The IFTF Blog
Seeking Silicon Valley: Experimenting with Alternative Futures
The discussion touched familiar topics such as geographical boundaries and which places had rightful claims to be the capital of the Silicon Valley. My favorite answer came from the audience: the capital of Silicon Valley is the somewhere in transit, either on Caltrain or inching down 101. But with an anthropologist (Jan English-Lueck), an artist (Joel Slayton), and a futurist (myself) on the panel, we managed to uncover novel insights at the intersections of these domains. For me, the most important ideas centered around two themes: bridging the experiential gap, and the role of intentional experimentation built into the physical environment and embodied in culture and behavior.
Creating a bridge between the “crackpot realism of the present” and the abstract landscape of future possibility is essential to effective futures thinking and increased foresight. In my work, and in the approach we take at IFTF, this is done through the creation of performances, immersive games, artifacts from the future, and other provocations that force one from being a passive observer of the future, into an active participant in making the future. This idea of participant-observation is also core to the practice of anthropology, and Jan English-Lueck highlighted the role of “being here” in Silicon Valley, and continuing to cultivate a culture of inclusion for those who want to be here, in order to secure a robust and successful future for the region. It is about creating an open platform for people of all backgrounds and talent to contribute. Joel Slayton, as an artist and curator, pointed out the role that the arts play in creating a mind-shift for those who engage with the art. In many cases, it is about making the everyday seem strange, and making us see the world from a different pair of eyes. Technologies are also critical in shifting our sensorium and opening new vistas toward the future, and the marriage of art and technology is a natural outcome of these forces and desires.
…which leads back to that profound human desire to push forward into uncharted territories, either culturally, cognitively, or chronologically. A “safe” place for experimentation is necessary for an individual, culture, or geographic region to move the dial of human destiny. Silicon Valley has given itself the freedom and taken the initiative to make the future, to make many alternative futures. We highlighted four of these alternative futures in our Biennial Map, and the organizers of the Zero1 Biennial, and at their home at the Zero1 Garage, have opened and sustained a dedicated place for experimentation. I have no doubt that many alternative and preferred visions for the Silicon Valley and beyond will be born and nurtured there. Maybe even yours?