SciFly NYC // 109 // 2020 R3s0lut10ns
Weekly Events 1/13 - 1/19
Hey SciFly Readers!
As promised last week, it's time for my annual r3s0lut10ns post!!!
Every year, around this time, I share my New Year's resolutions specifically related to speculative design, fiction, art, and emerging technology... aka my r3s0lut10ns.😄
Now that a year has passed, it's time to again reflect on what I said I'd do last year, what other random speculative things I ended up doing, and my goals for 2020.
Part 1 | How I did on my 2019 R3s0lut10ns
R3s0lut10n 1 // PRIMER19
As many of you may know, I helped co-organize the annual Speculative Futures conference, PRIMER19 in New York City last June.
My goal for last year, when just starting to get involved, was to help make PRIMER19 absolutely fantastic, with world-class speakers, transformative workshops, and a chance for people from around the world to network and discuss how they are working on building futures for all.
I think I knocked this resolution out of the park! PRIMER19 was incredible, amazing, fun, and inspiring. I met so many cool practitioners and speakers, networked with fellow Speculative Futures members, and had the life-changing opportunity to Emcee the event in conjunction with my co-organizer, Jack Wilkinson.
If you haven't had a chance to check out PRIMER19 content, all of the videos are available here!!!
R3s0lut10n 2 // Speculative Futures NYC
In 2018, I joined Jack Wilkinson in co-organizing the NYC Chapter of Speculative Futures. My goal for 2019 was to plan out some new types of content and workshops, create opportunities for members to work more closely with one another, bring in more great speakers, and start building an even stronger New York community presence.
I think I did a good job on this resolution at the beginning, but PRIMER burned me out a bit so I didn't follow-up as strong as I would have liked in the Fall.
Jack and I hosted some wonderful events leading up to PRIMER in June including:
In the Fall we also had a cool opportunity to Playtest Spoke, a science fiction storytelling game with its creator, Evan who was visiting NYC for a short time.
R3s0lut10n 3 // Learn to Relax & Make Sick Beats on my Roland MC505
Last year, I got a really cool present from a friend at work, a Roland MC505 Groovebox and vowed to master it (to a degree).
This certainly did not happen. I am not a master DJ, and only have slightly more of a clue how to play with the device than I did last year. BUT, my amazing friend Andrew Cotter did help me to get it hooked up to SonicPi and some basic mapping going on between the two. I really enjoyed working with him to learn how the Midi signals are interpreted by the computer and what type of code it takes to hook the Roland up to Sonic Pi for further experimentation.
In this case, I'll mark my lack of progress down to, 'you can't do everything, no matter how cool it seems!'. There are so many topics I'm interested in, and it was super fun to take a dive into the electronic music scene, history, and hardware. I absolutely want to stay connected to live-coding and Algoraves in the future. At the very least, what I have learned has absolutely inspired me to think about the changing relationship between music, data, people, and performance, and better speculate about what the future of music might look like!
Thanks for listening & read on to see this week's great collection of speculative events!!!
R3s0lut10n 4 // SciFly Book Club
For the last couple of years, I have sworn I will get the SciFly book club off the ground. In 2019, I kind of started, and then dropped the ball hard. I totally acknowledge that. This Fall I tried to organize some people around reading Infomocracy together over one month and even met the author Malka Older who said she'd be interested in facilitating a discussion when we were done/answer questions.
After getting it started, I 100% got super busy with work travel, retreats for the DFI, and hosting some international guests for the holidays, so I just spaced on this one hard. I feel really bad about it, to be honest, and as a result even kind of hid from Scifi books this fall (also because I got a PS4 and have been playing my Scifi instead of reading it).
I do want to try to get it back up and running, but I also realize the challenge of trying to do coordinate an international discussion with time-zones and things like that. I'm going to think about the best way to proceed with this one and try to extend myself a little bit of grace around falling short of my goal last year, given how many random things I somehow started working on.
R3s0lut10n 5 // Write More
Last year I vowed to write more about speculative practice, speculative fiction, and the ideas and signals I came across when reading science fiction and observing the world around me.
I absolutely think that I nailed this goal as well. 2019 was one of my busiest years for a variety of reasons, but one thing I feel like I was finally able to do was to start to get myself out there better as an advocate for and facilitator of speculative practice.
