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The Future. And its Technology.

Design as a discipline is strongly infused by technology; interacting, challenging and coexisting alongside one another. And as history has shown, this bond only increases over time. Perhaps this is the cause of significant anxiety and questioning over the future and technology’s role. Will robots take over the world? Will we live on Mars? Travel on hover-boards?  (unfortunately, still unlikely)

L1004266-01

(Dunne & Raby 2012)

Design duo Dunne & Raby have presented far more compelling speculative futures through United Micro Kingdoms – particularly the kingdom of the Anarcho-Evolutionists. Abandoning most technologies, or at stopping development of them, Anarcho-Evolutionists concentrate of ‘science to maximise their own physical capabilities through training, DIY biohacking and self-experimentation’. (Dunne & Raby 2012) Humans modify themselves ‘to exist within the limits of the planet rather than modifying the planet to meet ever growing needs’ (Dunne & Raby 2012). Families undergo metamorphosis over generations, distinct physical make-up is associated with each clan and becomes a matter of pride.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

—Marshall McLuhan

(Culkin 1967)

When asked to envision future universities by Ali, my group collectively acknowledged the tools we utilise shape us and our design practice. Realising that our current use of technology is moulded by our fields of study – ie. fashion: sewing machine, tenaka, digital printing, etc – it unwittingly highlighted technologies determination of our behaviour, lifestyle and personality. Thus, we wanted future technologies to mould behaviours that were profitable, desiring more exposure to industry technologies and networks that university did not currently provide. We were passionate that technology did not replace face-to-face social interaction as we found networking to be a fundamental skill.

By resolving key values in regards to technology, we developed a futuring scenario based upon an economic/industry skills axis. In our Utopian quadrant – UTS developed a department store that gave students the opportunity to work in commercial industry; involvement would not be compulsory as students apply for positions. Full-time employees run the department store whilst communication students prototype marketing, design students propose products to buyers and business students worked alongside the finance team etc. Realistically, there substantial flaws that we left unresolved –  the increase of university fees, the loss of international students, the replacement of competition in friendly environments and even if this scheme produced a different, more successful kind of graduate. And yet, perhaps to my shame, we were all so captivated by the chance to integrate more technology into our degree that these flaws were seen of little consequence. Revealing the extent of which we value technological futures.

Perhaps this is why I felt so enthused when discovering Dunne & Raby’s collaboration with designer Michael Anastassiades – Do You Want to Replace the Existing Normal? (07/08). Their exploration of future technology appears frivolous but aims to address a, perhaps utopian, future where everyday needs become more complex, addressing imaginative and impractical needs and desires. (Dunne & Raby 2013) My personal favourite work Alignment, is programmed with the owners horoscope and on key astrological dates an ‘airbag is filled. An explosion of pinkness. It takes seconds, like an airbag in a car crash. Voluminous. Fantastic. A triclinic crystal: a form without 90 degree angles. Perhaps no one sees it, only the aftermath.’ (Anastassiades, Dunne & Raby 2007) It then deflates and the owner must decide what it means.

pink1

(Anastassiades 2007)

This is the kind of technology in the future that is exciting; the variety that questions design.

B I B L I O G RA P H Y

Anastassiades M 2007, Do You Want to Replace the Existing Normal, photographed by F.Ware, viewed 17 October 2014, <http://oldsite.michaelanastassiades.com/collaboration/Do+you+want+to+replace+the+existing+normal%3F/Do+you+want+to+replace+the+existing+normal%3F/83&gt;

Anastassiades M, Dunne A & Raby F 2007, Dunne & Raby: Do You Want to Replace the Existing Normal? 2007/08, Accessed 17 October 2014, <http://www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/projects/75/0&gt;

Culkin J, S 1967, ‘A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan’, Saturday Review, March 18, pp. 51-53

Dunne A & Raby F 2012, Anarcho-Evolutionists, photographed by J.Evans, viewed 17 October 2014, <http://www.unitedmicrokingdoms.org/anarcho-evolutionists/&gt;

Dunne A & Raby F 2012, United Micro Kingdoms, Accessed 17 October 2014, <http://www.unitedmicrokingdoms.org/anarcho-evolutionists/&gt;

Dunne A & Raby F 2013, ‘Design as Critique’, in Speculate Everything, Cambridge Press, pp. 33-46

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Sustainability. and Vertical Farming.

