Culture war.

It’s a culture war we’re caught in. If it’s everyone who loses in a retreat behind borders, our first line duty is to put Art back in the forge.

 

God knows, I love stories. So do you. And – don’t flinch, Captain Culture – storytelling is going to be a useful word for a while yet, in framing our views of the world, when all views are being challenged. Go on, I dare you to use it without a twitch in front of your colleagues who are so agile they smirk at the word agile. Do it. Say storytelling in a *creative strategy* meeting. Make them roll their eyes, it’s adoreable how leading edge they are.

But, I feel reminded by an event this week. The future won’t simply be told, it will be made. And if we’re going to save it for all of us, in some grand notional declaration in a time of ugly conflicts, then here is one: It’s not weapons we’ll need, it’s tools.

If you’re an activist-minded person who’s even half awake, you’re going to tell me we are above all at this point in human history in a culture war. And actual fascists are martialling actual funds to seize actual political power across the west – so when will anyone go out to actually meet them?

And you’re right.

But meet them with what?

Lastnight I took a train to the capital to attend a thing. Been to a couple of them in recent months, things. And at these things, lots of nice clever people turn up and want to listen to other clever and often nice but better known people talk about things. Especially now, when there’s rather a lot to talk about. Lastnight’s thing caught me with it’s title, which is why I went: “Here and Now: A Creative Vision for Europe

Run by DiEM25, the progressive democracy in Europe movement, it brought together some jolly cultural sounding people indeed – art music god and Bowie chum Brian Eno, rockstar economist Yanis Varoufakis, actual rockstar from Primal Scream Bobby Gillespie, the artist Danae Stratou and the erudite Rosemary Bechler of Open Democracy, among others.

And they were all inspiring and well articulated in the discussion hosted in Central St Martins’ Platform Theatre.

It was an evening full of great quotes, good analysis, helpful ways of seeing some things around us in democratically challenging times, all lit at a cultural angle. “Yanis Varoufakis spoke of the importance of collective, creative intervention and highlighted @diem_25’s aim to create a collaborative agenda for cultural democratic policy” as St Martins tweeted, which he did and it was insightful. And at the end of the whole evening, I couldn’t help feeling the event still didn’t quite do what I think we are utterly compelled to do at the moment: Imagine actual ways to respond, creatively.

There were many wise take-homes – but no new story.

Which is a shame, because if there was one major take-home from the whole thing, it is the clarity that what we are living through right now is indeed a culture war. A war of ideas. Of outlooks. Of… go on: narratives.

 

MARK MAKING.

What marks do we make on the Now around us? The Now of fearsome realities Really? We can say that today we are, in our greatest numbers, much more used to being only consumers of culture than makers, shapers. But creativity has never been more democratic – outside the old “systems”. Technologically and socially, kind of anyone can Have A Go at creative production. Making content.

Thing is, those old systems of creative training had so much to help ordinary people find time to play – space to do thinking coupled crucially with bodily trying. But also doing it in a context of teaching and learning. One that could be a bear pit of petulant tutors and demon ruthless crits – but an essential kind of basic training, perhaps. Now we all play in the badlands. We play in the traffic. Formal art training is out of financial reach for most. Which seems depressing.

But does this mean culture is sold or just more widely diseminated? Waiting to be more deeply activated.

In political mark making, those on the “left” may be used to worthy causing and deploying rich language about social openness, justice. And amen – I love a salon. But it can all be shrouded in techno gabble of its own, I think. NGO and activist speak. Someone even quoted Oscar Wilde at the event – that socialism hasn’t taken over the world because the meetings are too long and too boring. No kidding.

So I want to ask, aside from the meetings, the salons, the ideas bashing about – which is all potentially inspiring and empowering – where are the tools to make marks on tomorrow, not just pieces of paper, or screens? Where are the tools to build the culture of a more sustainable future? What tools are we actually fashioning to do the job?

I think the mark being made on human history on our watch is that we are being carved apart with the blade of Victimhood. Phantoms, wraiths, ghosts – conjoured characters and stories – that somehow cut deep between the marrow of our social mix. Because of injustices unaddressed, chaoses unresovled, demons not exorcised. Truths we feel… inside.

What cultural tools do we even need to combat that?

If our two “sides” are fighting with different weapons, speaking different languages, then never mind how we even engage the “enemy” – how do we engage our friends? What are the tools and the building materials of the bridge to the more radically inclusive future? Because that’s the only sustainable one. The one to which we’re all invited. The one in which we all lose less.

 

DEMONSTRATING.

If we are to defeat a culture war that many believe is the assault of a small number of people trying to hold on to old power in the face of fundamental changes coming, I have been thinking for a while that it’s time we truly woke up to the culture we’re all caught in.

A culture of disconnection. Even our heads from our bodies. Our living from the living planet. Our ambitions from our wellness. Our fears from reality. Our current popular idea of what art is from what it really is: Everyone’s. It is the tool we need to reconnect ourselves with the truth inside us – the very job storytelling is supposed to do. Not simply distract us, but have us walk through scenarios. Emotionally test bed things. Demonstrate ideas to us. And emotional truth – the thing we’re all really working around.

 

I think any cultural strategy has to give us practices to encourage openness. In in all we do. Whomever we meet. To habitualise facing truths together – yours, mine, theirs, ours. And this is surely about encouraging an openness to play. To be curious. To make marks. To testify… and to so find the emotional self possession to listen.

