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The power of the imagination
A Tale of Three Cities
Carlo Ratti converts shipping containers into Intensive-Care units for the Coronavirus pandemic
- Eye on Design
Continental drift, 2020. Illustration by Sander Wassink
I was asked by Roca Gallery to host a symposium around the topic of plastic waste, just before the pandemic changed the course of history drastically. The symposium got delayed until further notice and the relevance for an important topic such as plastic waste felt lost, while many of us around the globe are radically adjusting our lifestyles in order to adapt to a different and perhaps more limited version. All things that felt natural and secure to us have vaporized in just a matter of weeks: visiting friends and family abroad; basic physical contact; having all we desire within reach; a job and ﬁnancial stability; and the dependence on cheap goods, parts and labor from elsewhere in the world.
However, over the last weeks these limitations proved to be opportunities for creativity and social experimentation. Whatever the outcome of this crisis may be, a unique time is presenting itself, in which we are given a moment of reflection that can be used to self-actualize and spark new beginnings. An opportunity for “natality” doesn’t come along everyday, especially not in such a collective and global fashion. Using this moment for contemplation might even make us more resilient to the global challenges this century still has in store for us.
I decided to spend this time on creating several post-Corona scenarios. Ideas that spark positive change and support a future I would like to live in—maybe somewhat utopian in nature, but nevertheless food for though that uplifts the spirit. The luxury of time is given to many of us for free these days, So I challenge you to stop watching Netflix and ask yourself the simple, yet important question: what really matters in life and how does the world need to be organized so we don’t forget it as soon as this is over? Go deep, understand your fears and desires, try to express them in a spontaneous way, and share them with the world!
From pandemic to pantheism
One of the inescapable realizations of the effects of the current pandemic is that interconnectedness can no longer just be seen as a spiritual idea. It is a very tangible effect resonating true in nearly all human life at this moment. Our religions have determined our local cultures for many centuries, but do the personal deities of the past still hold ground in this current global context? Aren’t we in need for a uniﬁed god that can represent globalism and it’s related pandemics?
From flying to floating
I always wonder how Columbus would react when I tell him I just flew halfway across the world for a meeting that wasn’t even relevant. How easy it has become to fly and how dependent we have gotten on it. In the current situation it isn’t that hard to imagine a world where flying becomes less accessible or even socially unacceptable. But maybe we would be better off floating anyway, because the transit would provide us with time to reflect on the goals and meanings of our journeys. Less instant gratification might lead to deeper and more meaningful experiences too. What would floating look like? Being pushed by the currents of the sea or sky until we reach our destination?
From shipping goods to shipping people
Vital parts of our industry are becoming unavailable because of the dependance on other countries for producing them. It isn’t strange to imagine governments will want to protect these vital parts by banning the import of certain goods to make sure their local self-reliance is secured in times of crisis. I wonder what would happen when there would be a ban on shipping goods around the globe and the only way to get something exotic is by physically going to a place where something is made or grows. How great the ananas would taste again if we actually needed to make an effort to get them?
From one euro shops to one thing shops
If shopping really has become a religion as some say, then maybe we should treat the act as a more divine one. Bound to our homes and forced to use what we have around forces us to become more grateful for our things. It is no longer relevant if these objects are consciously created or very well designed. It is what we have now and we need our creativity to ﬁnd multi-purposes and ways of repairing. In this way, we might realize that abundance doesn’t equal wealth, and shops with less—but good things—supported by knowledgeable personnel are an indirect reflection of our gratitude to them. Isn’t this the ultimate respect for an object from the one thing shop?
From Netflix depression to algorithms for well-being
With no possibility to go out of the house it is very easy to end up on the sofa watching Netflix. It is likely you could get sucked into a stream of series and movies leaving you with an overall feeling of lethargy. The algorithms that feed you are generally not working in favor of your well-being. I wonder these days what an algorithm for “well Being” could look like? How can it help you to structuralize information and learn from it, or even bring information into action. How can it connect you to others thinking alike or the opposite? How can an algorithm work in favor of a global society or even replace unreliable governments by providing information that works against polarization and in favor of connectedness, collaboration and learning? How can it replace advertisement for information?
From a bullshit job to a jobless future
Perhaps the biggest experiment of this time is the understanding of the value of our jobs and if we could cope without actually having a job. Collectively and individually we would come to understand our level of value to society. According to David Graeber, up to 50% of the population of Western society is already now in a job that is essentially bullshit. On the other hand, we also might understand certain jobs are very essential for the well-being of society. Good accessible healthcare, education, the production of good food and goods, and researchers and developers working in favor of society, to name a few. In this crisis, governments are deﬁning what the vital jobs are, which at the same time implies some job are less, or not vital at all. So do we dare individually and collectively to make a list of jobs that are vital to us all and start paying people according to their vitality in society?
Several times during the process of preparing this article I was about to give up due to objections of adding another opinionated article to an already oversaturated mediascape at a time when there is so much human suffering. One day a week I work with students from different universities from a very wide variety of countries. Unspoiled and unbiased by current systems they use their sensitivity and intuition to transform current societal issues into projects that provide us a glimpse of the future.
It is this interaction with them that made me realize the importance of just that right now. We don’t know what the future will look like, but in a time of such great uncertainty it is perhaps most valuable to look around and see what matters most to us, using our creativity to rethink our lives, businesses and community. Draw, write and discuss. We can’t all be nurses and doctors, but we can contribute to a better world with our imaginative power, transforming lethargy and fear into positive future scenarios that might resonate in the world of tomorrow.