“Six Foundational Concepts of Future Studies”

Applying the six foundational concepts of futures studies

By Oliver Damian

Inayatullah sees futures studies as helping individuals and organisations better understand the processes of change so that wiser preferred futures can be created. He outlined the above six basic concepts of futures thinking which I will apply to some examples below.

(1) WestConnex—Sydney & the Used Future of Los Angeles

I see the New South Wales (NSW) Government here in Australia is still consciously or unconsciously following the used future of Los Angeles (LA) in the US. The NSW Government is sponsoring the construction of the WestConnex motorway project to create more space for cars to traverse the greater Sydney metropolitan area. LA has learned the hard way that a city designed for cars does not make a liveable city. It leads to urban decay and a massive suburban sprawl with enclaves of settlements linked by gridlocked freeways.

A suburban sprawl where people only live with people of their own kind and travel in the bubble of their own cars never interacting and intermingling with people from different backgrounds also leads to feelings of alienation, racial and gender tensions, intolerance and xenophobias as poignantly featured in the movie Crash.

In 1961, Sydney already made the mistake of pulling out its extensive tram network (second only to London at that time) to make room for cars and buses. Now the government is spending billions to put parts of the tram network back.

“Sydney removing tram lines circa 1961”
“Sydney removing tram lines circa 1961”
“Sydney rebuilding tram lines circa 2007”
“Sydney rebuilding tram lines circa 2007””

Sydney needs a present-day Jane Jacobs, who stopped a freeway tearing through the middle of lower Manhattan. Today those urban villages in Lower Manhattan are some of the most coveted places to live in the world. I think it has been proven in many places that walkable villages where people live and work locally and take public transport to go to farther places are the most humane ways to live an urban life. It’s time to discard the used future of centralised planning where a dead at night CBD specialised for work is fed by gridlocked freeways from a boring suburban sprawl.

(2) Disowned futures in the Black Mirror series

The Black Mirror TV series use the disowned futures concept in a number of its episodes. This concept is succinctly described by Inayatullah as “What we excel at becomes our downfall”.

In Black Mirror episode 3 of season 1 “The Entire History of You” takes our human ability to remember, our memory to the extreme which led to its disowning. The episode made me reflect on how it may not be a good idea to have the ability to remember absolutely everything. In the future portrayed in the episode, people wear implants behind their ears called “grains”. The grain allows people to record everything they do, see, or hear, and re-play the recording. This technology served as a catalyst of bitter jealousy between Liam Foxwell and his wife Ffion Foxwell (played by Jodie Whittaker who will be playing the 13th Doctor Who). My key takeaway from the episode is that technology which allows us to perfectly remember everything may impair our ability to forgive and to heal from past trauma because we can always replay what the other person did that hurt us.

The Entire History of You | Black Mirror

Back to 2017, we are already seeing a backlash against the long–term memory of social media networks like Facebook. New messaging platforms/social networks like Snapchat allow text, photos, videos, and drawings disappear after 10 seconds of having been sent. These more ephemeral sharing networks are increasingly being taken up by teens who are increasingly leaving Facebook where the adults are taking over.

The backlash against the memory of internet companies over our private lives has reached a crescendo in Europe where the European Union ruled that its citizens have a right to be forgotten. This allows its citizens to request Google to remove links from search results. If the request satisfies certain criteria relating to relating to the accuracy, adequacy, relevance – including time passed – and proportionality of the links, in relation to the purposes of the data processing, then Google has to remove them.

(3) Alternative futures in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle novel now made into an Amazon Studio TV Series is set in an alternative 1962 where the Axis powers won World War II and the United States was divided into the Greater Nazi Reich on the east, the Japanese Pacific States in the west, and some free states in the middle.

I found the TV series to be a comprehensive exercise in alternative futures thinking. The series creators had to flesh out what would it have been like if the Axis powers won. They had to imagine what technologies would the world be using, clothes people would wear, the media, government structure, schools, etc. For example, in the series the Greater Nazi Reich used supersonic aeroplanes (much like the Concorde) for intercontinental travel. The San Francisco in the Japanese Pacific States in the series looked very much like a Japanese enclave.