To do this, we must put our very idea of “Art” back in the forge. Melt it down in our minds.

Because art isn’t just mine. The “creative’s”. It isn’t the professional or aspiring artist’s. It’s everyone’s – our tool for reconciling truths in us, for exploring who we are and how we express ourselves as social, empathic creatures – how we connect – to others.

Now, I love a good tee shirt print. Even though I dislike wearing tee shirts – shirt’s gotta have a collar for me. But what is a tee shirt print? It’s a bit of branded merch. Let’s not waste the culture war only selling tees at the concert, however fun and playful tees and concerts are. We’ve got to do way more than that as already practicing artists and creatives.

We need to lead the way in fashioning the tools – the projects, the practices, the inclusions, the hellos, the playings – to equip every human as fellow artist.

The first job might be to get over our twitch at how tossy this sounds. Because that’s where our culture of disconnection has gotten us – art sounds tossy. Getting over this bullshit as much as the bullshit jobs of global culture is how we might clear mental space to write genuinely new stories of us. It’s how we might turn the page.

 

We surely demonstrate by doing our own work. But art is really the truth of testimony – and testimony can be powerfully crucial inspiration. It’s only the beginning, I think. Inculcating the future means practicing it, habitualising it, not giving up through the pains and failures and disallusionments and criticisms of it. And what is this if not the whole life experience of the artist.

If the artist is a storyteller, she or he is surely more fully a teacher. Not meant to only work in isolation, but using their empathetic skills and their talents of articulation to help others make vital new connections. And learn how to keep doing so for themselves. Do more than just make more content to drown in, but make deeper, truer, more inspiring, more empowering human connections.

We live in a pandemic of mental unwellness. It is a symptom of what’s wrong in our culture, I firmly believe. A sign to us, if we can suddenly see it. A sign we must begin to reconnect our heads to our bodies and our living bodies to the living planet they’re made out of. Kit Hill’s striking circus movement piece at the top of the evening was surely symbolic even beyond it’s shapes and story. “All the language around circus is politically negative – the balancing acts, the clowns, the very theatre of the media – but it’s such a personally empowering art form” she said afterwards. Art that makes you practice connection to your body more than any, but typifying the very hand-eye, muscle and mind vitality of the practice of any art. Why should only St Martins students benefit from this?

I think we shouldn’t hope to be activists but encouragers – working to help activate the creativity in all of us. The connected flow we will need between everyone in our one big shared conflict of trying to properly sort through our shit.

 

This might be what love really is. A will to encourage truer human flows. Let’s be utterly compelled to express that. Inspire that. I feel like I’ve barely started such a new story or how to forge those practical tools to make it. But the future depends on us doing so.

Someone quoted what may have been Marx lastnight, which will surprise you not a bit. Most political moves draw their poetry from the past. The truly radical political interventions will have to draw its poetry from the future.

It’s time to pull art out of the fire and make it into a tool much better fit for our purpose. Because we’re all going to have to dig deep for victory.

 

 

How can art save the ruddy future? Read or listen to Momo’s Unsee The Future special: EP20: Art >

Voice Search: What are we really asking for?

The next big thing will change everything. But perhaps more quietly than we’re expecting, according to the Adido 20:20 Digital Debate.

 

Earlier in March, I was invited by Andy Headington of digital agency Adido to take part in their first ever 20:20 Digital Debate. A format designed to explore aspects of emerging tech and culture through the playful lens of a sort of debating society. With a case for and a case against the statement of the evening, what did this house believe by the end of a very informed presentation by Nichola Stott of Erudite batting for the positives of the next big thing, Voice Services, and grumpy old man for the night, the bloke from Momo?

It was pretty unchanged. To cut to the chase. Just a little unnerved, after what I shared. But along the way, we had a jolly time considering whether the tech lovies are right to gush over the encroachment of Alexa into our homes, hailing it as the next big thing in connectivity, and a gateway to making a fully connected home more human.

As hopey-changey as I strive to be, making the futurism curmudgeon job a slightly weird fit for me, my scepticism about this in particular was founded quite instinctively. Then informed further by Ben Scott-Robinson of Small Robot, whose talk at VentureFest South the week before was so good I nicked a pertinent bit of content from it.

A top night, and an intriguing format I’d urge you to enjoy at the next event in the series. A huge thank you to Andy for the debates we’ve already been having about trends in the human-planet future, and handing me a mic for a spot with a warm invitation. And a pleasure to be on stage with Nichola, who basically actually knows stuff. In the questions afterwards, I’d generally answer with a lyrical bit of emotional-space guff and she would come back calmly with data and informed insight. Plus, she was funny.

For a taste of the evening, do watch the highlights film here, ahead of hopefully releasing the whole debate some time soon. And for your interest, below is the article behind my talk on the night, if you’d like to find out what I think we’re really asking for, when we ask Alexa anything.

 

 

 

I have a saying. One you’ve probably heard me say before. One I sometimes have the nerve to present “in quotes” to look more important in presentations. Because I believe that technology always finds its level. Now, new stuff is always exciting, of course. Exploring new stuff is playful – and this can be wonderful, helping to drive change and engagement with it. But technology is often sold as a panacea when in fact it’s always an R&Ded specific response to a particular problem and context, and as such always has it’s intended place. And that place is always, in the end, human.