As Emily mentioned – most people want to help with environmental sustainability but do not undertake any proactive or productive actions to improve the situation. And I, to my shame, am guilty as charged when it comes to this accusation. Whilst I acknowledge earth’s resources are decreasing at a expeditious rate, I feel disassociated from the eco-system and its relation to production; it seems that every production system impacts the environment negatively and there is no easy solution. Thus, I turn a blind eye to the environmental problems we face.

I do not think I am the only one to do this. In fact it did not surprise me when Natalie Jeremijenko, environmental art activist, found that none of her students could account for who made the objects they carried everyday, or how they were made. For although we are in an age of information overload, there is also much ‘profound ignorance’. (Nelson 2011)

Jeremijenko interests me and it is not only her eccentricity that captivates my imagination. Instead, I admire her vision, her aim to repair ‘our intimate relationship with non-human organisms’ (Nelson 2011), placing faith into a future where ‘cities host healthy populations of fish, and in which tall buildings house hundreds of different edible plants.’ (Nelson 2011) Unbelievably, her vision is not longer just that but reality – vertical farms are currently being built in Sweden, Singapore, Japan, Korea and the U.S.A. And the statistics are incredible:

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(Appareil 2012)

K E Y   F A C T S

1. If we continue utilising the same agricultural methods we will need an additional land area equivalent to the size of Brazil to produce enough crops (Möller Voss 2013)

2. By 2025 two thirds of the world will be facing water shortages  – on a global scale modern agriculture uses 70% of available fresh water (Ellis 2012).

OHareGarden

    (Ohare 2011)

  V E R T I C A L   F A R M I N G

Vertical farming utilises hydroponics and aeroponics within a closed loop system, conserving up to 95% of the water used as well as ‘eliminating agricultural run-off and the negative repercussions it has on the environment and human health in general’ (Despommier 2010).

Hyrdroponics : Plants are grown with their roots in nutrient solution or a supporting medium ie. sand, gravel, perlite etc, creating a soilless environment; statistics have shown that plants grown using hydroponics grow faster, ripen earlier, provide greater nutritional value and produce up to ten times the yield than that of soil-grown plants. (Ellis 2012)

Aeroponics :  plants are grown with their roots suspended in a deep air or growth chamber whilst periodically sprayed with nutrient solution; this method operates with up to less than 70% water than hydroponic technologies (Despommier 2010)

Even more importantly, the movement of agriculture to vertical farms conserves space, increasing food production and crop output for every acre used. And by relieving the land currently used for agriculture, ecosystems can begin the gradual and natural process of repair; ecosystem regrowth increases ‘natures resilience and resistance to disturbance and pollution, increasing biodiversity and carbon sequestration to name a few’ (Despommier 2010).

Quite frankly, count me in for Vertical Farming.

 B I B L I O G R A P H Y

Appareil 2012, Agriculture 2.0, viewed 8 October 2014, <http://www.evolo.us/architecture/urban-vertical-farming-generative-system-for-a-vegetable-growing-infrastructure/&gt;

Despommier, D 2010, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the world in the 21st century, 2nd ed, Thomas Dunne Books, New York

Ellis, J 2012,  ‘Agricultural Transparency Reconnecting Urban Centres With Food Production’, PhD Thesis, Dalhousie University, School of Architecture, Halifax

Möller Voss, P 2013, ‘Vertical Farming: An agricultural revolution on the rise’, PhD Thesis, Halmstad University, Sweden

Nelson, R 2011, ‘Our Agency is Powerful: Future Foods for Humans and the Planet’, Arena Magazine, No. 114.

Ohare 2011, World’s First Airport Aeroponic Garden, Flickr viewed 8 October 2014, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/tahneelynn/8411953479/in/set-72157632550479918&gt;

Big Data: Corporations and User

One day you decide to buy a shirt online and start browsing multiple clothing websites, but before you know it Facebook starts having these clothing advertisements all over your news feed. Everyone with a Facebook would have experienced this once in there lifetime whether it is with clothing, accessories, games or technology.

