Embracing the Future of the City
I have been thinking a lot about cities and urbanism and technology. This time it is a bit different because I am finishing up teaching a graduate design course at the University of Texas at Austin. During the course, I learned a lot, not only about my students but about the world. When I read the news, all of it is bad, pretty much every day there is more bad news. From a disastrous President to a crumbling world reeling in the midst of climate change. It is no wonder everyone is obsessed with AR and tech to save us (or better yet allow us to escape), but on the other side I hear people who want the real world to continue. This new vision for our future world is one that embraces human experiences, values our humanness and in turn makes being human in the world better. The best thing about this world is that it isn't pretend. I actually can't think of anything worse than living in a world where you fly around having fake experiences with either a screen on your face or somehow projected in front of it, or even worse a physical world controlled by Google (like the one they are working on in Toronto) where every action is monitored by a machine and in turn controlling your actions. making us, essentially the AI we are so afraid of.
I think the thing I wonder about the most is why people aren't clamoring to be better humans? I wonder why they don't see any real hope for the world we live in. I am endlessly curious and in a world that has the limitations of a computer algorithm, I can't see anything interesting at all. If we lived in a world where every action was predictable we would cease to exist as a human race. People are always talking about an apocalypse where we all die and the world ends. I have to wonder if that is simply giving into tech and a world controlled by Facebook and Google.
My previous business, Lille Huset, was launched as a "modern business." I started my idea on kickstarter, I used facebook for fans and marketing, I had an e-commerce site, I had google ads, and a blog. For seven years, I worked the use of all of these platforms to gain credibility of my ideas and bring something to the world that I really believed in. The problem was, my digital identity was wrapped up in my ability to continue one idea, and to continue to get deeper into the digital web. My days were spent online, filling orders, making posts, taking the "perfect" photos for instagram, emailing bloggers, doing all the "work" that continued the narrative. When I decided I was done with the project, I didn't know which way was up. I had believed that the inter-web would continue to reward me. I had a digital crisis, I didn't know who I was, who people expected me to be and where I was going. I was living in a world that did not actually exist and no one cared if I was there or not.
I gave up social media about 8 months ago and retain an instagram account just to search for things occasionally, and check in on my 14 year old daughter. Each time I open it, my heart races and I have a mini panic attack. I loathe the idea of "likes" and "comments". I started to notice how I was being controlled by the overly styled and the sheer quantity of images my friends were posting that made their life look better than mine or just that they loved their kids more because they took pictures of their every action, making me insecure and feeling like a target of a sort of mind control that made me either feel competitive, question myself or simply depressed because I could not keep up. From there I began to compare myself to other makers, how many sales, how many posts, how many likes, how good their photos were, using the right kind of hashtags all for no real gain, so I stopped... I think I have a sort of social media PTSD that causes my physical nervousness every time I open it, but since quitting my life has been so much better. I would highly recommend to everyone to quit social media, it just may make you a little bit more human. You'll find that you've been controlled the whole time and that the things you were striving for were manufactured by other humans (the perfect photos) and you may just find that you yourself have a life to live in the real world.
In the years following the end of Lille Huset, which is currently 1 year, and having given up social media, I have been able to find my next project. Matt and I have been working on the future of the city. We are allowing ourselves to dream. We are not worrying about the insanity of social media or if other people "heart" every idea we have and working on thinking and talking about how our city will evolve. The work we are doing now on our new house in central Austin, is to establish a hybrid of sorts. A circumvention of the system and using the system to help grow the city in a positive way, not necessarily blocking out a useful inter-web, just wielding it for us. I know that the internet is never going to go away. It will only become an apocalyptic beast if we let it. I think we can develop our cities as humans and use technology to make them better, as a tool not a control mechanism.
The house we are designing is centered around urban life, affordability, and to change the way we work and shop. As long as we are still physical, I believe we will continue to eat food, walk around, breathe air, commune with other, and... live.