Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Revolution of the Private

A Creative Foresight Space (CFS) session held at the Technology Centre Innopark back in May 24, 2011 probed the futures of work and the internet. A central theme conversed on in the session was ubiquitous digital society, in which information and communication technologies are ever-present and everything that can be digitalized has been digitalized.

A thoroughly digital culture and societal structure immersed in communication networks will differ significantly from the ones we have been used to. This transformation will be crucially about  merging of the public and the private.
In the pre-industrial society the spheres of the public and the private were not as strictly separate as they now are. Industrialization divided the society into the two distinct realms. The public sphere became the space for production, commerce and political discourse, characterized by goal-oriented rationality, impersonality and protestant ethic. Private relationships, emotions, leisure activities and consumption -  driven by romantic ethic - were limited within the private sphere.
Throughout the eras of the modern industrial and postmodern information society a central concern and a theme of social criticism was the spreading of rational, impersonal and “cold” features of the public sphere to the private. Furthermore, institutions of modern/postmodern society were unable to provide for the meaning of life. Many of the problems of these eras’ were linked to alienation and rootlessnes.
In the ubiquitous digital society this phenomenon can turn upside down: private sphere invades the public. Public activities, including work and political discourse are once again becoming a realm for self-expression, subjective experiences and personal relationships. We may finally be able to reclaim the meaningfullnes we have lost. This transformation is happening mainly due to the transformations in the communication system caused by the internet
Before the internet and the massive spread of its applications and platforms, people’s subjective experiences and feelings, personal relationships, and inner-motivated activities were left to themselves. Publishing or commercializing of the products of personal activities was too costly in money, time and effort. Now, with the aid offered by the internet and social media, citizens are able to publish their self-produced contents and receive other people’s publications – and in general acquire free contents rising from the ethos of the private. In the near future this trend will spread to material production as well – thanks to digital manufacturing technologies such as 3D printers and laser cutters. By the legitimacy provided by publicity, self-expression and subjectively meaningful experiences and relationships will become indistinguishable and even dominant parts of our culture and economy, of our ways to value the world around us and to act in it.
In the environment of networked, zero-cost communication, formation of communities and networks around common interests and values is effortless. Connections between people and the volume of social interaction will increase significantly, and become crucial factors in production. Vivid and abundant communication will tear down the conventional boundaries between the private and the public, of e.g. between work and leisure, furthermore. We will be motivated by autonomy as well as the ethos of sharing – they promote and enhance each other. 

Discussions around the ubiquitous digital society often concentrate on technology. Technology is a mere enabler, though. The real changes are cultural. We are moving away from technology-driven information society to people-driven meanings society. The “public private sphere” will change societies radically, down to their roots.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the Embrace of 3D Worlds

The possibilities that 3D worlds offer are endless. This post presents some of these possibilities we came up with during a session of VIDICO’s Creative Foresight Space, which is a space, an event and a method for mapping out futures. The event was held at the Innopark in Hämeenlinna, Finland, in the early spring of 2011.

The functional uses are especially numerous for example in the fields of healthcare, education, process management, planning, building and marketing. Also the police and officials performing social functions could evidently benefit from 3D technologies.

Virtual deep scanning makes for snappy diagnoses. Building plans can be tested effortlessly, revised on a whim, and if the change is displeasing, returned back to the way they were in the blink of an eye. Virtual shopping of garments from the comfort of one’s own home offers a tempting alternative for the traditional, full of stress and sweating in changing rooms and check-out queues mode of shopping. Fabulous and varied outfits are only a click or two away and a virtual stylist will instantly suggest most flattering colours and alternatives.

In terms of entertainment and free time, 3D worlds provide both ways to improve old and traditional leisurely activities and means to develop altogether new and exciting ones. An example of the latter are applications that will allow one to experience for example a chemical or religious high without abusing substances or a bothersome trip to mother Amma’s ashram. Maybe 3D experiences could even replace harmful addictions? 3D worlds open new and interesting doors for arts as well. 3D movies, pioneered by James Cameron’s Avatar, and 3D theatres are already commonplace. While 3D will not make a bad movie into a good one, it will certainly enhance the viewing experience of a film that is already good. Additionally, any educational message entailed in a 3D movie will likely go through, accredited to its impressive medium.

The conquering of distances and multi-sensual innovations bring the element of virtual space to 3D worlds. A new era of adventures is available to the masses. How would you feel about a trip to the centre of the earth or into the recesses of your own viscera? How about walking on the moon or soaring through outer space? What’s more, these experiences might be combined to a refreshing sleep, induced by a machine. 3D space rentals will allow you to access a cruise ship or survey a potential party venue while never setting foot outside your abode. Virtual pets are just as cute and therapeutic as real ones, without the downside of taking the puppy out for a walk at six in the morning in pouring rain or having to constantly feed him. 3D pets will ease the loneliness of many in today’s isolated world – especially those who are allergic.