This is where Big Data comes in. ‘Big Data can be characterized by 3Vs: the extreme volume of data, the wide variety of data and the velocity at which the data must be processed’ (Exelia, 2014). It isn’t simply the amount of data being generated, collected and stored but more of who and how it is being utilised, as it has become ‘a massive phenomenon that has rapidly become an obsession with entrepreneurs, scientists, governments and the media’ (Harford, 2014). It has become such an obsession due to the amount of profit and values it brings in, this can be portrayed in the studies by the McKinsey Global Institute where they conducted research on five domains—healthcare in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal-location data globally. Some of the stunning figures presented are: retailers having a potential of increasing its operating margin by more than 60 percent; healthcare sector potentially creating more than USD$300 billion (AUD$322 billion) in value every year; government administrators could save more than €100 billion (AUD$143 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone, and such figures make us realise the importance of Big Data in the economy.

With such advancements in technology, the question we are faced with is ‘what is the problem here?’ and this is where things get complicated. Privacy is the main issue with the usage of Big Data, there are many conflicting arguments on the imperfect ways corporations have utilised personal data and the ‘lack of transparency around it’ (Funnell, 2014). Of course, by having big corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter collect our data would mean users would have greater quality and faster free service, but what most users don’t understand is the billions of dollars being profited from it and exactly how they use the data. However, some will argue that this is the repayment of the constantly upgraded free services given to the users and that having them monitor means a safer and more enjoyable experience. Del Harvey, VP of Trust & Safety at Twitter, gives us an example of the type of safety given to users when using twitter. She mentions that ‘When you take a picture with your smartphone or digital camera, there’s a lot of additional information saved along in that image’ called Geodata. With Geodata, people are able to track down your exact location and so when twitter launched photos on twitter they had stripped out that data.

If we, as users, ‘assume the worst and work backwards’ (Harvey, 2014) we will start thinking more about the contents we post online, how these contents are being utilised and ways of minimizing privacy invasion because we all know that when we ‘tweet’ or ‘post’ something on the net, it is for the world to see and big corporations will not bypass such valuable data.

Reference List

Exelia 2014, 5 Facts About Big Data, weblog, Exelia Technologies, viewed 20 August 2014, < http://www.exeliatech.com/5-facts-about-big-data/>

Funnell, A. 2014, Social media, data and property rights, audio podcast, Future Tense, ABC Radio, Sydney, 16 March, viewed 14 August 2014, < http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/social-media-data-and-property-rights/5312518>

Harford, T. 2014, Big data: are we making a big mistake?, FT Magazine, Financial Times, viewed 20 August 2014, < http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/21a6e7d8-b479-11e3-a09a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3B2AdbN00>

Harvey, D. 2014, The Strangeness of Scale at Twitter, video recording, TED, viewed 19 August 2014, <http://www.ted.com/talks/del_harvey_the_strangeness_of_scale_at_twitter/transcript?language=en#t-481010>.

Manyika, J., Chui, M., Brown, B., Bughin, J., Dobbs, R., Roxburgh, C. & Byers, A. 2011, Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, McKinsey & Company, viewed 20 August 2014, < http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/big_data_the_next_frontier_for_innovation>

. Data . And the Panopticon .

Technologies once detached are now converging, using new programs and systems with user friendly features. Consequently, it is increasingly difficult to manage everyday life without interacting with forms and systems of technology, familiar and highly present. Thus we have evolved to the popular belief that ‘you don’t exist unless you appear on Google’ (Raley 2013).

Most of us remain unaware of the huge mass of data we generate through each action – data that is stored, analysed, processed, and used by corporations, companies and other interested parties. In my mind, this echoes Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ (Orwell 2004), causing concern that there are very few and very limited laws which make data surveillance activities illegal, ‘or which enable regulatory agencies, or the public to sue transgressing organisations.’ (Clarke 1994)

Issues respective to data and information technology are problematic to solve as each are surrounded by a myriad of theories, debates and dialogue. For example, Jeff Jarvis argues that technology makes it impossible to control who will have access to one’s private information. Therefore individuals and society should abandon the idea of privacy altogether – ‘communication and empathy would be strengthened as humans are better informed, share information, and help each other.’ (Jarvis 2011) However, like Orwell’s 1984, I can only envision a post-privacy society as totalitarian.

