It’s apparent that I often think inordinately about the past while navigating change, even if it involves a kind of “meta-nostalgia” (as above: when nostalgia doesn’t seem possible, I feel “nostalgic” about “feeling nostalgic”). As I’ve said earlier
I often look to the past when I think about the very idea of the future, not just so we can avoid repeating “the mistakes of history” (as important as that might be), but because as designers trying to make the world a better place, we really should honour the creative friction that happens when the weird fragments of the past we continue to live with rub against the potentials of the present moment. (For a future-oriented person, I do an amusing amount of hoarding! In my view, forgetting to deal with legacy systems, even if “dealing with them” involves actively destroying them, is tantamount to vapourware dreaming.)
But I’m also realising that to hover in the futurepast in the way I do means more than just coming to grips with the past, with all its traumas and potentials. I suspect that my own retrofuturistic tendencies are an instinctive way to express the bind we find ourselves in as makers of newness (designers, strategists, “change-makers”) under late capitalism: so much of our work these days seems to involve making organisations more adaptable, resilient, nimble and innovative, but how this might also be a friendly form of neoliberal shock therapy? How much is the agility of the contemporary design-led organisation a way to produce subjects who compliantly flex with the ever-shifting sands of the market?
I love to tell people about my work facilitating cultures of design possibility in organisations. After a productive co-design session, a client team-member will express joy about the concepts they’re helping to flesh out.
“You realise, don’t you,” I say, “that you’ve nominated yourself as a key part of the leadership for this project, right?”
The resulting look of terror on their face — the one that says, “B-BUT THAT’S NOT IN MY 12-MONTH WORK PLAN!” — is one that I always relished. And so I drag them kicking and screaming into the future. While I’m not about to defend calcified organisational cultures of bureaucratic planning, I’m now a bit more equivocal; I can see some continuity between my own gleefulness and the forces that are casualising workforces around the planet.
Perhaps my hovering, with my face turned to the past as I explore futurity (and like Lot’s wife as she looks back at Sodom even as she flees), is an admission that security and belonging are worth something in these times. So as we experience the churn of obsolescence and innovation, let’s keep our wits, sympathies and sense of revolt about us.
A sustainable portion of all my love,