What now for …?

In 2015, FutureEverything celebrates its 20th anniversary. For the last two decades the festival has brought people together to imagine, shape and question the vision of a truly participatory society. A belief in the emancipatory and creative potential of new technologies runs throughout digital culture. It is found both in the open source community, and in the rhetoric of Silicon Valley startups.

In recent years, the contradictions in this vision have come to the surface. The digital age has brought a collision of positives and negatives. Today we live with the consequences of the digital turn, and these are not all benevolent. Centralisation, inequality, electronic waste and loss of privacy at an unprecedented scale have challenged our assumptions about the universally positive effects of digital innovation. We see how disruptors like Uber and Airbnb create huge opportunity for a few, while protesting taxi drivers on the streets of our cities give an image to a sidelined majority.

These disruptions were foretold: Richard Barbrook’s and Andy Cameron’s denunciation of “the Californian Ideology” was published the same year that FutureEverything celebrated its first festival. Their essay gave voice to a critical current in digital culture that has run through FutureEverything down the years. But only in the last eighteen months have the commonplace and simplistically positive narratives surrounding the digital age in wider technology culture at last run out of hot air.

This makes this year an ideal opportunity to hit pause on our headlong rush into the future, to reflect on the consequences of the past decades and the prospects for the decades to come. Today we can question some of the most heartfelt values and narratives in digital culture. Should these be revised? Or abandoned? Or should we champion their foundational premises more than ever to counterbalance the corrosive forces inherent in the digital economy?

Is a bottom up localism the answer to economic inequality, centralisation, stacks, silos and moats? Are distributed architectures the answer to government surveillance and advertising intrusion? Are smart citizens the answer to smart cities? Is DIWO (Doing It With Others) the sharp edge of devolution, or its undoing?

In its 20th year, FutureEverything asks “what now?” for the foundational values and narratives in digital culture? Do we need a bigger vision than open, local, bottom up is best? What are the values and narratives that will define the twenty years to come?

“What now?” also for central elements of our individual and collective experience that are undergoing profound transformations, from Democracy to Identity to Memory, and for the institutions of everyday life that are being also disrupted; the Street, the Workplace, the Home.

Over the past 20 years, the critical futurism of the Festival has been surrounded by an organisation that applies this insight in science, in cities, as well as in art. For our 20th anniversary, we are not staging a retrospective, but a platform for a global community to collaboratively reflect on the bleeding edges of art, academia, design and business. Together we will forge new visions, renew our values and co-create prototypes and experiments that help us to figure out the path forward.

Image: Metahaven: City Rising