D4TC Reading Discussion | Humanity, Dead & Loving It

This week I will briefly discuss all three readings for the course very briefly (they twine together so nice), seek to pull out some relevant themes, places for design action, and then explore some art/media/design that are moving in this direction.

Making Geology Now: Introduction

Elizabeth Ellsworth + Jamie Kruse

This piece is the introduction to a large book of essays and written works that seeks to capture the “increasingly widespread turn towards the geologic as a source of explanation, motivation, and inspiration for cultural and aesthetic responses to conditions of the present moment.”

It explores the idea of the geologic beginning to permeate our everyday experience. What we once thought to be static rocks, mountains, tectonic plates are constantly being reimagined as in motion and irrevocably tied to our past and current actions. We have entered a new age where it is becoming crystal clear that we face accelerating planetary-scale change, change we have wrought upon this place we call home, and only in the last couple of hundred years.

Some of the things I really enjoyed about this piece (but were kind of terrifying) was the author’s description of “zombie ecosystems” neither dead nor truly alive in any functional sense and on their way toward immediate destruction. I also really resonated with the idea of “disaster porn” which I think has come to permeate our society symbolic of our unconscious anxiety of the large scale changes that are beginning to finally show their stripes (even though people have been saying they would for centuries).

Some design trends I want to pull out from this piece center around the idea that technology alters our perception of global flows/exchanges, manufactured products, and how we construct meaning of time and space. They list Google Earth as an example akin to viewing the earth from outer space for the first time, as well as dynamic imaging tech that allows people see/sense the super slow and vast currents of geological movement. The author conjectures that we as humans need to “further heighten our abilities to sense and respond to the vastness, and to the agency, of geologic time”, and “collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer – as our partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences.

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

Ancient Baghdad
Baghdad – July 2007

The New York Times – Roy Scranton

Roy’s provocative imagery of Baghdad immediately post US bombing and invasion was absolutely mind-blowing as an example of the future that may await us. I thought he was right on in pointing out that the biggest threat we face is actually the destabilization of society in response to global climate change and the problems/adjustments humanity will need to make as it occurs. I can’t help but think that it will be those of low-income, of marginalized populations already regulated to unfulfilling service economy jobs bereft of imagination or future that will be those at the end of a marines battle as they justifiably fight, steal and loot to scrap by on the increasingly meager scraps of the elite as scarcity rises. Will we go back to Social Darwinism ? Where we let the weak die because we fundamentally need a smaller population?
The problem is that we won’t know until it comes. As this piece points out,

“What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization​? How do we make meaningful​​l choices in the shadow of our inevitable end?”

I mean, I just read a piece about an African American 25-year-old (125 pound working professional) woman who was confronted by 19 armed police officers after a neighbor called 911 to report a burglary – she had lost her keys and got a locksmith. Is it really such a far stretch to imagine the increased militarization of our police and state as a coincidence? National security clearly knows this will be a big threat. What will it take in the future to not face down a gun? Who will be spared? Who will be castigated?

Some design themes I think we can pull from this piece are

    • Learning to die not as individuals, but as a civilization. Accepting our own death as a species and framing of the age-old question “What does my life mean in the face of death?” expanded to scales we can’t possibly understand.
    • Overcoming our human tendency to believe that “tomorrow will be much like today” through constant reinforcement of the above inevitability . Perhaps take a cue from the author and study texts that challenge us to meditate on death daily, and confront it.
    • Understanding civilization is already dead, there is nothing we can do to save it – or ourselves – and starting to think about adapting to our new reality. Let’s take a cue from Asimov!

Turning Points

Caroline Bergval, Tokyo, Tomoyuki Hoshino, Toshiki Okada

This piece was much of the same as the others, but was instead more a response to different pieces and readings that the author(s) absorbed during an attempt to use travel and movement through different landscapes to better understand their phenomenon. This piece directly challenges us to accept new design guidelines and directions.

      • Work that attempts to compel humans not to give up/carry on just describing the circumstance we are in, but to actually accept it (as a loss almost) and then still make creative works while taking this sense of “irrevocable change” into account.
      • Make work that attunes us to the “uncomfortable inklings of big, fast, irrevocable changes, instead of away from them.”
      • Attune ourselves individually and daily to the reality of what is unfolding around us (stop burying heads in the sand).
      • Attuning ourselves to different registers of our current material reality and making images/sensations and words from their felt experiences of those realities, from the moments this inevitability hits them and goes to the bones.
      • Idea that the “now” is actually the “quickly dissipating momentum of the past” and recognize that most human cultures are still riding this momentum.
      • Stop pretending we can fix this situation and start to actually create things that capture the psychological state that is actually of the change itself.

I had a fun idea from this to do sort of future imagined eulogy to the last “thing”.

Dear the Last Tuna Roll:

It’s been awesome. You were one of my favorite things, and the first piece of sushi I ever tried. I remember catching you fresh with my father and eating you on the deck of the boat with soy sauce. I remember countless dates, awkward moments, and rose printed napkins that accompanied our meetings. I will miss your fishy/salty taste and the way you slide down my throat wrapped up in a ricey/seaweed perfect package. Thanks for the good times and I wish my kids would know just how good you are paired with some cold sake.

On behalf of all of us, sorry ocean. Tuna, we’ll miss you.

Sincerely ,

Dana Martens

Art & Culture

The New World Anthroposphere: Cities, roads, railways, transmissions lines and underwater cables. Image: courtesy of Globaia.org


David Thomas Smith Exhibit – Anthropocene is a term used to describe the era in which modern man has made an impact on the earth. While it’s not an official term in the field of geology, there’s no denying that we’ve put our big fat footprint on the planet.
The Apple of Discord – Disaster Porn

Corporate Media Disaster Porn | Weapons of Mass Distraction – Abby Martin

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