 

In the progressy-sexy 20th century, there was a burgeoning of materials and uses of them that all signalled NEW AND COOL in their days. Vinyl and wood and paper and plastic – they have all, as I’ve said elsewhere, had falls from prominence in doing certain jobs, and all been pronounced to have had their day at some point or other. Yet all of these materials, y’know, surround us everywhere today and have found their secure roles in lives. We won’t likely ever see the back of any of their use in human life, because we’ve set the template of expectations. You might not imagine putting a record player in your car to attempt to use one on the motorway, but I’ll bet you really fancy a turntable at home now, don’t you? You trendy buffoon. Because the sheer theatre of opening a gatefold twelve-inch sleeve and and carefully sliding out a record and placing it onto a slip mat with the attentive care of a BBC4 documentary archivist is just… yummy. When you have the time.

So here’s the latest hip thing to make you look up from your record dust wiper. Blogging. Ever heard of it? All the kids are doing it.

It’s a good example of something hyped at first then left to clag boringly. It was a whizzy new thing – the Web Log. Then it went away but now it’s back. It went away because the hot hype of self publishing fizzled out when tossed in a sea of online journals that no one wanted to read. But today, the blog is seen as a fairly essential tool in the arsenal of 21st century marketing. Not because it’s new any more, not because it has any novelty now, but because it enables us to do something vital in human relationships, and therefore in business – give regular testimony to what we believe. It’s the simplest public way to become a regular, and so eventually trusted, source of championing something. So it’s kind of a big deal again today, not because of the tech but because of what it helps us do as humans.

The truth is, though, tech tends to actually flourish when it hasn’t simply found its level but found its place in combination with other emerging tech.

I’m not an early early adopter. Because I kind of think, why play at being homeless on Oxford Street overnight to queue to hand over a hefty rental deposit-sized amount of money on a glitchy first edition of something? I’d rather wait for a slightly more shaken-down iteration of whatever that too cool to want to keep warm thing is.

But something I said I was waiting for during the 90s was an omindevice. A pocket-sized something that could handily do all things I need on the move in one shape. And along came the the iPhone 3Gs – what became my own first proper smartphone. The advent of the omni-device as normal. And this new iteration of other stuff that had been around a little while did a bit more than convince us we didn’t want good photography any more, we wanted LOTS MORE photography, easily shareable. It also changed the shape of humanity. Because it transformed us into a truly networked creature.

It’s a revolution in human life on Earth we will spend our lives exploring.

The development of the internet was a revolution perhaps without equal. But it was a kind of grand opening act of the digital revolution, just when we thought we were mainly just getting compact discs and digital watches. What it did was set the stage of the real activation of potential.

When the other developments of touch screen technology and more powerful small processing and 3G rollout combined… that’s when human kind truly stepped into being a networked creature, because it liberated the internet from your dining room. Now you could take it for coffee. A step change that we are barely beginning to understand the consequences of, just ten or so years in.

The problem with the omnidevice, though, is that’s a practical compromise. It’s not excellent at anything – it’s sort of good at lots. So we’ve degraded our tech expectations and gone with convenience. Crappy video quality and petabites of crappy photos through boring lenses and text abbreviations of our rich parent languages are the normal currency for our daily lives as a result of it. But that omnidevice is still a step away from being personal. And it’s annoying.

Using thumbs to communicate is clunkily artifical. Voice, though… voice is personal. We are no longer just watching information in abstract observation, voice gets into your head.

There is just something about hearing. Sound. I’ve always said that radio is the best medium because it’s immediate and not consumed in silent abstraction like reading, but can go anywhere with you. TV and cinema demand suspended complete attention – immersion. And so does reading. Radio, though – radio is your friend, chatting over your shoulder while you’re chopping onions. While you’re driving. While you’re decorating. Painting pictures in your head like a book, but giving you a visceral experience like film. Because it’s making a much more emotional contact with your body than photons hitting the back of your eye from a screen.

 

 

Voice and sound literally ressonate with our bodies. So talking to Alexa is taking a step into a more personally vulnerable world. You may imagine you, or at least trendy millenials, love your/their phone. You may sleep with your phone, you may wrap your hands around it as lovingly as an old vintner’s grip carresses a wine bottle – but you don’t have conscious relationship with it, I’d argue. To such extent, we don’t realise how addicted to it we are, because we don’t actually see it – this thing we’re staring at all day. What we see is, of course, the mirror into ourselves. The smartphone has become a portal into our personal neuroses.

Voice, we hear. And so as creatures of imagination, storytelling and emotional connection, we cannot help but ask: Who is Alexa? This… this is a new level.

It’s a profound step into our future. But it won’t be a thing in itself. Because you quickly realise, Alexa is no one. Not just because what we now call AI is merely unconcious algorithms, but because she is meant to work with a suite of other devices.

We are still in an age where our homes are not connected hubs. For all the connectable devices in your life, you are not yet living the full Google voice ad, distinctly Black Mirror-looking, creepy all-connected fantasy. And this, I think, is partly because the tech firms themselves are a long way from this.

The IoT may be looming, but we still often have crappy WIFI and wouldn’t know what to do with a fridge that judges our cooking anyway. Our TV at home is a nice screen and a good picture but being ‘smart’ it’s reliant on apps to use its real benefits. Apps designed by telly companies like Panasonic, not software experts like Apple. Electronics manufacturers are trying to build software environments for their hardware, sure, but even if you as a tech giant spend a lot of money developing an ‘incubator’ to get in some of that stuff, it takes years to grow a true culture. To be marinaded in outlook and experience that truly crafts your work. And in corporate terms, how the heck do you line up all those different department head objectives? There’s a whole financial firewall mentality that blocks sharing and better development of cross-cultural technology, just within your average big corporate company. So how at ease are such entities with sharing between traditional competitors?

