Living Future Visions

I’m a big fan of future vision and future scenario projects. And the recent article, The Future (According to Corporations), by Robert Bolton, gives an interesting read on them.  The article is a response to a talk by Scott Smith who argued that such projects are watered-down corporate visions, lacking real-world emotions and needs, and encouraging passive viewing and acceptance of the vision. And a great deal of what he says is right — these visions aren’t real, they show our lives as simplified and passive, with technologies that magically anticipate our needs.

In discussing Scott’s talk, Robert writes that “Future scenarios should be thought of as being in perpetual draft form; they should be rewritten constantly and thought about critically — always in the condition of workshopping. Questions about how things like new technologies ought to exist are matters of vital social consequence.”

That sounds right to me — and true to my experience when I’ve been involved in creating some myself. They’re intended to engage the viewer and to get a response. They’re to inspire and set a general direction. And, through conversation, experimentation, and iteration, they’re revised and re-thought. They’re ways to frame goals and strategy, not to be a design document that’s cast in stone.

Actually — the real reason I started this post, was I wanted to include a couple of them here. I’ve already posted about some of the examples Robert includes. But the others are a pretty strange and awkward mix. Sometimes they’re heavy with the the corporate culture from which they originate (or speak to). Sometimes the vision is hard to understand or seems vaguely crazy. Others are too narrow a vision, or the narration has little to do with what’s being shown. But, in their own individual ways, they’re showing ideas of the new, that are much more easily digested, than if done in words or a powerpoint.

Really what we need is for future visions to be living documents. Things that can be annotated, commented on, and revised. They may not be as live as a shared Google doc, but at least we should be releasing updated versions of the visions, based on what’s been learned and what’s changed since they were made.