine that this was not an easy pitch.
44. Not easy at all.
45. Much like Dick Fosbury and his Fosbury Flop.
46. Or the whole Wheels on Luggage gambit.
47. It requires translating the imagination shrewdly, creatively, cleverly.
48. It’s takes gumption and a bit of guile.
49. It takes an incredibly active and nagging intuition that is able to travel to another world, and by world I mean a place with a futuristic set of values, epistemologies, ontologies. That’s what science-fiction is well-suited to do — create science-based other worlds.
50. Design Fiction is well-suited to making artifacts brought back from the future to suspend our disbelief about change. It’s archeology, but the other way around. Rather than digging up artifacts from the past, we harvest actual artifacts from possible futures. (Not stories about the future, just to be clear and I will continue to repeat the point not to quibble but because I think the difference is quite helpful.)
51. To take on the mindset of the optimistic contrarian futurist requires a willingness to seem like and in fact act like a productive, helpful fool.
52. To take on the mindset of the optimistic contrarian futurist requires one to accept and understand from whence the light and collegial mocking obtains — it’s probably a reluctance to see things as possibly different — and to remain of the mindset that change is possible.
53. Remember and believe that the world can become otherwise.