Last time, I told you about my notes blog, which I use to expose seedlings—rough and unpolished thoughts—to the open air. It’s been less than a month since the last edition, which I take as a sign that I might have stumbled upon a concept and a setup that works for me. I’ve also set up a digital garden—a space for the seedlings to grow and intertwine—at garden.johanneskleske.com. While the notes blog is for publishing ideas, the digital garden is for putting them into context and developing a wiki-style repository of terms and concepts.
I finally have a space now where I can translate my master’s thesis on future imaginaries and connect it to other concepts in (critical) futures studies. As you can see, one purpose of the garden is to create explainer articles that I can link to instead of having to explain them in every new piece.
Below you’ll find the latest seedlings from the notes blog. As always, please feel free to hit ‘reply’ and let me know your thoughts and questions.
I wish you the best
Published April 23, 2022
The field of futures studies describes “the scientific concern with possible, desirable and probable future developments” (Kreibich 2006). While the majority of futures studies and foresight work focuses on creating new images of the future using scientific methods (e.g., scenarios), there have been repeated efforts since the late 1970s to examine existing images of the future as well.
Among the most influential pioneers of critical futures studies is Sohail Inayatullah. Influenced by poststructuralism, he pointed out in his seminal article on ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future’ that epistemological assumptions underlie all futures thinking: temporal, economic, political, ideological-cultural, and linguistic. However, these assumptions remain mostly unreflected even in most futures studies work. They are not questioned and thus influence the results unrecognized.
That is precisely where critical futures studies deconstruct images of the future as present futures, which provide less information about events in future presents. Instead, they are about wishes, interests, needs, and expectations prevalent in the present, expressed in stories about the future.
Published April 24, 2022
IFTF’s Jane McGonigal is promoting her new book Imaginable. Her crucial talking points are the two foresight games she did in 2008 and 2010 involving more than 20,000 people and accurately predicting the Corona pandemic.
But as Tim Harford points out in his FT article (paywalled):
As a life-long gamer, I am easily persuaded of the benefits of games, but they are no panacea, even when they do predict the future. Superstruct and Evoke did not prevent pandemic policy missteps;
One could even ask if those games had any effect on the pandemic they predicted. And thus, they are an excellent example of what I deem to be the biggest challenge of foresight work: nobody listens.
Published May 9, 2022
There is a significant difference between “present futures” and “future presents.”
A “future present” refers to a certain point in time in the future. This point will become the present at some time. When we imagine being somewhere in two weeks, we think about a future present. But that image in our head of that future point in time is a “present future.” It is being felt in our heads right now in the present.
A trend report provides a hypothesis of a change around a topic in the future (“a combination of factors like virtual reality, token-based technologies, and many more might lead to a new paradigm of digital infrastructure, currently labeled Metaverse”). The hypothesis is based on patterns emerging from signals in the present (“many start-ups around this topic are getting funding, virtual worlds are used for much more than gaming, etc.”). And it’s presented with different trajectories where it might go (“It will replace the internet as we know it. It will mostly be a relabeling of virtual reality and go the way of Second Life. It’s a brute-force attempt by Silicon Valley, which will lead to an even more Cyberpunk world.”).
Most so-called “trend reports” out there already fail at this basic premise. The reports present their trend hypothesis as a prediction (“this is the future!”). They cherry-pick the cases (signals) to prove their predictions without questioning them. And they don’t offer any alternative trajectories to make the trend seem inevitable.
Published May 10, 2022
The Dutch sociologist Fred Polak was one of the most important driving forces behind European futures studies in the mid-20th century.
He published his essential work ‘The Image of the Future’ in 1955 in two volumes in Dutch, before Elise Boulding translated it in 1961 and then published it again in 1973 in an abridged version. The Image of the Future examines social images of the future throughout history and their influence on cultural development.
Remember that these are seedlings, which means they are unpolished thoughts or ideas that will grow and mature over time. Let me know what you think about it by hitting reply.