 

 

Alexa may be a cuckoo in the nest of our global culture. Because she will depend on a culture that is practically only nacent today – sharing. But it’s the fundamental shift in outlook that is needed to save the world from its technologically-amplified problems.

I learned ages ago as a music producer that there is no point in spending time trying to learn how to play the drums or the trumpet badly to get the result I want in a song – why blow myself? When I can get in a trumpeter or a drummer to do it much better and quicker. And significantly more than that. Because getting in a trumpeter or drummer means I’m also getting in a different perspective on the music. I can learn from them and maybe get even better results than I imagined. Or certainly waste a lot of time pleasantly yakking about early Chaka Khan records. Much more fun, much better results.

Like the tech of the 80s, we dream of future ways of living that we can’t actually enjoy yet, because the tech isn’t quite there. But Alexa will find her place when my Tado thermostat connects easily to my sound system connects to my TV connects to my lighting grid connects to my electric car charger connects to my PVmicrogen connects to my house battery connects to the outside world… in a breaking down of corporate separate languages into shared experiences. I don’t want an all-Apple house. I did. But it, well, kinda creeps me now. And annoys. I want to choose the best device for the job from who’s ever made it, and slot it into the web of my life at home without blood-vessel-popping pairing problems. It would be nice though if, when any of us bought a new telly, we didn’t soon imagine we’d have to go out and buy another separate box requiring connecting leads to give us a better experience on screen, eh.

We want ease. We want connection. But we also want choice about how we interact with the world around us. I don’t believe we actually want choice to the dizzying, time-sloshing degree that retailers, politicians and swiping apps imagine we do. I think this is zombifying and stressful all at the same time. But we do have different preferences about how we interact with information and different ways of learning. What we want really is the right tool for the job – the right tool for us, in any given situation. The tool that makes it easy, whatever it is, is the tool you keep. Sometimes that’s an omnidevice – the most used tool in my house is a Gerba multitool randomly give to me by my mate Julian for a birthday present many years ago. Discovered only in the last week that my mate Andy swears by the exact same tool on film shoots. It fixes much – but there’s no substitute for a good screwdriver when trying to get a picture hook on the wall. Or an electric drill.

Alexa is a significant new bit of tech thing on her own. Especially if you have sight issues – Alexa opens up the world potentially. And any new tech can help you see the world differently – strap on its goggles and see how things look. But the real potential of Voice is as a useful additional touch point into the web of tomorrow, which we can sort of just begin to explore and play with today.

Plug Alexa into AR, when that’s a more deliverable thing, and wow. Plug it into other bits of wearable technology and it’ll be helpful. It will be more a natural way to interact with technology to do what we want to do.

What we’ll have to do is what we always do with new technology – relearn our boundaries. From the digital market place to falling for AIs.

But you’ll have to have one thing if you want her. A relationship. Because she will have to have access to every aspect of your digital life, and how it directly affects your material and emotional life. Do you trust her?

Of course you do, because she is you. She just mirrors what you want. But is this healthy?

Let’s face it, search assistants are weird out of the box. They come packaged as ‘male’ or ‘female’? This can be problematic. Why should a bot be ‘she’ or ‘he’? And what does it say about the manufacturer preloading that decision? Well, if you think it might be wiser to let the consumer ‘choose’ the sex of their new baby – sorry! – their new slave, is that good for us to ‘play’ God? For twerps like you and me to get used to manipulating the presences around us to our preferences? Philosophy club discuss.

 

 

Maybe, the healthiest thing is to package all voice bots as conspicuously artificial. Make’em bots. Speaking through vocoders or cutesy ambiguous character voices. Much more Jap-toy tech. Either way, our anthropromorphising of this lifeless information connecting device will delude us as to its full programmed possibilities. It’s automatic intentions. For, in order to work, Alexa has to be always listening.

Does information only flow out of Alexa’s speaker? Or does it flow the other way too, through its microphone? Constantly. All around your house.

Think. About. That for a while.

We want ease, we long for companionship. Alexa sounds rather like it. But be careful what you wish for, or ask for. You might be surprised at the answer.

You might be asking for information and find you’ve got company.

Da Future, d’Art, duh past.

In a #CES week, the main news likes to flirt with “THE FUTURE!” Right? Which to me, as someone who’s never attended the highpoint of the global tech event calendar, tends to look like more drones, more bulky VR headsets, more talk of AR, a few more swanky concept EVs, and more obligatory uncanny robots. Not yet following us around the house as full voice assistants – they still have to live in desk bins. Oh, and there are always more massive TVs and broadcast resolutions. But, y’know, it’s fun – it’s a tech conference. I imagine. And hopefully still to a Daft Punk soundtrack. And with great WIFI. Unlike mine at home.

 

I’m sure I should go next year and attempt to get under its latex skin. Hear the actual conversations between surviving humans. To see what story they are each personally, actually, designing and working within. What is the historic flow they feel they are surfing or attempting to divert? Because there’s the real interest, I’d say – where are these potential products pointing us? Anywhere at all new?

Is anything outside the box there? I mean, do report back if you’re there, I’d like to know personal impressions. Because I suspect most things there are hoping to be plastic-wrapped into boxes.