I'm not saying I'm an expert on speculation, nor that I am some guru who can predict the future. What I am saying is that I'm really proud of pushing myself to write articles, do interviews/talks, seek new connections and conversations, and even start to work on the application of some of my past speculative work in unexpected ways (see the wins section below).
Part 2 | Random 2019 Accomplishments
Again, I didn't accomplish all of my 2019 r3s0lut10ns, but last year I think I set myself more reasonable goals that I was able to at least work on in some way.
Also like last year, I did end up finding and getting involved with unexpected new opportunities and projects related to speculation that ended up being really positive and worthwhile.
Win 1 // Finally Published some Speculative Articles, Interviews!
Interview Project | When Speculation Meets Social Impact
I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with my fellow speculative practitioner, Alisha Bhagat as part of the Plurality University's 'Interview Project' where I chatted with Alisha about my interest in where speculation meets social impact.
You can listen to the interview (and many other amazing topics) on the Interview Project website.
In the next month or so I will also be interviewing another great speculative practitioner, so stay tuned!!!
Stay Speculative Article - Protego Press
I finally pushed myself to write something concrete talking about why I think speculative practice is so important. This was long-coming and helped me to refine some of my half-baked ideas about mental-flexibility, the speculative diet, and how those foster a sense of agency for people living and acting today.
You can read my article here.
What Makes a Great Question Interview
Very early in the year, I did a private interview with a company in NYC that wanted to understand the importance of asking the right questions for a design and futures studies. I detailed why I thought 'design questions' and 'speculative questions' were different and talked about in what situation each was most useful.
You can check out a blog-post/write-up of the interview I did on my website.
Win 2 // Invited to Participate in the Internet of Production Alliance re Unum Thesis Project
There aren't many projects that come completely out of leftfield, but this one did. In the past, I did some research with my partner Audrey Fox around ideas for blockchain-supported distributed manufacturing, which ended up becoming my thesis project. As part of this project, I wrote a white-paper looking at how blockchain could transform IP and manufacturing in the future and posted it on Researchgate along with a couple of other papers I had written in grad school. Imagine my surprise when I get an email inviting me to come to Warsaw Poland to meet with others who are also interested in imagining and building the future 'Internet of Production' and wanted me to join in their work.
This was probably one of the best surprises and most gratifying things that has ever happened to me. My interest in blockchain for IP and digital fabrication was rooted in a speculative short-story, 'What's your contribution, a love story" I wrote in 2015, an accidental long-form piece that started as a quick design-fiction and scenario-building exercise. It helped me to frame the idea I kept having about new systems for royalties and attribution when many things created in the future will be a physical instantiation of a digital idea. To find a way to formalize that idea into a project and paper was amazing in its own right, and really drove my emerging interest in the intersection of speculative practice and social impact.
But the fact that other people found the work I had shared, engaged with it, and wanted to collaborate to see it through, each with their own unique vision and idea for the same challenge was life-changing. It proved to me that this work is important, even if it is just inspiring others to think in new ways, and helping connect, and connect with other people who want to see the same change created in the world, a shared future if you will.
I'm still working with the team to get started on creating our theory of change and roadmap for understanding the impact we want to create. I'm also hoping to try out some of the speculative and strategic foresight tools I am learning about through free online classes and research in order to help us be a stronger and future-aware team from the beginning.
Win 3 // Emceeing at PRIMER19
Part of helping to organize PRIMER was sharing the emcee responsibilities for the 2-day conference with Jack. It was such an honor to get to meet all of our wonderful speakers, run the Green Room, and get to ask questions from some of the most talented speculative practitioners there are!
I love public speaking, so having the opportunity to emcee (despite my severe lack of sleep) was game-changing. I would do it every day if I could!
It also gave me a chance to write-up a little introduction about why speculative practice is so important for myself, and (why I think it is important) for others.
Check it out, and here are some fun photos of me emceeing the event!
My PRIMER19 Day 2 Intro
The future feels uncertain, now more than ever.
As a species, we face looming and unprecedented challenges at the individual level, we are living through an ‘accelerando’ of technological innovation, a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new tools, ideas, capabilities, and identities that push the boundary of what we have thought was fixed, eternal, possible, real.
