Imagine a future where your dreams have come true. Now think of a more nightmarish destiny. In each of these scenarios, what kinds of objects — gadgets, appliances, office tools — would you use on a daily basis?
Here’s one way to figure it out: Dial 1-888-FUTURES, describe your hopes and fears, provide an address, and wait patiently for your gift from the “future” to arrive.
The 1-888-FUTURES project is gathering dreams and fears from people who call in until September 20th. Then, a group at the University of Southern California — mostly students and faculty, but the general public is welcome — will spend the next day listening to the recordings, designing personalised objects based on those descriptions, and mailing them out.
1-888-FUTURES is a design experiment intended to create conversations around the future and what it might entail.
“We’re creating a tangible manifestation of the futures described in the message that the caller leaves. We don’t know yet what the messages are going to be. That’s part of the joy and the intrigue,” says Stuart Candy, a director of the Situation Lab and assistant professor of strategic foresight and innovation at OCAD University.
“If people have a particular hope for the future they want to share with their mother, their child, or a concern for the future over the next year, a couple generations from now, they can share that,” he says.
It’s hard to predict what kinds of artifacts will emerge from the hotline. But we can make educated guesses based on Futurematic, a past Situation Lab/Extrapolation Factory project where participants designed mass-market objects from the future that lived in a vending machine in downtown Toronto.
Among the objects: fingerprint erasers, a toxic air purifier, and breast cancer-detecting pasties.
The big difference with the 1-888-FUTURES project is that the artifacts are personalised, not designed for the mass market. They also don’t have to fit in a vending machine.
“This is the highly customised production of objects that embody concern or hope about particular futures,” says Candy.
The gifts aren’t functional. Think of them as design objects, created with materials picked up from dollar stores and second-hand shops.
“The intent is that you’re hacking existing products to futurize them,” says Jeff Watson, a director at the Situation Lab and assistant professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
At the end of the 1-888-FUTURES project — which was dreamed up by Jen Stein, an assistant professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, along with Candy and Watson — pictures of the resulting gifts, along with transcripts of the dreams that inspired them (minus personal information) will be posted on social media and the project website.
“People can send the objects to whoever they want — the president, their boss, the head of a think tank. All they need is a dream and an address,” says Watson.
And, he adds: “Drunk dialling is encouraged.”
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