Four days on an island in the Stockholm archipelago in the middle of August, with a gang of the most interesting people I know, thinking together about the future.
If that sounds good, then you should consider coming to this year’s Futureperfect festival.
When the organisers of Futureperfect asked me if I’d take on the role of Festival Professor, it was the most intriguing proposition I’d had in a while. Especially when they explained that they didn’t know exactly what being a festival professor meant, but they were sure I was the person to figure it out.
In the first couple of years of Futureperfect, I’d got a reputation for stirring things up, challenging the assumptions of the other speakers, asking difficult questions without being difficult for the sake of it. I’m taking this role as an official license to do more of the same. And to make that a reality, I want to share that license with others – so, as Festival Professor, I’ve appointed a faculty!
The selection criteria seemed pretty obvious: I wanted people I knew had the knack of taking conversations deeper, to get people thinking together, rather than simply presenting their pre-existing positions. More simply, I wanted the most interesting group of people I could think of spending four days having conversations with. And to my great delight, the first four names I came up with all said yes.
So I’m excited to announce the rest of the members of the Futureperfect festival faculty for 2014. In case it’s not obvious, none of us are turned on by the idea of being experts on a podium. Instead, I’m hoping that by having this group of people in one place, under circumstances where there’s time to stretch out and speculate (not to mention time for chilling out to good music, eating well, exploring the woods, nightswimming and other pleasures of the Swedish summer), this will act as a honey-pot to draw in lots more amazing people, making this the most interesting conversation about the future you could have in Europe this summer.
KERI FACER is an actual professor, rather than a pretend one. She’s Professor of Educational and Social Futures at the University of Bristol – and one of the warmest, most down-to-earth academics I’ve met. Among many roles, she’s been research director of FutureLab and Leadership Fellow at the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme, which is funding hundreds of projects around the UK where academic researchers and local communities are collaborating in new ways. Throughout her work, she’s interested in how we rethink the relationship between formal educational institutions and wider society – especially when it comes to the sorts of knowledge we may need in the face of environmental, economic, social and technological changes.
I met PER JOHANSSON last year at FSCONS in Gothenburg, where he gave a talk called ‘One Person’s Utopia is Another Person’s Dystopia’. His argument was that Ray Kurzweil and the Unabomber basically agree about what they future looks like, they just have different takes on whether it’s a good thing. Per’s work involves getting this kind of reflection on technology and society into mainstream discussion in Sweden – not least through the radio series Människan och Maskinen (‘Man and Machine’) which he created for Swedish National Radio, and the pod radio follow-up, Kunskapens träd (‘The Tree of Knowledge’). He’s also taught in the Human Ecology department at Lund, published ‘The Lure of Origins’ – a study of how we think about human-environmental relations, starting from the way that archaeologists talk about the ‘transition to farming’ in Stone Age Sweden (when there was no actual, well… farming) – and co-founded the thinktank Infontology, which studies and comments on the effects of ubiquitous digitalisation on our society and culture.
These days, WILLOW BRUGH is based at MIT’s Center for Civic Media, where her research looks at how decentralised groups scale. But more than a researcher, she’s a connector who brings people together and makes things happen. Not least through her roles as director of Geeks Without Bounds, an accelerator for humanitarian projects (which deployed with the FEMA Innovation Team for Hurricane Sandy response), and co-founder and past director of Space Federation, which builds links between hacker and maker spaces around the US. She’s also been heavily involved in organising all kinds of events that bring together different worlds around social goals, from Random Hacks of Kindness to H4D2 (Hackathon for Disaster Relief 2.0) and Konbit Technologie (the first hackathon ever to take place in Haiti).
I first met BEN VICKERS in early 2009, when he and his friends had squatted a huge townhouse in London’s Mayfair district and opened it as The Temporary School of Thought (as described in ‘Black Elephants and Skull Jackets’). These days, he is Curator of Digital at the Serpentine Gallery, where he was responsible for last year’s 89plus Marathon, bringing together artists born after the fall of the Berlin Wall with figures like Zara Hadid and Douglas Coupland (not to mention Ella Saitta and Smári McCarthy, both of whom were on the famous Collapsonomics panel at Uncivilisation 2011). This year, Ben has been among the group pioneering the unMonastery, an incredibly ambitious project to create a new kind of social institution, the first version of which they’ve been prototyping in the Italian city of Matera. I can’t wait to hear more about how that has gone – but for now, you can check out this video in which he explains the idea:
I hope you’re as excited as I am by the idea of the conversations, conspiracies and collaborations that could come out of getting this group of people together in one place. The faculty will be based in the festival’s Cocreation Space, which is being hosted by The Västerås Group in collaboration with Impact Hub Stockholm. From there, we’ll be roaming the festival, infiltrating the more formal side of the programme and luring people back to join us.
There’s a whole programme of other speakers, performers and activities coming together – it’s looking a little blank just now on the official festival website, but there’s lots going on behind the scenes to fill in those blanks, so watch out for updates. (There’s also still room in the programme, so if you’d like to contribute, get in touch with me.)
Of course, the one thing we can say with confidence about the future is that it won’t be perfect. But beneath the shiny surface, there’s room within this festival for the spirit of the kind of discussions that used to come together at Uncivilisation, the Dark Mountain festival (albeit probably with fewer antlers involved) – and for a larger, more laid-back version of what’s been happening over the past couple of months in the Västerås Conversations.
When I think back to the first two festivals, I’ve good memories of long conversations with Carolyn Steel, Andrew Taggart and John Thackara (who’ll be back again this year). Then there’s the best memory of all, the one that brought me to Sweden – meeting Anna at the first Futureperfect in 2011. I can’t promise that coming to Futureperfect will change your life as much as it changed mine, but you never know…
The Practical Stuff
The festival runs from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th August, with the main programme starting on the Friday morning. The venue is the whole of the island of Grinda, an hour or so by ferry from downtown Stockholm.
A regular ticket costs 950 SEK (roughly €105 / £85) which includes camping, but not food, and you can order them on the festival website.