How do we cope with this?
A great science fiction author, Kim Stanley Robinson, once explained to my class in grad school that reading scifi was like donning a pair of 3D glasses. One lens was prophecy, prediction; the writer’s ability to make sense of new science and technological innovations and envision how they might shape possible future scenarios. The other lens is metaphor. Writers are grounded in the here and now, attuned to the social, economic, and political narratives of the world around them. Fundamentally, they can only ever write from their experience of today. When focused well, these lenses snap together and create a vision of the future rooted in deep-time. A feeling of continuity, that what is happening today could lead to the future being described. A sense of empathy with the characters who live in that future and the ability to relate to the heart of the situations they face, even if the products, services, systems, and societies they interact with are drastically different.
And if good speculative fiction is a pair of 3D glasses, then good speculative design is a 3D printed prototype, taking that vision and actually figuring out how to make it (or an approximation of it) so it can be handled, tested, debated, demoed and critiqued until it is ready for alpha distribution.
Each of you comes from a unique perspective and practice, bringing your individual passions to help speculate uncertain futures. Each of you has something to bring to the table, the power to help tell stories that empower people to envision the future and work together to make it real. Futures for all.
So as we continue PRIMER, I encourage you to stay speculative, to work together and bring your unique perspective to the table, to remix the output of your collective imaginations into something tangible. Use what we have today to create spaces that empower others to join us in debating what we want for tomorrow.
The future is already here — now let’s distribute it.
Win 4 // Queer Speculative Fiction Presentation
'This year I got really involved in the LGBTQ+ resource group at Teach For America. As part of our regular remote-calls, they asked for members of the group to do a talk/presentation/workshop on something they are passionate about. As is painfully obvious (from 50% of the things I talk about to the title of this newsletter) I am an avid fan of speculative and science fiction.
So I decided that I would do some research and put together a presentation on why Speculative Fiction is so important for the queer community and did a tour of different authors, books, movies, and media over the last century. It was an eye-opening project that (as it often does) left me with more questions and research avenues than it did answers.
Either way, I had an awesome time doing the workshop with my colleagues and would love to find other venues to share the work.
You can check out my past SciFly post about the presentation or see the presentation deck and separate audio for presentation here (couldn't post the actual video for privacy reasons, I did it on Zoom and has the pictures of my colleagues in it)
Win 5 // Speculating a Post-Gender Future Presentation & Workshop in New Orleans
My final win for the year was proposing, designing, and presenting a workshop on gender in design, and how we might reconsider Universal Design frameworks (especially in education) to include multi-cultural, gender & sexuality-based identities.
If I haven't mentioned that working at Teach For America is awesome before, it's awesome! We held a series of LGBTQ+ education summits around the country this year, and when I found out, I knew I wanted to be involved. The conference taking place in New Orleans specifically focused on non-binary and gender-queer issues, so I worked with the conference organizers to submit a presentation about the intersection of design/gender.
At first, I had no idea what I would talk about outside of using a Universal Design framework to speak with people about gender issues, but as always, when researching and putting together the presentation I learned a ton of amazing things and was super inspired to keep digging into the topic.
Here is a link to the presentation materials and the research I did leading up to the workshop.
Feedback from attendees was amazing. At least 2 people said I broke their brain 😂, and several others said they never really considered the myriad ways that gender is imbued in the design of our everyday lives. So a win all around!
Part 3 | 2020 R3s0lut10ns
Now, let's look to the future.
R3s0lut10n 1 // Deepen my knowledge of 'formal futures & strategic foresight practices
We all have imposter syndrome, and when it comes to speculative futures, my imposter syndrome is rooted in a perceived 'informality' in my futures learning. While I have deeply studied speculative design, critical design, and related practices at one time or another, I have never had the opportunity to learn many of the classic futures/foresight tools in a more 'professional iteration'. If I want to be able to share the value of speculative practice in more organizational settings, and with those who aren't from a 'speculative' background, I think I'll have an easier time learning some tools, methods, and frameworks that resonate with a more professional audience.
