This was a comment to a post, The Future is Now, but the comment is better than the post.
The problem with ‘the future’ - is that is is actually not the future at all - it is a version of now.
At a very real and practical level when we talk about ‘the future’ - we are not addressing an evolving, changing, unpredictable set of causes and effects - but predetermined, concrete concepts that already exist. Yet we fool ourselves that somehow we can either know ‘the real future’, or can style it in such a way that suggests that today’s ideas and solutions belong to a time yet to come.
This approach is the backbone of science fiction - in other words - taking elements of something that we understand today and weaving narratives around it. This approach served to explore, in a thought experiment, how an imaginary timescale might change the way we see ourselves today - through technology - and perhaps persuade us to make different choices in the here and now. Science Fiction is an engaging model of reality but it is not realty - it addresses an imagined future.
In order to design and build ‘the real future’. We need systems, strategies and teams of people that can respond to a constantly changing contexts. We need real technologies that can cope with unknowable outcomes. These technologies exist - this is exactly what life does - and understanding the way that living things persist and adapt to their varied contexts holds the key to positive human development.
Appreciating that the future is fundamentally unknowable - and therefore cannot be productised - raises some unique research questions that can offer strategic approaches to dealing with uncertainty.
- How do we design with emergence?
- How can we effectively engage with constantly moving targets?
- How should we design our economic infrastructures that appreciate the risk involved in this evolving scenario?
- How do we build to deal with inevitable change?
Right now we make a prediction based on certainty that in itself is extrapolated from something that his happening now. By the time we actually implement the solution to these abstractions e.g. The Thames Barrier - the interventions are already out of date.
If we really are interested in dealing with the future, we must start to address the fundamental challenges in new, systemic ways. These issues that affect the humane development of our cities are not exclusive to the construction industry and affect all of us in one way or another.
From an operational perspective, a critical factor in maintaining the status quo of human development is the short-termism that has been cultivated by the prevalent economic model, which values harvesting natural resources but refuses to attribute real value to investing in them. Whilst there is no easy fix, or overnight solution to our predicament, it is vital to engage industry-wide long-term management strategies to find productive new approaches. These conversations need to happen - NOW!
Many of us are already making a personal investment in finding ways to address the complex set of underlying conditions that are the root cause of the toxic environmental symptoms of our time.
Many of these investors in our shared future - cannot imagine what the exact ‘profits’ of their enterprise will bring, nor do many of them expect material rewards. They also appreciate that their inaction is a bigger risk to their humanity than not being able to predict their investment returns in economic terms. Yet, these investors will enjoy great riches in their lifetimes because their investment in ‘our shared future’ is based on a value system that is estranged from commerce and appreciates the value of culture, shared vision, tradition, a conversation between generations, an expanded worldview, discovery, exploration and a common goal - to leave this planet in a better condition than the way we found it. None of these qualities are valued by our current markets because each of them are priceless.
Armstrong doesn’t say post-normal, or VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) but she might have well have done so. She’s grappling with the post-normal world, where linear extrapolation of industrial era trends is laughable.
Ziauddin Sardar explained the post-normal as an age
characterised by uncertainty, rapid change, realignment of power, upheaval and chaotic behaviour. We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. A transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future. (Sardar, 2010)
And of course those that are using orthodox tools will find that they don’t work, but they’ll reject new approaches that do work, because the orthodox don’t understand them.