The Man in the High Castle Season 1 - Official Trailer: What If? | Prime Video

(4) Elon Musk’s companies and their alignment with his vision of Human survival

Elon Musk is unique in that he founded and currently runs multiple billion dollar companies: Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity. He has stated in interviews that a theme that unites these endeavours was his musings while still in college on how to ensure the survival of humanity. These included weaning away from fossil fuels into the cleanest form of energy namely the sun. Thus electric cars in Tesla which if one really looks at it deeply is like a cash generator and experimental lab to create better batteries and infrastructure to store and distribute solar energy through batteries and charging stations and home batteries. Should that fail and climate change wrecks our habitat, the other way to ensure survival is to go off planet, to Mars for example hence a space exploration in Space X.

Musk fears the possibility of an AI Apocalypse. AI being another possible threat to human survival. Thus Musk also begun being active in the AI space with his purchase of a brain-computer interface company Neuralink . He is also the co-founder and chairman of OpenAI – a non-profit research company seeking the path to safe artificial intelligence.

Y Combinator President Sam Altman interviews Elon Musk

(5) Reinventing Organisations—Frederic Laloux’s model for social change

Frederic Laloux does not accept that the hierarchical organisations prevalent today is last stop in the evolution of organisations. He outlines a path already taken by a number of successful companies where there are no leaders and layers of management, and it’s not bogged down by consensus gridlock.

Laloux describes in his book Reinventing Organisations that it’s possible to create soulful self-organising productive organisations. Laloux clearly believes that the future is not a fixed and bleak Corporatocracy Dystopia. The future can be changed. And there are organisations out there who are already living this alternative, and to propagate alternative organisation models is a potent path for social change.

A talk, followed by Q&A, by Frederic Laloux about "Reinventing Organizations", a research and book that is turning into an international phenomenon.

(6) Using the future for a Long Now

The Long Now Foundation ‘hopes to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common’. The foundation is a counterpoint to an ever-shortening future where most of the financial and political efforts are concentrated and assessed for the next quarter.

The foundation is building a clock that is designed and engineered to run for 10,000 years. It also is building the 10,000-year library project beginning with the Rosetta Project where they microscopically etch 13,000 pages of information on over 1,500 human languages in a disk that a human hand can hold.

In a way, the Long Now is about the Deep Future. This is in contrast to the current shallow future reporting of the media and pundits.

Clock One: Winder & Main Differential from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

References

  1. Crash 2005, motion picture, Lions Gate Australia, Sydney.
  2. Gopnik A. 2016, ‘Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts What the urbanist and writer got so right about cities—and what she got wrong.’, The New Yorker, 26 September, viewed 7 September 2017, <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/26/jane-jacobs-street-smarts>.
  3. Inayatullah, S. 2008, ‘Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming’, Foresight, vol. 10 issue 1, pp.4-21.
  4. Lang N. 2015, "Why teens are leaving Facebook: It’s ‘meaningless’", The Washington Post, 21 February, viewed 7 September 2017,<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/02/21/why-teens-are-leaving-facebook-its-meaningless/>.
  5. Reinventing Organizations 2014, Reinventing Organizations, video recording, YouTube, viewed 20 October 2017, <https://youtu.be/gcS04BI2sbk>.
  6. Sydney Motorway Corporation 2017, WestConnex, viewed 20 October 2017, <https://www.westconnex.com.au/>.
  7. The Entire History of You 2011, television program, Black Mirror, Channel 4, London, 18 December.
  8. The Man in the High Castle 2015, television program, Amazon Studios, Seattle.
  9. Y Combinator 2016, Elon Musk : How to Build the Future, video recording, YouTube, viewed 20 October 2017, <https://youtu.be/tnBQmEqBCY0>.