We pause now to think about the future: What it takes to change, Dtlj at Ars Electronica

par Melissa

Just got back from Linz.

The Future Innovators Summit gathers people from all over the world in order to collaborate and exchange ideas over 2 very full days. The exploratory theme this year at Ars Electronica was: What it takes to change.

Dtlj was joined by Nova Jiang, Anshul Tewari, and Reyes Tatsuru Shiroku. Respectively, we come from Canada, New Zealand, India, and Japan. Together we combined our affection for robots, social start-ups, placemaking and interactive arts. The summit started with a broad discussion prompted by topics such as nuclear power, the USA, the grid, conflict, sex, handwriting, and golf. We landed on the idea of empowerment through productive conflicts.

Yes, productive conflicts.
There will always be conflict as long as humans are involved. So how can we get better at dealing with it? In a morning talk, Hiroshi Ishii described transdisciplinarity as finding opportunities in conflicts between different disciplines. From a broader perspective, there are opportunities in what divides us. How can we get better at turning conflictual situations into innovative solutions? How can conflicts be productive rather than destructive? How can we feel more empowered to act on them?

Artificial conflict…
We flirted with the idea of creating ‘artificial’ conflict in public spaces as a way to get people to be more agile on an everyday basis in their dealing with divergence – petty inequalities, a system that randomly forbids people to enter stores, an automaton that serves tea unequally between parties. We did a quick test on site, serving unequal shares of coffee to our other friends at the summit. We found out that artificial conflict in real life situations either moves people to accept it without questioning it, or actually generates real conflict… either way, nothing really productive happened.

Innovation under pressure.
Day 1 ended in general disagreement. Day 2 started with a general hangover. However 40 minutes later, we nailed the idea. By the end of that day, we presented Power Seats.

Power Seats

Power Seats.
The idea is initiated in public spaces, where waiting seats are turned into power seats which highlight conflictual power relationship pulled from news headlines. Ukraine and Russia. Palestine, Israel, and the United States. Maybe Beyoncé and Jay-Z too. What would you do if you were in their seats? How would you talk to your neighbour if he was your opponent? The general idea is to raise awareness and stimulate conversations as a base to generate productive conflict. The interaction inspires playful scenarios – sometimes serious ones – around the idea of conflictual relationships. Different points of view emerge. And for us, that is the beginning of productive conflicts.

But, what about the resolution of these conflicts? The Power Seats only really create a context for these ideas to emerge, they allow people to pay attention to issues in a more engaged way, and let them explore these different scenarios. We don’t provide an answer or expect matters to be resolved through this exercise, but we do feel it’s an important first step at becoming more agile in discussing our differences and inequalities. If people care and feel empowered, then they are more likely to act on a situation by taking the corresponding measures. We strongly feel that what it takes to get people to change is to make people feel concerned and empowered, rather than proposing finite solutions.

Now this is just an idea. We roughly prototyped it on stage with the help of kind benevolent participants. The next step would be to properly design this interaction. And that is where the fun truly begins :)

So for now, to be continued…