If 3D technology is combined with electrochemical capacities, it may be used to battle depression and other disorders. 3D worlds can reinforce positive thinking and thus cut down the societal costs caused by these disorders. Also aggression can be suppressed and focus can be turned towards more constructive activities. Furthermore, 3D worlds are a great tool for various types of social coaching or the teaching or learning of any hobby.

The downsides are there too, however. In particular, the threat of isolation, addiction and loosening one’s grip on reality are very real threats associated with the excessive use of virtual worlds. Those threats can only become more likely as the immersion becomes more complete through the 3D element. Applications designed for individual and not social use may easily lead to users becoming encapsulated in their own little worlds. Especially children are susceptible to be detrimentally influenced by the lack of real and physical adult presence.

Moreover, as virtual 3D worlds gain market dominance over traditional real-life activities, the health consequences may be severe. The pull of the 3D worlds may lead to a lack of exercise and blatant disregard of one’s physical wellbeing with a drastic impact on the public health. If 3D virtual travelling will gain popularity, the real-life travel business will surely suffer. As 3D offers both diverse ways of self-improvement and global access, the pressures imposed by competitive business and educational worlds will multiply. The most far-out scenario is that the whole society as we know it will cease to exist and we will wake up to a brave new world with features no-one dared to anticipate.

Regardless, the greatest possibilities of 3D worlds lie in the fact that the technologies will allow us to efficiently overcome the multiple limitations of our existence. They will add new layers to our reality. They imitate and create reality in a believable manner while being absolutely independent of the constraints of physical reality. Not only can they help us out in many little ways, they also offer a means to make any outlandish fantasy into tangible reality. In this sense they fulfill the basic function of technology as an enhancer of our abilities in a brand new manner. One needs not strain one’s imagination very far in order to grasp the potential offered by 3D worlds, albeit still a little ways away in the digital horizon.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Delphi Study Assessing Disruptively Transformative Futures in Journalism

The future of media and journalism is in turmoil. We are currently conducting a Delphi study comparing the views media experts and futurists hold about the future of journalism. In Phase I, the media experts participated in a two round Argumentative Policy Delphi about the future of journalism. The results were written into four images of the future. The experts were asked to review the four images of the future in terms of probability and desirability.

We are now looking for panelists to Phase II of our Delphi study. The four images of the future as created in Phase I, along with a selection of critical statistical data about technology and media will be sent to a panel of futurists. The futurists are then invited to review the four images of the future in terms of probability and desirability, and to imagine innovative breakthrough technologies and suggest a fifth image of the future that differs from the four previous ones.

The results from Phase II of this Delphi will be written into scenarios which will be sent back to all the panelists. This experimental approach combining the argumentation of both media experts and futurists is expected to bring forward new, versatile and even surprising arguments to the current debate about the developments regarding the future of journalism, press and media.

All the panelists will be invited to participate in a special session on Future of Media and Communications during the Conference "Trends and Future of Sustainable Development" organised by Finland Futures Research Centre in Tampere, Finland, in June 9-10, 2011. (Unfortunately we cannot cover travel and conference cost, but we can guarantee a seat for you in the future of media session).

Call for participation

If you are interested in participating in the expert panel for this Delphi, please contact researcher Sofi Kurki ( by February 7th, 2011.

Looking forward to your possible interest and thanking you in advance,

Professor Sirkka Heinonen and Researcher Sofi Kurki

Future of Media and Communications (FMC)

Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), University of Turku

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Future of the Internet

Greetings from Santa Barbara, CA! Thanks to the advanced telecommuting practices of FFRC, I have had the possibility to spend the autumn here in this beautiful city (and lovely weather), immersing myself in a new culture.

For the lack of a physical working community, I´ve moved an even greater amount of my life to the Internet. As its position has solidified to form a central element of both the working and the social life, it is almost startling to consider the relatively short period of time we´ve been able to enjoy this digital lifestyle. Although the collapse of the Internet is a regular candidate for a possible black swan in many futures workshops, one rarely pauses to assess the probable, preferable and avoidable futures of the Internet itself. A few days ago, I made a small sidestep from the research I have been conducting on the future of news media and took a look at what has been said about the future of the Internet. Here´s what I found:

As usual, there are a few dystopic visions for the future, some very optimistic and lots of quite neutral but still rather interesting things. Most of the gloomier images for the future are connected to the commercial interest nowadays so intertwined with the Internet, with for example net neutrality forming one big discussion. Within the optimists, there are the classical visions of the semantic web and Internet of Things. Neutral issues include, among others, possible complications with moving from the current limited addressing system, IPv4, to the new but incompatible IPv6 and the paradigm shift brought about by cloud computing.