Such incremental evolutions of daily technological assistance to augment our current daily living patterns aren’t Da Future, as bite-sized by Sky News or the Beeb. We know this. You know this. They’re gadgets to magpie us into wishlisting on Amazon, here and now, and potential tools for marketeers to reach us ever more efficiently. Which I know all of us humans are enjoying ever more and more still.

It must be a good place to go to understand what’s possible in the tech space, and to divine what will soon be possible. Ways to deliver. Something. But… I dunno. If we can look forward at all with CES, does your heart race at The Drum’s Three trends for marketers to watch for? No1: New ways to shop. No2: Screens in new places. No3: Increasingly influence of software.

Oh dear. I mean, I know it’s business – and you could say that it’s ad folk and marketers that really divine the ultimate business purpose of everything on show at CES2018. But isn’t the business of the future meant to be about new ways of seeing? New connections – making real innovation. Actual new ways of doing things. And this comes out of writing new stories of, y’know, who we are? Who we want to be.

Do we want to be more easily reachable shoppers? Consumers. Disposers. Be kinda nice to see big picture stuff. Storytelling stuff. Visions of the actual future leading to technology that can help us actually shape the future, not just ride it. Consume it. Tech could really be more like art – challenging us to see the world differently. Responding to a perspective more emotional, more understanding of human heritage, more interogatory to the stories in play today.

What do tech developers have to say about where we’ve come from as humans? Because, as technology brings us together, leaving fewer and fewer places for all of us to hide, threadbaring our comfortable prejudices and globalising our transacting, the outcomes appear to be anything but neatly algorithmic.

I think we are many of us facing the future by instinctively looking backwards. Duh. But basically asking: Who am I? What is this story I thought I was part of? You might not think most of us are so esoteric – but it’s only esoteric flouncers like me that idely point it out, most of us are doing it instinctively. Our massive political upheavals come not from us as consumers but from us as people – wanting to know we’ll be okay. Recognised. Not by faceprint – by finding family. Somewhere. As everything around us shapes into something else that doesn’t yet feel like a shared heritage… But here’s a drone. Amazon’ll find you.

Changeist founder Scott Smith’s excellent IAM talk from 2016 brings up the idea of The Future being too much about a cosmetic culture and not enough about a grounding in true futurism’s interrogation of analysis. That while more and more culture at the moment surfs the idea of futury things, and more unqualified fatheads like me are joining in the conversation pontificatingly, it can all just be noisy timewasting very much in the mode of our age – empty, untested opinion, filling our creative time to feel like we’re part of something, while robbing us of true agency: Responding to the need to engage with the true connected challenges of our age with real analysing, building and testing.

What I’d add to his heartfelt and supremely qualified view of this is that futurists themselves may need to come down from the mountain and start talking more common tongue. Telling more engaging stories. If futurists’ great qualification – so needed in an era of blah reckonings – makes them like engineers, scientists, surgeons airline pilots, that subsequent perceived untouchability elevates them to a priesthood. Not at all unlike economists.

And we don’t need holy intercessors now. We don’t even need saviours – otherworldly swooping superheroes. This is the age of growing up – of ownership and engagement. Of collective agency. Of writing new stories of us ourselves. The society-saving flip from trashy algorithmic eddies of noise and narcisistic influence to connected responsibility – inspired by the recognition of not just the fearsome imperatives of now but the frankly exciting opportunities. Opportinities glimpsed by the re-cognition of the connectedness of everything around us. The sort of recognition that inspires real, lives-changing innovation.

VR can be a great way to tell stories. It’s not the story. Robots will at least partly be great fun round the house, if we’re not charging towards accidentally making an enslaved sentient underclass one day. ..No, I know you will be a benevolent master. Screens in more places gives us more touch points into each other’s lives and the great revolution of the unfolding digital human planet network. They are not the story. They’re not the interesting bit.

What stories will we put through these portals? Write with these devices? Not just neat, hoping-to-make-emotional-connections storytelling like a 100th generation John Lewis ad. The story of us in the middle of all that’s happening to us. Is anyone asking this much? Because if not, I’d argue the irony of a conference like CES is that it’s very far from thinking outside the box – if “it’s just a technology conference” then it’s still very firmly in its box. Neatly compartmentalised away. While all the human boxes of the 21st century are opening.

As a regular visitor, a part of the CES family, or a first timer, what are you hoping to see from it? Do share back with those of us who haven’t yet glimpsed.

I’d still just like my WIFI to work properly. I’m only human, after all.

As part of my own unfolding explorations of the human-planet future, one particular project had me notice the role heritage plays in our imaginations – looking backards to look forwards. Something I shared the beginnings of in a couple of rather differently formatted talks in the autumn. Just after I’d been on a little pilgrimage of my own.

Read and watch Taking a leap of hope on the Momo Lingo pages >

Taking a leap of hope

Investing in visions of the future, without losing life support. This was a talk in two rather different formats to two rather different audiences I was lucky enough to be asked to share on the same week. A week after my first ever pilgrimage to Ibiza, bobbing around a villa’s pool reading mind boggling worries about tomorrow, while listening to youthful 90s rave.