This isn't to say that I don't think the creative, design-oriented, and/or arts approach to which I was introduced to speculation is invalid. If anything, I've noticed while taking a couple of 'futures thinking' classes so far that it seems I have been doing many of the things, and naturally adopting many of the mindsets that they so carefully outline in 3-5 steps. For example, immediately finding signals in everything I read from science fiction to CNN, or questioning what the deeper forces ('tides') behind the surface level indicators ('waves') might mean.
However, if I want to engage more people in futures practice, especially at work and as part of some social impact projects I'm working on, I think having this vocabulary and toolkit will be helpful and building consensus and getting more people on board.
To this end, I just enrolled in the Institute for the Future (IFTF) Coursera specialization/class: Ready, Set, Future! Introduction to Futures Thinking!
I'm also planning on applying to/taking The Future School's 3-Day Applied Foresight Accelerator, which my two favorite people, Frank and Yvette will be bringing to NYC this April. (if you are interested, registration is still open!!!)
R3s0lut10n 2 // Leverage a futures mindset to help with our 10-year strategy at TFA
For the last year, I've had the honor of being on a staff working group that get's to help senior leaders create a plan for our next 10 years at TFA. I have had so much fun meeting people from across the organization, deeply listening to their concerns and hopes, and helping to explain design-thinking related social impact frameworks (e.g. Lean Impact) to fellow colleagues. I've had a few opportunities so far to bring in some futures-thinking and speculative design practices and prompts so far and it has been a lot of fun.
In June I helped to lead an emerging technology Design Jam for our IT department. The feedback I got from staff was that it was the first time they got to step out of their day-to-day jobs and get a bit silly, creative, and work together to build collective imaginations around what technology we might use in the future do drive stronger impact. This to me is the power of speculative practice, especially for my friends, peers, and colleagues whose jobs are less predicated on day-to-day creativity and imagination beyond certain fixed-job boundaries.
Later in the year, I was able to put together some speculative prompts to help us focus on what our mission, 'one day' might feel like for an everyday person in the future, to help build context about what type of future would have to exist if our mission were to come true. While I didn't get a lot of participation, I got some great responses from others who said they wished they had more time to answer, and a bit more guidance (I just posted it on Slack).
As I work on my first r3s0lut10n, to learn more formal tools/practices, I hope to share what I am learning with others at my job and to potentially use some of them to inspire the new working group I have joined about diverse stakeholder engagement.
R3s0lut10n 3 // Step up the Design Futures Initiative communications game
My role on the Design Futures Initiative board is around marketing and communication, specifically the more 'writing' and 'systems management' side of that (meaning that I don't work on graphic design or brand assets in that way). I have been hard at work doing an audit of all of our digital properties, tools, platforms, and paid services to figure out how we can streamline and simplify our communications, and to come up with some processes to spread the work better among the board given their expertise.
In addition, I really want to partner with the other board members on cross-meetup initiatives: lifting up member meetups and sharing with the community, launching a Medium where we solicit work, articles, and thought-pieces from our network, a shared 'signals' board that we can all draw from for inspiration, a 2020 Futures For All T-Shirt contest, etc. etc.
The global Speculative Futures community has been one of the most powerful networks I have ever belonged to, and I'm so excited to be connected with brilliant, talented individuals from around the world. There is power in this network, and I'm committed to helping grow that power and collaborate with others to think about how we can scale our impact and share that power more widely with all sorts of people and communities.
In the same vein, I want to think about how the NYC chapter of the Speculative Futures Meetup can come up with new content, workshop/connection formats, and collaborations with other chapters that bring more value for our members!
R3s0lut10n 4 // Learn about the future by better understanding how we got to today
Last year I made a massive list of all the books I want to read which somehow topped out at over 200 fiction and non-fiction books I had collected in random bookstore wanders, article saves, and recommendations from friends. As you can imagine, I really didn't make a huge dent in it, despite all the wonderful books I read in 2019.
So for this year, I want to give myself better focus and pick one thread that keeps coming up for me over and over, this idea of the evolution of design, design thinking, speculative design over the last 100 years.
I feel that there must be a larger social phenomena at play that I have only been able to glimpse the edges of through sound-bites I hear over and over again: the world is changing more rapidly than ever, people are freaking out and as a result don't have the agency to define personal and organizational futures for themselves, their organizations, and their communities, design is somehow a collection of methodologies that can cut-through this chaos, given the unique nature of 'design thinking' for dealing with complexity and 'wicked problems' etc. etc. etc.