Orwell’s 1984 extends the panopticon to encompass society – it is important to note that my use of panopticon relates to Foucault’s definition rather than Bentham’s conceptualisation of the ’roundhouse’ panopticon prison. In this context, the panopticon relates to surveillance – ‘one is totally seen, without ever seeing’ (Foucault 1995). Subsequently, the panopticon is presently associated with the potential to harm, exploit, take advantage, or discriminate against individuals, ‘impos(ing) identities from an authoritative point of view’ (Hoven & Vermaas 2007).

It has evolved a long way from being hailed the ‘utopian vision machine’ (Virilio 1994).

Whilst the Panopticon has limited usefulness in ‘understanding the complexities and nuances of contemporary surveillance’ (Boyne 2000), it does serve as an interesting visual to explore the balance of modern power relations. As Foucault points out – new information technology, increasingly unobservable or unsupervisable, ‘automatizes and disindividualizes power’ (Foucault 1995). Power that is lost as citizens and given to unseen corporations – For more detail Joey addresses this loss of power over privacy specifically when dealing with large corporations in blog post ‘Big Data: Corporations and User’

It is perhaps not surprising to discover that panoptic schemes tend to produce resistance rather than discipline (Alford 2000).

 Back in the 1980’s Shoshana Zuboff conducted an interesting experiment in the workforce to analyse the effect on power relationships when workers are introduced to informating technology. The results were as follows:

– Managers finding found they could discover everything you did ‘except for what went on in your head’ (Zuboff 1984), feared an erosion of authority as computers provided workers greater access to information

– Social relationships lost power as work became wholly centred on efficiency ratings

  • Workers, fearing scrutiny by their superiors, logged into their managers account and manipulated data entry to ensure good efficiency ratings.

Which unfortunately begs the question – in present day, how much has the ‘ambiguity of reciprocal interactions and subjective quality of behavioural data’ (Zuboff 1984) been replaced by a ‘black and white’ mentality.

B I B L I O G R A P H Y

Alford, C. F. 2000, ‘What Would It Matter if Everything Foucault Said about Prisons Was Wrong?’, Theory and Society, Vol. 29, pp. 125–46.

Boyne, R. 2000, ‘Post-Panopticism’, Economy and Society, Vol. 29, is. 2, pp. 285–30

Clarke, R. 1994, ‘Dataveillance: Delivering 1984’, Green, L. & Guinery, R. (eds), Framing Technology: Society, Choice and Change, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, pp. 117 – 130

Foucault, M. 1995, Discipline and punish the birth of the prison, 2nd ed, Vintage Books, New York

Hoven, J. V. D. & Vermaas, P. E., 2007, ‘Nano-technology and privacy: on continuous surveillance outside the panopticon’, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Volume. 32, 3, pp. 283-97

Jarvis, J. 2011, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, Simon and Schuster, New York

Orwell, G. 2004, 1984, 4th ed, Penguin, UK

Raley, R. 2013, ‘Dataveillane and Countervailance’, Gitelman, L. (ed), “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron, MIT Press, Cambridge pp. 121-145

Virilio, P. 1994, The Vision Machine, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Zuboff, S. 1984, In the Age of the Smart Machine, Basic Books, Inc., New York.

Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

The final Product

What is the toaster project? The toaster project follows Thomas Thwaites exploration of his project to reverse engineer a simple cheap toaster by sourcing, mining and manufacturing the materials himself, but the journey proved to be much more problematic and complicated as first predicted.

I believe that the Toaster Project  is a unique vessel in which we can track the age of the Anthropocene (Latour, B. 2013) , where by following Thwaite’s journey of sourcing materials , mining them by hand and reconstructing them by learning how manufacture them at home highlights how we are moving towards the age of Anthropocene and that humanity as a collective have brought upon this new epoch(Latour, B. 2013).

