The concepts people build around such provocations are usually passing exercises in extrapolation, but to teach us critical foresight, Tina got us to take our ideas a little more seriously, running them through a matrix of potential economic, technological, social and ecological consequences. Things got unnerving.
After my experience with the time-travelling children, I wasn’t surprised that most of us created dystopian scenarios. One group created a food-based social credit system within the last outpost of human civilisation — a space station in orbit above a dead world. While those displaying “optimal” behaviour could eat well, those relegated to the bottom of the system could only eat “Hungry Bread”, which left you feeling more hungry. The perversity generated much, uh, food for discussion.
To relieve human pressure on a future Earth, my team created an authoritarian eugenics program for interstellar colonisation. Those deemed genetically fittest for colonial adventures would be endlessly cloned to form the future interstellar population. Like the Hungry Bread, it was obviously perverse, but more disturbing was that one outspoken designer on our team actually relished the hyper-instrumentalism of this scenario. In the name of human survival, extreme measures could somehow be justified.
Beyond the obvious point that eugenics runs counter to a just society, I suggested that it also disregarded the distinct possibility that societies require diversity and its attendant challenges of cosmopolitanism in order to actually function. Without an ethic of inclusion, a society of Alphas might easily self-destruct in an orgy of atomised cocksureness. He snorted in reply.
“Inclusive design is bullshit,” he bellowed, “because design is exclusive, by its very definition! Tailoring our products to exactly fit the needs of an ideal customer is design excellence.” In his vehemence, his face began to flush. “Allowing rubbish common denominators to dilute excellence isn’t just bad design, it isn’t design.”
I’ll consider the possibility that this guy was trying to get a rise out of me, but remember when I recently expressed my misgivings
about how contemporary design’s largely uncritical enthusiasm for highly tailored experiences might align too neatly with the way capitalism feeds social divisions? This guy was a living embodiment of everything I see going wrong with my profession.
And yet he was factually correct, in a manner of speaking: in its ultimate distillation, design seeks to optimally shape the world to specific ends, and taken to its logical conclusion, we might end up with our nightmarish Things From the Future.
By throwing spanners into its heart, I want to dedicate my efforts to prevent this future design apocalypse.
This edition was brought to you by Go Home Productions’ classic Sex Pistols/Madonna, mashup, “Ray of Gob”. Watch and listen here.
A sustainable portion of all my love,