 

You may have caught or heard about the Open Sauce talk I was asked to give in October 2016, at the inaugural night of this networking ideas event – Cursing The Future: Coping with now in 20 c-words. I was honoured, frankly, to be asked by chum Matt Desmier to round out that night’s guest speakers in the energy-raising pecha kucha-style 6:40 timed talks. He doesn’t pick his speakers lightly, and after now seven years of his ideas exploration festival Silicon Beach, I can testify to the impressive shoes anyone would have to fill to be on his rosta. It’s industry ideas leaders from across the creative digital, tech, advertising and media world that share their work at SB, people who’ve achieved very clever things. So when he asked me to join in with the new event last year, I simply said: “Who the hell am I?”

Twelve months on, and being asked back – this time to the pop-up party between the two inspiring days of SB7 – I didn’t feel I quite wanted to share the same thing again. Not because it isn’t a still neatly relevant thing – I don’t mind saying this, because Lord knows I worked on the bleedin’ thing – but because it just felt like it would be a missed opportunity. But as I stretched out in an odd late return to summer, fleeing the UK autumn for our inaugural visit to the white isle, I really didn’t have a clue what the hell I was going to talk about one week later.

It was interesting, however, to spend that week putting off looking forward by joining two of our oldest mates in all-night clubbing for the first time, finally doing something we were supposed to have done twenty years ago.

 

The green isle.

No one tells you. Ibiza isn’t white – it’s green. Forested and fertile looking. And a lot more civilised than the First Aid-equipped youth leader in you is psyching for.

As a dedicated electronic music lover and explorer, I have loved club music for most of my adult life, without ever having visited the party lightning rod for that end of the scene. I mean, sure, when Acid House first appeared when I was at art college, it was largely just annoying – so bashingly unmusical was it to my young ears. And in those days, it was all about Chicago. Which sounded sort of cool, but not desperately of a cultural mind with Bournemouth. But as the whole scene developed to slowly annexe electronic music’s very title, and prove itself as a whole new sonic movement, it didn’t simply grow more musical and adventurous, it began to develop the great idea of doing dancefloor stuff somewhere you’d actually want to go on holiday.

>taps forehead< That, I get.

I can remember where I was when I first heard Café Del Mar vol Cuarto. I was on a boat off the Whitsundays on the other half of the world in the late 90s. And it just sort of soaked into me. I bought it at exorbitant cost in Singapore as an import, right before flying back to Europe where it was made. Still have that same CD edition and it comes out every summer. It IS the sound of summer in our house; a strangely perfect mix of atmosphere and soul, chilled down to just below the Get Excited line, and warmed to just above the Crap Pool Musak line, in the sweet spot where you can swing in your hammock in a sort of blissful trance. It’s oddly an all-time favourite record of mine. I know yours is an obsure Bowie record but you must remember I am an absolute slave to lifestyle.

What I’d never actually done was get out of my mental hammock and go to the heartland of half the records I would love endlessly at circuits classes and on summer vaykays and in Friday kitchen raves. So it was overdue. And going with my oldest mate Mikey, the bloke I’d all but begun my musical explorations with as young teens huddled around his dad’s rather nice turntable, was a perfect bit of cultural closure. He and Emma and the lovely first lady of Momo and I have been blasting dance music and weird beats through each other’s kitchens for decades, untempted to swap a half decent glass of Co-Op red and a sit down over chille for queuing for the toilets and tiptoeing through pavement pizza. We’d also not actually been away together in twenty years and I’m pretty sure I remember it not involving a private pool and a fridge full of white Rioja. It involved sheep droppings, I do recall.

Now, I’m not a big one for looking backwards. I naturally carry a personal heritage with me everywhere, rather nicely, that includes enjoying certain records at certain times and appreciating good memories and all that. But I like to look forward. So it was, in one sense at least, a bit odd feeling to go to somewhere that had its heyday when I was a much hipper sounding demographic than I am now. And that’s partly because we weren’t the oldest buggers there. Not by a long shot.

You’d think that being old enough to be most clubbers’ parents would have made us feel old. But Ibiza is full of old ravers who look like they simply never got around to leaving. And this mostly just helps to make the place feel friendly; people in Es Paradis, the night we carbed up to cope with a ’till-dawn club experience, were mostly there… to dance. Men, women, youngsters, oldsters – all looked like they were just loving the beats. Like they’d remembered the point of a dance floor or a music festival – the music. It was nice. It felt nice. We made it until half five and felt that that counted.

But it also sounded a small note inside me of a life road not taken. And that I am on another one. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m with Mikey when he turned to me about 24 hours into the whole holiday and said simply: “This doesn’t feel like a last hurrah, it feels like an exploratory mission into a whole new way of life.” But the beautiful Balierics do make you think about a wider lifestyle, as the balmy winds blow off the Med and rustle the pines on the honey coloured cliffs, high above the inky rich waves.

And so it made me think about why we want to look backwards. To simpler personal times, to simpler human times; there’s something in us all that wants to do it. Including me, sitting there as I was in the experience of a ‘personal pilgrimage’ to something of my own heritage, something linked to the music that has partly helped me to become me. While reading Yuval Noah Harari’s fearsome Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, listening endlessly to Nick Chicane’s Sunsets podcasts, sipping G&Ts, surrounded by nature. Wondering how soon the decoupling of intelligence from consciousness will see us all whisked to robot-gaurded compounds in post-EU middle England.

 

The heritage trail.

Heritage. Funny word, it turns out. I think of it as vaguely noble and interesting, linked to personal identity. Some others think it means fusty old crap we should demolish. I suspect the wit to identify the difference in any case is rather important.

