The curation of plenty

In a recent podcast interview (I think) between Douglas Rushkoff and Cory Doctorow (though it could have been one of at least three that launched his book with Rebecca Giblin (Chokepoint Capitalism)), Cory mentioned how he uses his blog (Pluralistic) as a way of organising ideas that he encounters in researching his books and other writings. It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on the designphile blog, but I will be attempting to do the same.

Over the past few months and weeks I’ve been reading a lot and listening to a swathe of podcasts all centred on futuring, activism, climate, tech and, of course, design. From now on, I promise (myself and you the reader) to try and make brief sense of what I’ve been listening to or reading. There’s a lot to cover, but here is a brief sketch (not in chronological order).

  1. “Electric Vehicles” Reality Roundtable with Nate Hagens, Arthur Berman, Simon Michaux and Pedro Prierto from The Great Simplification with Nate Hagens podcast series.
    I came away from this podcast wondering what future might lay ahead of us now, given that the upshot of the discussion amongst some of the world’s insightful experts on energy, resources and economics seems to be that the so-called energy transition on the back of EVs is a carbon-costly and (potentially) futile exercise. Berman highlights that recreational vehicle use contributes approximately 8% of global emissions. Prierto reminds us that the carbon cost of producing EVs (with all resources—plastic, critical minerals and more) is something in the region of 2.5 x a fossil-fuel vehicle. Michaux tells us that the EU plans for EVs by 2030 (and the phase-out of fossil-fuel vehicles) is simply unattainable; that material costs of producing cars for the EU goes beyond what the earth will be able to provide. All of them highlight the distraction of recreational EVs as an answer to climate change and energy crisis, suggesting that it is international shipping, public transportation, land freight and farming that should be tackled before EVs given the carbon cost of those activities. We’re reminded again that a less growth path is perhaps our only hope, but even this is met with scepticism: the EU drive for post-growth? That makes you unelectable (and I’m reminded here of the Overton Window); circular economy? Laughed off by the panelists—we simply don’t have the infrastructure now or in the near future to make this do-able.

    The podcast recording is also available as a YouTube video which, given the stats provided by the speakers, is well worth watching. I’ll be revisiting the data on display in this podcast in the not-too-distant future, but I’d recommend this episode to anyone with any interest in climate and energy futures.
  2. Bruno Latour & Nikolaj Schultz (2022) On the Emergence of an Ecological Class – a Memo published by Polity Press
    A little-known book that from my recollection is the last published work from the late, great social scientist and philosopher, Bruno Latour. The authors provide a short (92-page in the English edition) text of seventy-six talking points on ecology and politics. For Latour and Schultz, a new ecological class (which is likely to be drawn from both the left and right in politics) reveals that notions of ‘class’ are once again legitimate. In an era of capitalism-as-usual, we’ve become anaesthetised from the affects of neoliberal free markets, each of us too enrolled in Thatcher-Reaganist individualism to see sense of the calamity that confronts. However, as energy poverty and broader resource depletion starts to shape our everyday interactions (affecting everything from health to food production, jobs to democratic elections), we find ourselves on common ground with whom we used to consider political adversaries. This is an easy-digestible, provocative and necessary read for anyone who is interested in the entanglement of ecology, politics and everyday life.
  3. Team Human podcast series from Douglas Rushkoff
    I’ve gone full fandom on this series, having tasted the Institute of the Future Equitable Enterprise Initiative‘ and the ‘Cory Doctorow‘ episodes. These two episodes alone are worth a concentrated listen as they confront and reimagine our capitalist entrenchment, but more recent episodes also provide brain food for the critical thinker.

    The 24 April 2023 episode features Rushkoff’s interview with one of his long-standing heroes, Rex Weyler—cofounder of Greenpeace—who continually reminds us that we are beholden to the laws of nature and that we can’t simply design our way out of catastrophe. Contrary to what neoliberals may assume, Weyler does not suggest that we should simply do away with the benefits of capitalist economies and bring down capitalism but instead we need to take a more stewardship approach to living on planet earth alongside all other species. (Note: In the Electric Vehicles podcast above, Berman or Michaux point out that approximately 69% of all species on earth have become extinct in the last 100 years. [Fact check required here]).

    Rushkoff interviews Malcom Harris in the 2 June 2023 episode to discuss Harris’ new book Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism and the World. Harris provides many insights into the relationship between US government interests, capital markets, race, globalisation and labour rights and both Rushkoff and Harris hold a particular distrust of the ‘tech bro’ culture that has emerged from California.

    As well as ordering a copy of Harris’ book from a non-hegemonic book retailer, I’ve also placed orders for Rushkoff’s own work, Team Human and Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Elite.
  4. Research Handbook on Design Thinking edited by Karla Straker & Cara Wrigley
    What a wonderful book that landed in the postbox today! OK. Full disclosure, there’s a concluding chapter ConclusionBeyond normal design thinking: reflections on the evolution of a paradigm and ideas for the new incommensurable written by Philip Ely. The book comprises chapters from 36 authors across the globe providing multidisciplinary, multisector and diverse perspectives on the field of design thinking. As I explore in the final chapter, design has emancipated itself from the art and architecture origins from which it emerged, but continues to find its disciplinary ‘matrix’ shaped by these and other disciplines. Aside from the neurocognitive interest in design thinking which plays into the positivist science imperative, the book explores design thinking as process, design education, design policy and theoretical and practical case studies. The book mirrors my own arguments about the Design Big Bang and gives practitioners and scholars alike a chance to dive deep into the collective mind of the design academic and practitioner. Try it!

As Jarrett Fuller would say, this short snapshot of reading and listening is a mere scratch of the surface of what I have encountered in the last couple of weeks. (Talking of which, its well worth listening to the wonderful Jenny Odell’s rerun episode on Scratching the Surface). I’ll be adding to this blog over the coming weeks with other ideas related to futuring, design fiction and tech. In the meantime, follow up those links above and tell me what you found useful.