Growing the future

I’m so inspired by the wealth of podcasts and alternative magazines out there today that address important issues in design and technology, offering alternative visions and pathways, opening up for learning new ways of doing things together, encouraging critical thinking, and showing us real, living examples.

Podcasts

The Deep Dive

My go-to example for current topics in design, culture, futuring and ethics is always the The Deep Dive podcast hosted by Philip McKenzie from Brooklyn in the United States. I have so many episodes I could recommend here, and there are so many more brilliant topics and guests – I have a long listening list.

Only a few highlights for me include Counterculture, Techno-utopianism and the Social Good: A Conversation with Fred Turner, The Power of What If and the Imagination Sundial: A Conversation with Rob Hopkins and Rob Shorter, The Promise of Co-Cities w/ Sheila Foster, and Decolonizing Design w/ Dr. Dori Dunstall.

“The Deep Dive is a culture and insights podcast with Philip McKenzie, an anthropologist who uses his expertise in culture to advise organizations on how best to thrive in an increasingly challenging and uncertain environment. Every week, Philip goes below the surface with the people who matter the most.”

Diseño y Diáspora

Another excellent podcast focuses specifically on conversations with designers about design: Diseño y Diáspora, by Mariana Salgado. It began and continues as a resource in Spanish and Portuguese, and recently Mariana has been inviting conversations about design also in English – check out the episode list.

Future Ecologies

This podcast is produced by a bunch of lovely people, many of whom are based on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver, Victoria), and describes itself like this:

“Made for audiophiles and nature lovers alike, Future Ecologies is a podcast exploring our eco-social relationships through stories, science, music, and soundscapes. Every episode is an invitation to see the world in a new light — weaving together narrative and interviews with expert knowledge holders.

The format varies: from documentary storytelling to stream-of-consciousness sound collage, and beyond. Episodes are released only when they’re ready, not on a fixed schedule (but approximately monthly).

This ad-free, independent podcast is supported by our community on Patreon: https://www.futureecologies.net/patrons”

Tech Won’t Save Us, with Paris Marx

Tech Won’t Save Us is giant among the technology critical podcasts and Paris Marx (in the Fediverse @parismarx@mastodon.online) gets the best guests.

After several years of a supposed “techlash”, Silicon Valley hasn’t given up. During the pandemic, its monopolies soared to record heights and its chief evangelists pushed back against critics. No longer were they willing to be positioned as the bad guys; they wanted to rake in their billions — and be praised for it too.

But the industry has set the narrative on technology for too long. In close collaboration with prominent tech journalists and major media organizations, they fed us the story that their technologies were making the world a better place even as they skirted labor laws, exploited workers, expanded surveillance capabilities, and boosted fascism. They wanted us to believe that political organizing wasn’t necessary because technological development would deliver utopia all on its own. That was never true, but it served the chief executives and venture capitalists behind the dominant tech firms.

The first step to challenging their narrative is to understand what’s wrong with it. While there’s more critical coverage of the tech industry, it pales in comparison to the continued boosterism — especially with the emergence of new investment opportunites like the metaverse and web3. Tech Won’t Save Us is trying to change that.

Every Thursday, Paris Marx is joined by a new expert to critically examine the tech industry, the powerful people who helm it, and the products and services it unleashes on the world. They challenge the notion that tech alone can drive our world forward by showing that separating tech from politics has consequences for us all, especially the most vulnerable.

Taking inspiration from the Luddites, Tech Won’t Save Us isn’t simply about tearing down tech. It examines how technological development is constrained by the need to serve capitalist imperatives, which include controlling workers and commercializing everything. But it’s also interested in radical ideas for a better world, and how technology fits into those futures.

The Data Fix with Dr. Mél Hogan

The Data Fix – “a lefty pod about perpetual tech promises” – is a newer podcast by scholar Mél Hogan who is active on Mastodon as @mel_hogan@mstdn.ca.

Hi everyone, my name is Mél Hogan and I’m a critical media studies scholar based in Canada. I’m working on a project called The Data Fix through a series of conversations with scholars, thinkers and feelers. Together we explore the significance of living in a world of data, and especially the growing trend of “digital humans” in the form of chatbots, holograms, deepfakes, ai images and videos, and even tech that revives the dead. The conversations are minimally edited, and serve as an archive of the collective thinking and feeling that is going into the Data Fix project. Please see thedatafix.net for more details and show notes. Thank you so much for listening. 

