Forms of Todays Futures

Forms of Today’s Futures is a program series that I organized in 2013 with Netwerk Democratie, Veenfabriek and Waag Society. In this series we explored the power structures of our current information society.

The Forms of Todays Futures program was organized around three optimistic democratic ideals often projected onto information technologies.

  • Decentralize!

It is a widely held ideal that the internet, as a decentralized network, enables a society in which power is distributed in a decentralized way. Yet, to what extent is this the case? To what extent has our ‘network society’ really replaced ‘old’ hierarchies? Are we at all able to discuss this if we do not fully understand the technologies and political institutions of today?

  • Participate!

This program focuses on the ideal of a future society that is actively shaped by all citizens in an equal way. Notions such as ‘active citizenship’ and the emergence of ‘Fablabs’, ‘hackerspaces’ and other ‘Do It Yourself’ initiatives point to such a future. Yet, the reality of economic crises, international conflicts, the growing complexity of technology and the increasing gap between computer literates and illiterates point to quite a different future. How do advocates of a participatory future society relate to this other future scenario?

  • Inform!

This program focuses on two main contradictions implicit in the notion that we live in an ‘information’ society:

Information as Resource
For governments, corporations and futurists, the future of our information society is an immaterial one: industrial labor changes into ‘creative work’, office desks make place for flexible work places, and food does not need to come from the land but can be synthesized from molecules.  Yet, of course, the resources for our ICT’s come from mines and are put together in factories by people who can’t easily participate in the so-called ‘creative industry’. How does the cybernetic ideal of dematerialization relate to this material reality?

Information as Knowledge
The information society, according to many, is a smart society: through ‘citizen science’ projects, wikipedia and online education, citizens gain more and more access to the means and insights of science and journalism. This development is paired with the fact that no-one can legitimately claim to own the truth, that it becomes increasingly difficult to check the reliance of information and it gets harder to transform all the available information into ‘knowledge’. How does the dream of the smart ‘citizen scientist’ relate to this nightmare of the citizen plagued by permanent confusion and information overload?

These questions were studied during the “NETworkshop week“, that took place from March 25 until March 29 2013. See the reflections on this week here.