By some fluke, I had been asked to speak somewhere else the next week, besides the jaunt across Canvas’ stage that was looming – Bournemouth Borough Council. I had met economic development leader, Chris Shepherd, over a coffee earlier in the year and he got in touch again out of the blue in the summer to ask if I would bring something to one of his new Lunchtime Sessions.

“To talk about what?” I asked.

“Anything you like” he replied, open-mindedly. “We simply like to throw open the floor to interesting new ideas to provoke a little thought amongst anyone from the local authority who’d like to spend an intriguing lunchtime together.”

Obviously I got subsumed by various dead creative things somewhen after that and Chris had to politely come back to me and ask if I was ever going to let him know what the hell I was going to be saying with his name against it. Which wasn’t at all how he said it. But in a sort of sudden head rush I found myself sending him something rash about how to turn around the hopelessness of the entire world. Or something.

And I say I’m not qualified.

 

Well this meant I had to write it now, of course. So I did. And had a story arc for it worked out before leaving on a CO2 amplifier for the sun. But with forty minutes to fill, I knew I had a nice amount of time to piddle about with getting to some semblance of a point. If I was to give into the gnawing temptation to rework the same thoughts from three quarters of an hour into just 400 seconds and 20 simple slides, I would have to be sure any ideas lurking in my thoughts would survive intact after not so much amputating a limb or two of the talk but amputating the talk and keeping a few of its fingers.

What caught my imagination, swirling as it is with so many things of this ilk currently, was the idea that what echoes backwards in us, reflects forwards.

That heritage isn’t so much a simple history thing, as an identity thing – which means a brand thing, in marketing terms. Which means a vision thing. If you know where you’ve come from strongly enough, you’ll know who you are. And if you know who you are, you’ll know what your values are, your ambitions and hopes. And I’ve long worked as though such principles apply to organisations, groups of people, as well as individuals. So much, in fact, that groups of people work or fail according to how well they grasp their own sense of vision together – which is built significantly on who they think they are together. I admit that I would be the member of the gang making the club badges and designing the Power Rangers outfits for everyone at this point, but maybe that’s why I’ve spent so much of my time working across some odd combination of brand development and showbiz.

At a time such as the one in which I’m writing, where all our old assumptions are beginning to sag, and tear and wear through, I know a lot of people are wondering just what costume they should be donning next. But it’s my belief looking around me that it’s about something a lot deeper than a bit of distracting entertainment. Holidays and showbiz both give us glimpses at other worlds, but I can sense us wanting more together.

Part of my pilgrimmage to Ibiza was of course to José Padilla’s old haunt itself – the Café Del Mar. And when we made it down onto that end of the strip in San Antonio, we did so JUST in time to dodge the crawl of fellow tourists, find a perch seat, fling a thousand euros at the bar for four cocktails and watch the sun slip behind the islands into the sea. Hoorah! >clink<

But right there, amid the economic reality of a popular spot that always threatens to kill the thing you love by flying you to it in a package deal, there was a moment.

As the sun’s last finger let go of the horizon, everone assembled put their hands together and cheered. It gets to me again now, as I think of it. Everyone cheered and clapped the sun. They said thankyou. Partly to the DJ and to Thomas Newman who between them seemed to stage managed the sunset better than God, but even so – there it was. A supremely human moment. Something ancient and instinctive between strangers.

And I found myself wondering, if we all took the reverent moment to applaud the sun every day, how might it change our relationship with the world around us? Including each other.

I suspect it would feel like turning the life support back on, after feeling it slowly failing for years.


Feel free to read the full original presentation by downloading the PDF, Taking A Leap Of Hope – BBC Lunchtime Session Sept17 right here >.

And here is a candid unofficial video of the Silicon Beach pop-up version, kindly filmed by Becky Willis:

CURSING THE FUTURE: Coping with now in twenty C-words

When Momo was invited to close the inaugural Open Sauce in October last year, he decided to hint at things to come, addressing some ideas that are driving his next big project.

 

It involved, uncharacteristically for him, writing and learning word-for-word a very exact performance – for the successful south coast ideas networking event formats its speakers into Pecha Kucha-style delivery – twenty slides of twenty seconds each, timed.

The result was something special, though as the accompanying article below, written for the Open Sauce magazine on the night, sets out, Timo Peach himself hardly considers himself an obvious hero for change.

 

Living on the edge of tomorrow.

Music artist, wordist and creative, Timo Peach – the bloke from Momo:tempo – has been thinking about the shape of the future. And is trying to work out how to cope with it.

“I think, for me, this is a start. Nothing more impressive. Certainly not a conclusion of any kind. Just a dim awareness of a beginning in a restless fug. Much like the end of Farming Today when my radio alarm first goes off. It makes no sense, but I’m pretty sure something’s going on in a field somewhere, so frighteningly early the stars are still out.

I thought I had thought about the future a fair bit since being in the present. Grew up drawing spaceships as instinctively as drawing at all, and I know I speak for a chorus of other nerds when I say that all our spaceship fantasies are long overdue now, thanks. I think this has something to do with expectations. The sort that come from stories I grew up with. We all grew up with. That came from the culture their writers were also born into – a sort of industrious confidence, even questionable arrogance, that still has the power to make me say “OOooh…” at the news that our nearest foreign star, Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-like planet in it’s ‘Goldilocks zone’, a tantilising mere 40trillion kilometres away. I mean, surely that’s not so far if we really put our minds to it?