The Santiago Boys

The Santiago Boys is a fascinating new podcast by Evgeny Morozov, technology critic and founder of The Syllabus. (My favourite articles by Morozov include The Meme Hustler, about the technology controversy that saw the split between “free libre software” and “open source software”, and Making It, a sharp critique of the discourses and practices of maker culture in 2014.)

Here he explores “the tech world that might have been” in Allende’s Chile. And featuring so many people in the design world we know, either personally or by reputation. Gui Bonsiepe! Mike Hales! Klaus Krippendorff! Stafford Beer! Oh my.

These are my favourite kinds of stories, the hidden histories that complicate our narratives of technology and innovation, which tend to try to convince us that they fell from the sky perfectly formed; that because they have become the default tech infrastructure, they must be naturally superior. Morozov’s choice of dramatic storytelling reveals that technology is political, especially when its creators aim it to be autonomous and liberatory. (Oh, and ding dong, Kissinger is finally as dead as an evil doornail.)

The Santiago Boys is a nine-part podcast about a group of radical utopians around Salvador Allende, Chile’s socialist president. Undeterred by the Cold War and machinations of their enemies and aided by an eccentric British consultant, they try to wrestle control over technology from multinationals and intelligence agencies and use it to create a more egalitarian economy. As their dream gets crushed by Pinochet’s bloody coup, the Santiago Boys find an unexpected afterlife – and in Silicon Valley of all places.

Reimagining the internet

Speaking of autonomous, anti-capitalist, prefigurative and liberatory technology, it is not surprising that the crowds in the Fediverse are fans of podcasts about the dweb, indieweb and net neutrality. I’m looking forward to getting to know this podcast from the Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Loads of interviews! For example with danah boyd from Data and Society, Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru@dair-community.social) from DAIR, Nick Seaver who wrote Computing Taste: Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation, and more.

Tune in to our interview series “Reimagining the Internet” on YouTube or your favorite podcast app, where we’re talking to some of the most exciting scholars, activists, journalists, and entrepreneurs in our field about what’s wrong with social media and how to fix it.

This Machine Kills

This podcast came to my attention because of the episode with Cory Doctorow, who remains a stellar tech critic (and writer on p2p theory in a way reactionary anti-woke has-been Michel Bauwens pretends to be).
“Returning champion Cory Doctorow joins us to discuss his latest book, The Internet Con, which lays out how the basis of so much material power in the world exists at the intersection of information technology and intellectual property. We get into the mechanics of IT⇔IP, the necessity for interoperability in a world ruled by cartels, and the (intermediate) steps that must be taken now to fight back and create space for even more radical change.”

Interviews with Paris Marx, Evgeny Morozov, Meredith Whittaker, and many more.

A podcast about technology and political economy /// Agitprop against innovation and capital /// Hosted by Jathan Sadowski and Edward Ongweso Jr., Produced by Jereme Brown /// Hello friends and enemies

Listen anywhere that fine podcasts are distributed. Subscribe at patreon.com/thismachinekills to get premium episodes every week.

Solarpunk Prompts

I absolutely adore the idea behind this interaction, which we will call a podcast for lack of a better word. As alxd (@alxd@writing.exchange) explains, Solarpunk Prompts is intended especially for writers “showing them how to imagine a story among the climate change chaos” – initiated because they themselves were practitioners “who needed a way to explain why”. Alxd and tomasino (@tomasino@tilde.zone) also see (and I so agree!!) that “people on the ground could [also] use it to see how to talk about their experiences in ways writers and journalists could understand”. And I see such potential for designers to be able to think about what really matters.

What is Solarpunk? Why does it matter?

In this series we discuss Solarpunk as a movement within art, literature, and activism. We explore its themes and talk about what separates it from its genre peers. Each episode explores a writing prompt set in a Solarpunk aesthetic with examples and inspirations from our world today.

