Exploring the future has never been so slippery.
By Elise Talgorn
Elise Talgorn is Senior Design Strategist, Philips Experience Design & Visiting researcher at the Department of Sustainable Design Engineering, TUDelft / Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering
2020 disrupted the economic, social, and healthcare landscape. Even though pandemics had been a subject of conjecture for a while, we did not expect Covid-19 to change so brutally the essence of how we live, work, teach, cure, love. In a matter of months, billions of people were locked in their home, sitting all day in front of screens. They reminded me of the immobile lonely brains, fed by home delivery and interacting through robots, in the sci-fi movie Surrogate. I use this comparison to illustrate the scale of the change and why it drove so intense emotions – from fear and hyper vigilance, to anger and rebellion against governmental measures.
The pandemic also led to positive shifts. A boom in digital health platforms and virtual collaboration. A new lens on the environmental sustainability enablers. Yet, we still struggle to picture the healthcare and the environmental landscapes in a few years from now. These new trends are temporary and can unfold in many unpredictable ways.
This is teaching us that we can only very partially anticipate on events’ consequences. Most importantly, we are in the dark about one’s emotional and social reactions to major changes. People are complex and unpredictable. Online mass behavior only amplifies this randomness.
Future explorers need to embrace the unknown and the uncertainty, to a radically new level. And they need to prepare their audience for resilience. Beyond the buzzword that resilience became, let’s explore its deeper implications. The common definition relates to the ability to bounce back from a situation, with a strong and positive attitude. But resilience is more than adapting incrementally our lifestyle and mindset to circumstances. What we are facing is only the beginning of a series of dramatic events (related to climate change or overpopulation, to name a few) that are likely to put the world upside down in the coming decades. Resilience is accepting that we might lose, at any moment, everything we took for granted.
I would like to link resilience to two notions:
- the concept of Negative Capability by the poet John Keats: “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. Keats uses this notion in the context of artistic creation, but this is a state in which future explorers are comfortable swimming. Now their role is to bring the audience along in these oceans, to teach how to sail across uncertainty and celebrate the mysterious ways the world evolves.
- Impermanence is described in Buddhism as a transient, evanescent, inconstant temporality of all existences. In a materialistic society, accepting that material or mental attachments are subject at any moment to decline and destruction is terrifying. Future explorers must make their audience familiar with the loss of what was dear to them. It might bring something greater – a new sense of freedom, a new relationship with death.
New tools are needed there. I can think of extreme future scenarios that provoke the audience emotionally, or interactive stories that adapt to each viewer to get them acquainted with their biggest fears.
We need to anticipate on futures that are flexible, because they will be evanescent. We need to prepare the world for a new mindset and state of heart: an acceptance of surrender and sacrifice to the unexpected.