Conditions: Partly cloudy and 14° C.

Coordinates: volunteered.cities.owners

The story so far… It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Almost exactly 13 months since the last of these newsletters. I bet you thought you were rid of me.

The last year has been a weird mix of being both swamped with work and making very little progress on the things that mattered. Most of the big projects at my day job stalled out as the day-to-day grind of just maintaining the systems I was trying to build set in. Trump’s election, while less shocking to me than to many, still managed to shatter my attention. Between the two, I found it hard to think about anything particularly interesting or helpful.

I might finally be getting things back on track now though. I’ve spent the last couple of months figuring out how to unplug from Twitter, which over the last year has remained a constant stream of outrage and distraction, while still maintaining a good stream of inputs using a combination of Nuzzel and Feedly. I have notes written up for an “arc” of about half a dozen essays that bring together some of the more important things I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of years. And projects at the day job, particularly KLONDIKE, have finally regained momentum.

So, time to restart the newsletter, right?

I came up with the the name Five Futures as an allusion to my desire to situate my thinking about the future within a broader historic context. “The future” isn’t just made up of the latest gee-whiz technology, social changes, or environmental catastrophes. Rather, every moment in time is an expression of a multitude of trends, long term and short term, some with roots in the present but many with roots in our deep past. To only lightly paraphrase Utah Phillips, “the past didn’t go anywhere”. What I was endeavoring to do with Five Futures was to pick out articles I’d recently read that spoke to these trends – from the deep past, to the more human past, present, and future, and finally to the deep future – in an attempt to begin building a narrative about the future that didn’t situate it as a destination, but rather as just another way-point on a journey far longer than any one life.

But it was difficult to find enough variety in my reading over just a week to cover all five temporal realms, and moreover I don’t feel that my bandwidth has recovered enough for me to spend quite as much time on Five Futures as I used to. So after much thought, I’ve decided to scale back my ambitions to something closer to the weekly link-dump that’s relatively common in the newsletter space. I’m also not going to skip a week just because I don’t have enough links to flesh out all “five futures”. Ideally Five Futures will continue to have five central sections, but many times it won’t. I’m going to make peace with that.

In the future, I’ll use this intro section as a place to randomly dump whatever I’ve been thinking about during the last week (even if it’s only half-baked), and will confine project news to the end.

And now, on to the links!

The Deep Past

  • Nautilus asks “Which Comes First, Big Cities or Big Gods?”, and comes down tentatively on the side of big cities. In fact, there’s hints here that “big gods” may only be one way in which the beliefs necessary for large scale social cohesion manifest – really what we need is a way to make the fact that our actions have consequences far beyond ourselves personal. The idea of divine punishment in monotheistic religions is one way to do this, but it’s not the only way. I’ve always found the placement of monotheism at the “top” of the “pyramid” of social complexity a bit self-serving; the work described here seems like the beginning of a necessary corrective.

The Near Past

The Present

The Near Future

The Deep Future

Current projects… As I mentioned in the intro, 2018 was pretty much a wash. All of the projects that were on the list for the last newsletter are still here, except for VELOCIRAPTOR, which I’ve scrapped due to lack of interest from both myself and potential collaborators.

  • EPIPHYTE: A hardware infrastructure project.
  • DRAGOON: A corporate foresight project.
  • MANTA: A “bread-and-butter” documentation project.
  • KLONDIKE: A cloud infrastructure project.
  • MEMENTO: An ongoing writing project.
  • QUANTUM: A cloud infrastructure project.
  • CORONA: An ongoing public education project.
  • DELPHI: An as-yet-unspecified future venture.

Outro… Pre-colonization native territories in North America and Australia.