I will zoom in on one particular scenario for the future, which arguably classifies under the dystopias, but is among the more interesting in this category. Professor Jonathan Zittrain (co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, among other merits), in his 2008 book “The Future of Internet – and How to Stop It”, argues, in a nutshell, that when users switch their open and “generative” PCs to iPads, iPhones, Xboxes, Kindles and similar closed or “tethered” appliances, what they are actually doing is trading in their freedom to adjust and innovate for a more reliable, malware free user experience. This is problematic, because the basis of the Internet, according to the argument, has been the ability of a PC to run any code: this has been the source for an endless array of new kinds of uses for the Internet, and, essentially, has been the force behind the formation of the Internet itself. In “tethered” appliances, there are levels that are open only to the operating system, and which third-party applications cannot access, and this, says Zittrain, takes the “control” (or lack of it) from the users and places it on the whims of the commercial interests of the appliance manufacturers. From all this follows, that the end result could be an internet controlled by the companies, making the end of Internet more a “not with a bang but with a whimper” collapse of the sort of Internet we know now.
In an interview for the Wired magazine, the author even formulates a scenario on how he sees events could unfold:

“JZ: My worry is that users will drift into gated communities defined by their hardware or their network. They’ll switch to information appliances that are great at what they do [email, music, games] because they’re so tightly controlled by their makers. (…) It could happen through a watershed moment: A virus infects 50 percent of a corporate network and erases hard drives.
The problem is, we’re moving to software-as-service, which can be yanked or transformed at any moment. The ability of your PC to run independent code is an important safety valve.
W: You really think the sky could be falling?

JZ: Yes. Though by the time it falls, it may seem perfectly normal. It’s entirely possible that the past 25 years will seem like an extended version of the infatuation we once had with CB radio, when we thought that it was the great new power to the people.”

But before leaving you to consider this depressing image (or read the book, there is light at the end of the tunnel), I´d like to share a video clip: In a 1995 television show “Venture” the author Jonathan Zittrain introduces a novelty called PDA (personal digital assistant). At the time, these devices did not really catch on, but only 15 years later their descendants are so popular that they can be envisioned to take over the Internet? Once again, the famous quote attributed to William Gibson “the future is already here, it´s just not very evenly distributed” seems appropriate. The tricky part, of course, is to recognize the future when walking by it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

4C´s and social media

This FMC blog (Future of Media and Communications) is about media, communications, journalism, social media, technology foresight, innovation, and culture. Sofi Kurki and I will be writing about our activities in the research group of the Future of Media and Communications at Finland Futures Research Centre (University of Turku).

I wish to touch upon the issues that I foresee as important, striking, or worth exploring further, even if they were in the margins at the present. Foreseeing is proactive looking into the future with open eyes, ears and all senses (which does not mean forecasting or predicting, i.e. making “exact” predictions: this and this will happen in the year Z - e.g. the internet will collapse in 2020). I anchor this foreseeing into a grid of 4 C´s: connectivity, commitment, caring, and creativity. These four Cs are qualities which I regard both as goals and as prerequisites for social media to enhance people’s wellbeing and quality of life.

The other day I was listening with an intense ear to Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, special advisor to the prime minister’s cabinet on science, technology and innovation issues, tell about Japan’s new Innovation strategy. It is a long-term plan extending to the year 2025, and not a one-shot deal. This long-term perspective that is so natural to the Asian culture and way of thinking has always fascinated me, ever since I was working as a visiting research fellow in Tokyo exploring Japan’s plans for the information society and futures studies back in mid1980s. It is possible to nourish long-term thinking and at the same time try to generate innovations that will be directly focused on solving acute problems. In social media I see huge potential for tackling both problems that humans are facing in everyday situations, but also for addressing global issues on a wider scope.

Social media is an amoeba-like phenomenon that can be approached from many angles: technical, social, legal, business-wise etc. It is important to try to penetrate to the core of the concept: what elements, prerequisites, motivations, and impacts does it imply? In the Somed project at VTT we attempted a tentative conceptual analysis of social media, using innovative methods we developed for the purpose. The conceptual analysis is based on the nine interviews that Minna Halonen and I made, as well as on the conclusions that we elaborated. We invite you all to have a look at the reports “Making Sense of Social Media. Interviews and Narratives” and at the Social Media Roadmaps report – Exploring the futures triggered by social media. Currently we are planning new research on the future of social media with Sofi here at Finland Futures Research Centre.