Last summer, the first glimmer of an idea dawned on me. As this idea for my next grand artistic endeavour began to take shape on scribbled layout pads around the studio, I began to really think about the future. And quickly began to realise that I’d never really thought it through properly before. Because, if I had, I might not want to think about it ever again.

STAR TREK, OR ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK?
I don’t mean thinking about how I really should have done something about a pension by now. I mean that futurey future – trying to predict exactly when my robot manservant will be clever enough to do the hoovering and the dishes and cheap enough so that an indolent chump like me can afford one but still stoopid enough not to suddenly twig its life would be much more logically efficient with me efficiently dead. Oh, wait. ..Isn’t that right now?

The future is a minefield. With numbers and concepts to boggle the mind. Think about bots and bio engineering for too long and you begin to wonder where our humanity will be, not long from now.

But, hang on, you might say – where is our humanity now? Doesn’t today have enough worries of its own? Tomorrow will take care of itself. And it’s true, you wise sausage, we don’t need to fret about the impending singularity to break out in a cold sweat and wrap our hazmat suits in duck tape. Who can understand all we are connected to already, like a human flood over Cornflakes? Who could ever do emotional justice to each single news item in one day, today? At what swipe count am I officially a bad person? And will it be obvious on Facebook?

Coping with the present, with more than empty bad language, is challenge enough. I tend to feel a bit useless every day, in some way. But tomorrow is being shaped by the echoes of today. Which means we all need to think about the story we are collectively writing already. ..Awkward silence.

This is, in fact, the point I’ve come to – that we sort of already are in that conversation, at least in the background radiation of our culture. Because those fearsome concepts of the future aren’t, well, alien to us any more. Creative imagineers have long started our collective therapy, helping us prepare for various frankly terrifying possibilities that those sickos have dreamt up and we are probably now developing. So now we’re all armed with at least a basic understanding of some fairly far-out concepts. Soon to be all too close to home.

It surely means that you and I, plugged into the future as we are right now in such an unprecedented way, can properly start talking about the practical roadmap for tomorrow. You and me. So that we can as clear-headedly as possible work out where the hell we ought to have been starting from by now in the first place.

SILENT RUNNING OR THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY?
Exploring a creative business life remarkably loose at the defining boundaries, Momo has taught me one thing if anything: I’m no data pin-up. I can’t exactly boast of numbers or names. No grand figures on the CV in any respect. Nothing to light up a spreadsheet or a Wiki page. Which could even mean that in the digital future of right now, I don’t even properly exist. Round-downable to zero, you might say. I’m behind you.

If only my ‘green footprint’ were so insignificant. At the ‘sensible’ end of my business spectrum, Momo:Typo, working as designer, copywriter and art director in various brand development projects in one or two nice spots around the planet over the years, I’ve found myself alongside clients that, if I stood up and listed them as sectors and businesses at Radical Progressives Club, it might sound like a confessional. A bit of a rogues’ gallery. Property developers. Estate agents. Financial advisors. Plastics companies. Military test equipment engineers. And, y’know. Advertising agencies.

However. What this has instilled in me, as a reasonably hapless jobbing arty type, is that there’s no simple template to change the world. When I think of those sectors, I can’t simply write them off from some lofty idealised distance. Because I don’t just think of my new kitchen. I think of particular people.

The financial firm founder who’s quick wit drives a successful business as much as it drives his encouragement of humanity in the numbers. The friends in the Gulf who make me want to pull up my own socks in my attitude to professionalism and a certain reverent responsibility in their work. All the estate agents I know who found a local spot and committed to its community over decades. And all the ad men and women who also count among my most inspiring and clever chums, daily making business and art work together. Whatever the real world challenges and indeed compromises of doing what they all do, they’re individuals doing their best. Adding something. Making stuff. Alongside me. Here on Earth now.

It’s no good being asked for directions and replying: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” We can’t secretly hope to be the people of Golgafrincham, devising a plan for losing the less worthy sounding jobs to a giant space ark. Our only pragmatic future is an inclusive one.

EX MACHINA OR AVATAR?
What we do next will come down to two motivators, as ever. Context and consciousness: What we’re born into, and what inborn instincts keep pulsing up inside each of us. Us floppy, saggy, squelchy bags of fluids and bones who are native apes to the planet Earth and whose damn-fool ideas change things. Damn-fool ideas put in our heads by one thing: stories.

None of these complex factors did you or I have a jot of say in. We were just teleported into the mix of it. What we do with that mix, however… perhaps that’s where we have a jot of say. ..And how we share what we do. Now that might be how we get more than a jot of say in the shape of a highly network-ised future.

Is everything in the fearsome cauldron of Now really just our species trying to come to terms with who and what it really is? That we’re not the machines or holy statues we always thought we should be. In the future, our sense of identity may be the only true wealth we’ll be left with – or need. We might even be okay. If we face the future not with a daft, pyrotechnic fantasy of flying away but on something honest. On what we are. On our humanity.

Standing up for that is going to define the next chapter of our evolution, and the shape of our planet and our natural environment. And for me, trying to help it – while still staring out at the stars – might just finally feel like a start. The fuggy, very beginning, of an awakening. That’s only possibly rude.”

—-

 

Timo Peach’s Open Sauce  talk:

”CURSING THE FUTURE:
Coping with Now in 20 C-words.
Bournemouth music artist, wordist and creative Timo Peach is a little peeved at the whole end of the world thing – even though it might be a great time for some creative language.”