by Michaela Büsse
“Dreams are powerful. They are repositories of our desire. They animate the entertainment industry and drive consumption. They can blind people to reality and provide cover for political horror. But they can also inspire us to imagine things could be radically different than they are today, and then believe we can progress toward that imaginary world.”(1)
This quote by Steven Duncombe is one of my favourites. To me, it expresses what being part in Michael Schindhelm’s project Lavapolis is about. During my background research I was wondering why it is getting so difficult to imagine the future. Nowadays, concepts of the future are short-termed. They deal with the individual’s next steps in life rather than with visions that go beyond the own existence or society’s future few years ahead. The future and the present seem to melt together into a continuum of constant change disabling humankind to envision anything beyond this reality.
I had to go back in early history to come to a preliminary conclusion: Anticipating what is to come is a fundamental necessity of life. People have been concerned about the future as long as history dates back in time. Consciousness brings with it knowledge about the fact that there is a yesterday, a today and consequently a tomorrow. Having a notion of the future helps people to be able to make decisions. By trying to foresee what might be the consequences of our actions we are able to choose where to head.
When looking further back in time a great number of concepts of the future can be found. Representative for the very first approaches to exploring the future is the Oracle of Delphi, the great symbol of the ancient Greece mythology. It is approximately dated back to 800 BC. At this time, superstition was the widespread way to deal with the uncertainties of life and to discover and predict the future.
In the following centuries the vague prophecies from earlier times were replaced by utopian future schemes, which came mainly from philosophy, theology and social sciences. As opposed to the rather heteronomous future thinking, the formation of such images depended on a conscious choice between alternatives. At this point, concepts of the future and ethics got strongly entangled and they still are nowadays.
But how come utopia nowadays is something that is only happening in science fiction movies and literature and not in people’s heads anymore?
Visions of the future in the decline
According to Fred Polak there has been “a massive loss of capacity, or even will, for renewal of images of the future”(2) already forty years ago. Our time knows only a continuous present. We are moment-ridden as disenchanted. Polak directly links the rise and fall of images of the future to the rise and fall of cultures. A positive and flourishing image of the future represents a culture in “full bloom”, whilst an image of loosing vitality stands for a culture in decline. Thomas Macho confirms the decline of concepts of the future somewhat later in the 2000s. He claims utopia today appears “ridiculous”. The debate about the future is shunned; future optimism gave way to blurry future pessimism and a culture of remembrance.(3) What he suggests is that complexity and ongoing change are the obstacle to images of the future. “Future-centred idealism” seems to be eliminated by “today-centred realism”. In other words, we have lost the ability to see any further than the end of our collective nose.(4)
Under the assumption that man influences the future through the image he projects, Polak calls for a “renewed influence-optimism that can lift us out of the lethargy of our present essence-pessimism”(5). Pessimistic visions are paralyzing us, thus we have to overcome them in order to create more positive ones.
The transmedia storytelling project LAVAPOLIS
LAVAPOLIS is not just a theoretical concept but actively promotes a new future optimism. The project understands future topographically. What is present in one place on the planet might be the future of another place. Even if the future stays unpredictable some notion might already be tangible somewhere else. Contrary to the existing future pessimism Polak and Macho constituted, LAVAPOLIS aims to open up an engaging and imaginative dialogue of how the near future could look like. The project provides a platform for the establishment of a speculative Europe everybody can take part in. By raising questions about how we want Europe to be, Lavapolis enacts shaping today by envisioning tomorrow.
(1) Duncombe, S. (2007). Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy. New York: The New Press, p. 182
(2) Polak, F. (1973). The image of the future. Amsterdam : Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, p. 14
(3) Macho, T. (2011). Vorbilder. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, p. 21
(4) Polak, F. (1973). The image of the future. Amsterdam : Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, p. 195
(5) ibid. p. 21
Michaela Büsse holds a bachelor degree in communication and media management and has worked in the field of brand management, strategic consultancy and trend research. Currently, Michaela Büsse studies strategic design and trend research in the master program of the ZHdK. In her master thesis, she focuses on the interdependency of futurology and design. Michaela Büsse is a member of the FRIDAY IN VENICE team.