Throughout Thwaites journey we discover how difficult something as seemingly simple as a toaster is to reconstruct, and how much of an impact these items have on the environment we inhabit. The deconstruction of the toaster revealed that there were over 157 individual parts and then within those parts contained “bits” which were calculated to have contained over 404 different parts, further more each of these bits were difficult to deconstruct as they contained different types of plastic, copper etc which Thwaites believe were over 37 different materials (Thwaites,T, 2011).

Deconstructed Toaster

Deconstructed Toaster

from this discovery thwaites (not having his whole life for this project) chose the most important and similar items from the toaster by grouping them into items that have similar materials not worrying about slight differences, and in the end chose:

  • Steel
  • Mica
  • Plastic
  • Copper
  • Nickel

Each of these materials had there challenges but I will talk about the ones I felt showed the biggest impact on the environment and were more suited to the concept of Anthropocene most within this project which are plastic and copper.

theToasterProject_630_photoCredit-NickBallon

Plastic is of course one of the ultimate symbols of mass production it can be found from toys to water bottles, but is also distinctly renowned for being almost impossible for the earth to break down and highly contaminates our environment. There are many different types of plastic but the main plastic used is called polypropylene and is explored by Thwaites in this project.

Plastic is basically made from the lightest molecules in crude oil, but this proved a problem as crude oil is difficult to get, and the process of making it into plastic is highly dangerous and explosive (Thwaites,T, 2011). Thwaites went through much trouble to create the plastic, but the final way Thwaites made plastic was really interesting, as it has a huge impact on our environment, the basic principal of this plastic was based on the concept of Anthropocene where future geologists without knowledge of our civilization would notice sharp changes in the strata of rock laid down today and be able to detect a mass extinction (human Existence) event that would cause many fossils of species to simply disappear. This would then cause the earth to be more radioactive and contain different substances such as plastic embedded in the earth (Thwaites,T, 2011).

Thwaites on that note then went to a recycling plant in Manchester called Axion Recylcing that are specialists in plastic recycling, which interestingly enough was created to try and deal with the mountain of garbage the mass production of products such as a toasters creates. Thwaites went here to mine this new age “rock” that is produced by the new epoch of Anthropocene (Thwaites,T, 2011) and then melted it down to create his final plastic toaster cover.

Creating the final plastic toaster cover.

Creating the final plastic toaster cover.

Copper was very important because It explored the way in which the mining of the substance and mining in general has in fact made the earth and or the water that runs through it toxic and contains aresnic, lead and most importantly copper. Almost all mines that have water flow through them have this acidic water (TED, 2010), and the best example of this toxic run of is the “Rio Tinto” river in Spain which is so toxic nothing but bacteria can live there. The river in Spain is the produce of over 5000 years of mining in the area by Rio Tinto.(Bordenstein, S, 2013) It’s companies like Rio Tinto that need to be more “Earthbound” and to realise that we are heading towards the age of the Anthropocene.(Latour, B. 2013)

The "Rio Tinto"

The “Rio Tinto”

By this process Thwaites visited a copper mine and to give context to the “Rio Tinto” the water that Thwaite’s collected from the old copper mine had enough copper in it to extract and use to cast his copper plugs. (TED, 2010).

Toaster on display ( put into context)

Toaster on display ( put into context)

In the end the toaster sat proudly on the shelf with the rest of the mass produced items. I think this project was really interesting and there is so much to talk about it, but i preferred to go into detail about the most important parts when referring to Anthropocene. I have learnt a lot about Anthropocene throughout this blog post and have  much better grasp of the concept.

Reference:

Bordenstein, S, 2013. Rio Tinto – Spain, Viewed 5th August 2014, <http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/riotinto/index.html&gt;

Latour, B. 2013, ‘Telling friends from foes at the time of the anthropocene,’ Lecture prepared for the
EHESS-Centre Koyré- Sciences Po symposium “Thinking the Anthropocene” Paris, 14th-15th,

TED, 2010,Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster from scratch, video recording, viewed 5th August 2014, <http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch&gt;.

Thwaites,T, 2011. The Toaster Project, or, A heroic attempt to build a simple electric appliance from scratch, New York : Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.