New Profiles of the Future: The Extended Pause
While the Clarke Center conducts research on how imagination operates in the brain, we have always been as deeply invested in the value of cultural imagination as a tool through which we create visions of better futures together.
During this unprecedented time, we want to encourage some collective imagining, inspired by our namesake, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, and to do that we need YOU.
In his seminal book Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, Clarke presented a grounded but optimistic series of speculations on where technology and culture were taking the human species. It was a roadmap for countless scholars, innovators, and scientists over the last half-century. Many of its predictions hold up remarkably well. Take a look at the chart from the back of the original edition:
We want YOU to help describe the next hundred years of humanity as YOU see it.
The Great Pause and the Extended Pause
As many have noted, in this moment of “the Great Pause” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to reflect upon what miss from “normal” life from a couple months ago and what what supposedly unchangeable things can in fact change; what we’ve come to depend upon in our social systems and technologies, and what could be made stronger, more resilient, more deeply empathetic and more truly equitable.
It will be too easy to forget these lessons in time, so we’re inviting you to be a part of what we’re called the Extended Pause. Each week, we’ll send a prompt on a certain theme. We’re inviting you to send in your responses to be a part of a collective repository and a valuable piece of collective memory.
This first week, we’ll start simple. Let’s look at food.
What is something in your relationship to food that has shifted in the last month? It could be about the sudden ubiquity of sourdough starters and homemade breads. Or the weaknesses in our food supply chain, and the risks grocery workers and food plant workers have had to face to ensure we can get what we need at the store.
What’s something about food that you want to remember, after the epidemic has passed?
Or, imagining yourself in the year 2030, what lesson(s) about food do you hope we’ll have taken to heart?
For this week, our topic is communication.
Most of us are finding ourselves isolated in ways we aren't used to. What have you noticed about your old ways of communicating, and how you've had to adjust?
Think about our technologies of communication. Some people are writing more letters, as a "slow" way to stay in touch (and to support the struggling US Postal System, for example). Some enjoy a Google Hangouts trivia night, while other are experiencing Zoom fatigue from too much virtual meeting, teaching, and learning.
But think about how communication is meaningful to you, too. Are there gestures you miss — the casual wave between neighbors, the friendly smile of a cashier now hidden behind a mask, etc. These can seem small, but to take just one example, masks create a new barrier to communication for those with hearing impairments who rely on lip-reading.
How are you being made more aware of what you value in communication — and other people's needs for communication — during this time?
In 2030, how do you think our systems and methods of communication with have changed, and how will our felt experience of it be different than today? Take that idea and imagine a slightly more dystopian one. Then imagine a slightly more utopian one. What actions today, tomorrow, and over the next ten years led to a better outcome?
We want to encourage a different kind of reflection this week. We want you to think about something that three months ago you would have said was impossible, and now—because of the realities imposed by COVID-19—is possible, or is maybe already on its way to seeming mundane.
It could be something small. Are you doing what you would have thought was an impossible amount of baking with your sourdough starter? Or an impossible number of dishes?
Working from home, even a day a week, was rare for many workers because most employers didn't think it would work—and now most are doing it. Telemedicine was something out of science fiction a couple decades ago, but most non-life-threatening appointments are being handled through video consultations now.
Is there something newly possible in your industry or your community? Do you see your friends or children's sense of the possible shifting in surprising ways? Has your sense of our ability (or inability) to take collective action changed how you think about other problems we face and opportunities we have?
Imagine you're in the year 2030. Looking back, how did this time shape our cultural imagination? What did we become more afraid of, but where did we grow bolder and more resilient?
This week we encourage you to think about intimacy.
How has your understanding of intimacy changed during this time? What intimacies to you miss, and what new ones have you discovered?
Some are finding masks making casual intimacies in public encounters harder to come by — while others are finding that expressions in the eyes are intimate in a different way, when you don't have the mouth or most of the face visible for expressions.
How have the intimacies in your home changed because of the limits on how and when you can leave it, and how you engage with broader society?
Where do you find your intimacy in telecommunications? Is a videochat more intimate for you? Or are you finding it purely via the ear on a telephone call — or further still by returning to the art of letter-writing?
If intimacy is the basis of community, how has you sense of community shifted because of all this? And if fear is an impediment to intimacy, how have coronavirus-related fears limited, shifted, or expanded your sense of community?
Step out of today and imagine your community (however you define it) in the year 2030. What's different as a result of our experience today?
This week we encourage you to think about space.
What does personal space mean now? The value of a room of one's own? The freedom from someone encroaching on your personal space in public, or the news your mental space at home?
How much space does one person need? One kinds of spaces have our communities depended upon to come together, and how might these spaces be changed in the months and years to come?
And as we look to the possible launch of a manned Space X rocket today, how do these new thoughts about space reflect your sense of our place in the cosmos and the prospect of more human beings living and working in that space, first on the International Space Station but perhaps soon enough on the Moon or Mars? What can we learn from astronauts who must work together in small spaces, during long periods of isolation?
Step out of today. Imagine the our global community in the year 2030, and where we collectively have reached in exploring space. What looks different in your home, and in your thinking about the spaces you navigate daily?
This week we want to encourage you to reflect upon Black futures.
Take a moment to contemplate how you imagine your future and the futures of your loved ones. Where and how do people of color appear in those futures? Consider how your imagination, including how you imagine the future, perpetuates or challenges the status quo of the racial imaginary.
To think only of this pandemic, contemplate why the consequences of Covid-19 are affecting people of color at higher rates, both in the US and in the UK.
Then seek out stories (books, stories, films, TV shows) this week by Black creatives. Reflect on how they imagine possibilities for Black futures, whether it's the Afrofuturism of Black Panther or the African magic of Tomi Adeyemi's Legacy of Orïsha series.
Take this opportunity to learn about the history of Black science fiction, from Martin R. Delany (in 1859!) to Samuel R. Delaney, from Lorraine Hansberry to Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, and more. Author Nisi Shawl has a great overview here. And while you're looking at these, considering ordering a few from a Black-owned bookstore.
Imagine how improved racial equity could feel in the year 2030. What needs to happen today, tomorrow, and in the next year to move us toward that future?
Then write it down, record an audio clip or short video, create a comic, or paint a picture, and send it to us through this submission form. We’ll be gathering these and sharing them as an act of collective memory and collective futurism, as part of our New Profiles of the Future project.
Please invite your friends and families to participate (all ages!), key an eye out for next week’s email, and remember to let your imagination dream big, in the spirit of Clarke’s second law:
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."