tisdag 24 maj 2016

The (Un)sustainability of Imagined Future Information Societies


Last week we submitted a paper, "The (Un)sustainability of Imagined Future Information Societies" to the Future Scenarios special track at the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI 2016). Here's how the special track was presented:

Future Scenarios
There are countless examples on how science fiction has inspired researchers and scientists. Within interaction design, there is an increasing use of fictional narratives as inspiration for design; examples include design fictions, value fictions, and future workshops.

This track aims to explore the design of design fictions; how can they be crafted towards a particular design outcome, say sustainability, or sharing? What kinds of designs can come out of them? Which lessons have been learned by those of us who use scenarios as a design method? And, lastly, we wish to collect a set of scenarios aiming for specific outcomes, for those in need.


Papers will be evaluated on the following grounds:
– How well they serve the main aim of the track: to exemplify or explore how scenarios can be crafted towards a specific outcome.
– The quality of the scenario: Is it well-crafted in relation to its intentions, and is it well-written and inspiring enough to be reused by others?

Although different people had told me about the Future Scenarios track, it was only 14 days before the deadline that I realised that the fit between the track and the results of our research project "Scenarios and Impacts of the Information Society" was near-perfect. Here's a snippet from the e-mail to my co-authors Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, Mattias Höjer and Luciane Aguiar Borges where I floated the idea of writing a paper:

"Should we choose one (or several) of our S&I scenarios and have a go at it? There’s not much time though, the deadline is May 5 but the heavy lifting (creating scenarios) has already been done…"

Beyond the "perfect fit" between the Future Scenarios track and our research project, two other fortunate events made the paper possible. The first was the decision to bring my colleague Elina Eriksson onboard and the second was the fact that the deadline was extended by two weeks. Elina has not been part of the research project, but she - as apart from the other three co-authors - knows the conference, the research area (HCI) and the audience, and her involvement was invaluable for getting the paper together (she's the second author).

The core of the paper are the five scenarios of future information societies that were developed in the research project, but there was only space for (partially) displaying three of these scenarios in the paper itself. The framing of the paper is primarily as follows:

  1. Futures studies concerns itself with the study of possible, probable and preferable futures.
  2. Human-Computer Interaction has relatively recently (compared to futures studies' multi-decades-long history) become interested in design fiction (and critical design and speculative design etc.). 
  3. We have conducted a Futures Studies research project and here are the resulting scenarios.
  4. Here are some differences between, and some things that Human-Computer Interaction/design fiction can learn from Futures Studies.

Another framing - also contained within the paper - is:
  1. Many have made predictions about, or studied the (future) information society.
  2. Some (others) have studied the sustainability of (imagined) future societies.
  3. Few have however studied if (the visions of) future information societies are sustainable.
  4. ...but, that's exactly what we have done in our research project, and, here are our results.
  5. [Results are presented.]
  6. Most visions of future information societies are problematic in terms of sustainability (i.e. they are unsustainable). The visions of future information societies that are not or that are less problematic in terms of sustainability would instead be regarded as undesirable by many (within HCI).

Here's the previous paper that came out of the research project ("Pluralizing the future information society"), here is my blog post about the previous NordiCHI conference (two years ago) and here's the paper abstract:

Contemporary societies are facing various predicaments that need to be addressed and one of them is the issue of sustainability. The pathway to a sustainable society is not clear, and we will need to consider different developmental possibilities. But how can we do that and how do we practically think about the future in order to weigh different options against each other and make an informed decision? This paper emanates from the academic field of futures studies and it describes the results of a research project in the intersection of “the future information society” and sustainability, answering questions such as: what could the future information society look like and what would be the impact of that society be in terms of sustainability? The main stakeholders in this research has not been system developers, but rather bureaucrats, planners and policymakers, and, the overarching goal was to influence planning processes primarily at the regional (Stockholm, Sweden) level. We here present parts of the rich body of scenario materials that were developed over a period of several years, with the aim of describing possible future information societies. We will also discuss some of lessons learned and what HCI and design fiction can learn from from Future Studies in general and from this project in particular.

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