So this year, I am on a quest to learn about the history, philosophy, and other roots of futurism, design-thinking, systems-thinking, etc. I feel like everyone keeps citing some variation on ideas that come out of these areas as 21st-century mindsets and skillsets that will be essential to be successful in the future. My question is, why? Where did this all start?
I already have done a little bit of digging and found some old books that describe the roots of design-thinking without ever having called it that. I also have a couple of seminal 'futures' books that I have never had the time to read properly. Also, regarding my 3rd r3s0lut10n, I want to follow up on a couple of books around the idea of networks, collective imagination, and building stronger decentralized 'organizations' of people to get things done.
Below is my "short" reading list so far, the ones in bold are the ones I want to prioritize first and make sure I read this year. Please let me know if you have any recommendations for things to add, prioritize!!!
Futures Thinking, Futurism & Related
Design & Systems Thinking
Ethics/Philosophy/Politics/Art/Critical Theory etc.
R3s0lut10n 5 // Find a better balance between work / passion projects / life
I have a tendency to take on too much. My relaxation is passion-projects (and lately Skyrim), I fill my hours commuting and running errands with design podcasts, audio-books, and catching up with the painstakingly curated Feedly list of my favorite digital content.
As much as I love the hustle, the opportunity to keep learning, and the constant influx, remix, and analysis of several disparate types of information (the Gemini in me), I realize that it can cause me to unfairly prioritize things over my personal life, especially in terms of my friends and loved ones.
This year I am going to try really really hard to think about all of the things on my plate: my job, DFI, the Internet of Production, Speculative Futures NYC, SciFly, writing opportunities, teaching opportunities, extra-curricular work things, and better prioritize and balance my commitments, especially those that are unpaid.
It is my sincere belief that I should put myself out there, often for free, and share my ideas and realizations with others, help people using my innate skill for public speaking, and storytelling. If I could pull it off, my ideal career would be that of Manfred MacX from Accelerando, a consultant who helps everyone for free, and ends up getting all the things he needs for free (through a complex AI/favor/gift economy system) as a result.
The reality is that this isn't the world today, and there are so many hours in a day.
While organizing PRIMER19 was probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, it was a huge time commitment, and led to a hardcore burn-out this summer in terms of my other passions and commitments.
For 2020, I am going to make a plan of action to more reasonably identify what I can get done, for whom, in a given week, and seek to hold myself accountable to those boundaries.
I also want to look for more paid speaking, education, and consultation activities in foresight, futures, speculative practice, and design. As much as I love my day-job, working for a non-profit isn't exactly highly lucrative, and I want to find some ways to make side-income that can help me with saving goals like buying property and affording a nice wedding in the near future. Also, 2019 was the year I did more travel than I ever have in my entire life, and it was awesome. I want to keep finding opportunities for work-in-kind / work-for-free-travel so that I can explore, seek out new places and perspectives, and connect with other speculative practitioners around the world.
Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm going to quit writing SciFly! Although, I have been playing around with the idea of reducing the publication schedule to biweekly in order to give myself some breathing room, but also to give myself time to write more interesting reflective introductions, and to provide some more lead-up for events (some of which are closed for RSVP or full by the time I finally post them the week before). Not going to change anything quite yet, but I will absolutely let you know way ahead of time before I do!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed another year of my R3s0lut10ns post!
It is always a pleasure to share my journey with you, and I am so grateful for all of the wonderful feedback, perspectives, and connections I have made over the last 2 years since I first started publishing SciFly.
Hope this provided some inspiration and I'm happy to share resources that helped me in 2019 or receive any resources you think would help me in my endeavors.
Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk more!
So, now that you have seen my list, what are your #2020r3s0lut10ns???
I'll try to be a good digital/millennial/person/thing and put mine out on Twitter in the next couple of days, so feel free to tweet me yours to @danarosemartens!
Thanks again for listening and keep reading for great speculative events!
"The future is here, now let's distribute it."
SciFly is a design studio dedicated to leveraging speculative design and science fiction to imagine and prototype alternative futures enabled by today's emerging technology.