The Future in Retrospect

Looking back five or ten years ago, we were just younger versions of ourselves struggling to grasp a sense of the present (at that time) and think real hard about what’s awaiting us in five or ten years’ time. Or what we might become; what we’re expecting from ourselves, from society, from the world… Obviously, there’s more than one way to relate to the future.

But aren’t we doing exactly the same thing right now?

Grappling to grasp a sense of the present, while noticing how quickly we pass the present with every next-step we make. Every tick on the clock means something not only in this moment but also in the future.

Easing into this relatively big topic, or attempted theoretical construction, I would prefer to expand a little more on my last post about science and publishing. Many issues/tensions emerging from the debate over how we should advance and progress in scientific and developmental terms have a common thread called expectations. What we expect from scientists could be very different to what they expect from themselves. This disparity of perspective arises from something quite emotive, not affective (I suppose), but universally present in various forms, known as interests. The clash of interests, those of the scientists and of the public, is problematic if we realise open science as the only viable path to advancement. The reluctance to share can be detrimental to this naïve idea that operates on the assumption that we live in a global village – a virtual reality constituted by an open web, namely the Internet. In essence, social organisation allows us to think differently and prepares us to adapt to futuristic settings that are wildly speculated in the present.

The tool that legitimises scientists to NOT meet their conscientious obligations as SCIENTISTS is this thing quite ubiquitous in recent years, known as, copyright. Copyright has become the obstacle to sharing knowledge as it functions to feed cynicism. Even though I am seemingly arguing against the right to protect individuals’ intellectual properties, in that it is a bad and immoral practice here, I do recognise how valuable and what such ownership might mean to the creator/discoverer/scientist him/herself. Yet, I also think it is this value owned by their knowledge that should be prioritised as if it is in the best interest of the public, and be upheld as a global property. This is consistent with the slogan: ‘Publish or perish’, which is more or less metonymic of the move towards objectivity in scientific knowledge development. This also has real implications on how innovations are socially, and maybe skilfully, derived in the present as projects of the future.

The Internet of Things

Keller Easterling (2012) extrapolates the philosophical pursuit of spatial capacity by artists and architectures, including Jack Burnham, Cedric Price, Archigram, and Christopher Alexander. They bring attentions to the fact that space has similar potentials to shape technology and culture in reciprocal to how digital machines determine our life and our world. Easterling’s definition of an Internet of Things is intriguing and realistic (weirdly enough):

A world embedded with so many digital devices that the space between them consists not of dark circuitry but rather the space of the city itself. (ibid)

She emphasises on space as an organisation, as a carrier of information and, most importantly, as an actor in the play of technological development and cultural construction in human history. I am sensing that this theoretical proposal and imaginary are somehow reversal to Kevin Slavin’s ideas about the power of algorithms in shaping our culture in postmodern era. Slavin (2011) sees digital algorithms as robot architectures of information systems and stock exchange protocols in actual reality.

Easterling’s metaphor of space as an actor is a refreshing mentality that ostensibly cracks the whole technological determinist framework. The technique for performing architecture remains affective and analogous to

…an extra art and mode of making in which the action is the form. Action is not necessarily movement but is rather embodied in relationship, relative position and potential in organizations. Action is immanent in the disposition of an organization. (Easterling 2012)

Nonetheless, the affordance of space is still in its hypothetical stage. Such epistemology is a new way to imagining the future. It marks the changing mindset. A way forward to the future starts with an open and creative mind.

Imagining, Predicting and Making the Future

There are huge differences between imagining, predicting and making the future.

To me, imagining the future requires recalling history, the past, and a reserved mindset predicated upon an immanent humbleness that subsequently project learned mistakes and knowledge into the context of a hypothetical future. This is why imagining the future can be quite haunting. Imagination becomes a defence mechanism operated upon fear. A fear that prevents us from spoiling ourselves, wasting resources and abusing power. Here, the media is an agent that spread imagined fear around the globe. The movie ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012) is one example.

Predicting the future, on the other hand, stipulates confidence. The utterance of a possible future necessitates a belief in the predictions you make. It could be quite bold, but it’s going to take courage even if that means it’s probably going to turn out foolish too.

Lastly, making the future is an action with that confidence raised to a higher level. Because it is about actualising internalised thoughts. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with an augmented belief in the present project that is going to lead to a hopeful future. All of these are affective elements of social organisations that make use the paradoxical consciousness of being the affect and the affected simultaneously in a networked multitude. They move us forward with real momentum.

Check out Kevin Slavin’s (@slavin_fpo) recent sardonic tweet on the new science fiction movie, ‘Project Prometheus’:

I know that the Prometheus Project is from the future because it takes 3 minutes to register to see it. (May 18, 2012)

Indeed, a lot of the times, our current imagination is based on old imaginations. In the case of Prometheus, then, the future is pictured against a topical spacecraft project. Momentarily, we are trapped in an eternal cycle of imaginations that only become concretised after a few drafts of predictions and a couple of finalised ventures.


Easterling, Keller (2012) ‘An Internet of Things’, e-flux journal, <>

Slavin, Kevin. (2011) How algorithms shape our world, short video clip, TED, accessed March 10th 2012, <>


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