For example, the most recent episode at time of writing, The Miners, prompts with METALS and RARE EARTHS. “Rare earth metals are essential for our modern life, whether in EV motors, cell phones, or in electronics in general. Mining these metals is notoriously difficult and dirty. How might a Solarpunk future address this issue? How might we get there from where we are today? Through this prompt we explore the realities of rare earth mining today and a few ways it might evolve into a sustainable future.”

This is truly what we call strategic sustainable design and design futuring. I could recommend supplementing it with readings from Low-Tech Magazine.

Magazines

Compost

Compost is an amazingly inspiring magazine published on both the web and the dweb by Distributed Press and with the help of the international, distributed tech coop Hypha Workers’ Cooperative. Designers, illustrators and writers, it is possible to choose an alternative career to being a corporate handmaiden. It is possible to work in other company models than extractivist neofeudal models where anonymous non-local shareholders dictate the (usually fossil-fuel-addled) activities that are worth doing on a three-month basis. Coops are possible, are increasingly accepted as a model in the creative industries, and they have had a long history.

Moreover, DisCO coops have a distinct operational model based on feminist economics and carework. Imagine being a designer and working with a group of people who are there to support you when you need it and that together you create things that have meaning and that don’t conflict with your ecologically oriented values. This for me is really The Future of Work.

The folx behind Compost have also written this fab academic article.

Branch

Branch – “a sustainable internet for all” – also sees the involvement of a bunch of fantastic people we know. For example Issue 2 featured an article on the amazing Solar Protocol and Issue 5 introduced concepts around critical carbon computing by some of the inspiring people behind DIY Methods (e.g. @Aepasek@scholar.social).

Branch is an online magazine written by and for people who dream of a sustainable and just internet for all. It is published by the Green Web Foundation.

We believe that the internet must serve our collective liberation and ecological sustainability. We want the internet to dismantle the power structures that delay climate action and for the internet itself to become a sustainable and positive force for climate justice.

We see this magazine as a space for personal reflection, critical engagement with technology and internet economics, as well as experimentation and storytelling. Creating change requires all kinds of practices—art and design, professional development, civic participation, policy and advocacy, imagination and positive visions for our future. This is our small attempt at sharing what inspires and challenges us towards a sustainable and just internet for all.

Solarpunk Magazine

Solarpunk Magazine (“Demand Utopia”) presents hopeful fiction that paints alternative visions of design and technology for social and planetary good.

What is Solarpunk?

Solarpunk is a prefigurative, utopian artistic movement that envisions what the future might look like if humanity solved major modern challenges like climate change, and created more sustainable and balanced societies. As a genre and cultural aesthetic, it encompasses literature, visual art, fashion, video games, architecture, and more. Solarpunk carries many aspects of punk ideologies such as rebelliousness, humanitarianism, egalitarianism, animal rights, decolonization, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-corporatism, and anti-consumerism. Similar to the cyberpunk genre, the big difference between the two is that in solarpunk technology and nature are in harmony with one another rather than in conflict. 

​Not all solarpunk stories take place in idealistic utopias. Many tales are rife with compelling conflict among people and communities optimistically striving to reach that ideal while still struggling to solve some existing challenges. But all solarpunk stories do have things in common such as future or near-future settings, optimistic perspectives, and looking toward a better future with at least a growing harmony between nature, technology, and humanity. In short, solarpunk stories are decidedly not dystopias.

Why Solarpunk Magazine?

The time for solarpunk has come, and the mission of this magazine is to become one of many important catalysts for an important and necessary revolution within both the literary world and our larger culture. The genre has been around since the early 2000s, but the current state of global affairs in the 2020s—from dismally apocalyptic climate reports to the global rise of authoritarianism, right wing extremism, xenophobia, male chauvinism, and white supremacy—means solarpunk has never been more vital to the evolution not only of human culture and society, but of all species and the entire planet. 

Of course stories about dystopias are fun, exciting, and suspenseful. We enjoy reading, listening to, and watching them immensely. However, dystopia fatigue has also set in. The time has never been more urgent for an explosion of utopian stories to light a path forward out of the darkness into which humanity has dug itself. 

We need more fiction and poetry about amazing technological advancements of the future that work in harmony with nature. We need stories about sustainable communities that thrive on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition and profit. We need to build utopias with pen and page where capitalism and it’s social ills such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and massive wealth disparity are things of the past. In short, we need more literature that demands utopia.

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