A Journey Through HEL
We want something when we don’t have it;
We don’t take care of it when we have it;
We only miss it when it’s gone.
These three principles explain both our urge for over-consumption, our careless, mostly unilateral, relationship to the environment and our passivity towards climate degradation. What if in the future, the days that now mark holidays celebrating consumer culture (aka Black Friday, Christmas, Cyber Monday, Singles day, etc.), were still celebrated but for different reasons?
How might we create a critique of consumer culture by emphasizing the culture of play it precludes? The Haul Earth Ledger’s intention was to capture the most basic essence of maker, repair, hacker culture in an online, easily-accessed format, that could start to scratch at the shiny veneer of Black Friday’s consumerist halo. Over the course of two weeks Pedro and I ran a series of cocreative speculative exercises with friends and their online networks to imagine what stuff might exist in a slightly less consumer-centric European society.
1. The “Great Satisfaction” and its premise
In early November 2020 Pedro reached out to me to see if I wanted to collaborate on coming up with a short speculative design project for Black Friday. The initial motivation was to experiment with the potential of combining participatory and speculative design as a way to invite creative souls, makers, and non-designers to imagine alternatives for the futures awaiting us.
Speculative design is “a practice engaging with a social context, using design as a means of speculating about how things could be, examining also the possible negative implications of introducing a new product into everyday life — imagining possible futures.” Paired with participatory approaches, which allow for different individuals to collaborate and engage with a given premise, it can lead to great insights on collective cliches on the future, but also help us uncover new expectations for what the future could hold, should hold, and our place in this picture. The hope is that these exercises, over time, can challenge the mainstream narratives of the future that come from corporate vision, media, mainstream cinema and science fiction, and give space to alternative and less explored perspectives (from unrepresented groups, minority voices, and non-Hollywood views).
Our work was directly inspired by various practitioners that have worked to mature this field over the past decade including but not limited to: Near Future Laboratory’s IKEA catalog, Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde’s Ayo Repository, and Extrapolation Factory’s Pawn Tomorrow projects.
In this spirit of speculation, we were interested in seeing how flipping the narrative behind a single holiday might help project participants into a post-consumer reality. As a matter of fact, our target (Black Friday) was just a couple of weeks away! This exercise which (to be honest) was first and foremost intended as a mini PR campaign for repair and maker culture, surfaced some insights as to how consumerism, its actors, its impacts, its benefits and its threats are perceived.
Drawing inspiration from Extinction Rebellion’s yearly interventions and performances on that day, we decided to try and create our own counter-narrative to Black Friday. From the get-go Pedro had in mind to create a workshop around what people would make in a future shaped by some degree of cataclysmic activity: societal collapse, global environmental disasters where past consumer products were used as tools and artifacts to remember a past world that is not coming back.
After a few iterations to refine the premise, the core of the scenario was centered around a radical socio-economic shift, which would become “the Great Satisfaction of 2081” captured through a few underlying elements:
- The Great Satisfaction of 2081: An ambiguous event or turning point which has caused (forced?) nations around the world to fit consumption patterns within the Earth’s yearly limits
- The Black Friday Foundries: The now abandoned malls, shopping areas, fulfillment centers that were once the arteries of consumerism that have now evolved into new age makerspaces
- The Haul Earth Ledger: The repository collecting the various innovations created in Black Friday Foundries
In a world where momentary happiness is promised to be only a few pennies away, and a consumer’s engagement is the new gold mine, it can often feel like the train of western society has just flown off a cliff, and gravity is about to yank us back down any second now.
Clearly something will have to give, but what? This yanking, this paying of debts to planetary reality, this societal collapse possibly looming over the coming decades, however elusive for now, is what Pedro and I tried to refer to as “the Great Satisfaction.”
Seeing how everything that has already happened (a pandemic, wildfires, flash floods, ethnic conflicts, rising seas, melting ice caps, biodiversity loss and rampant inequality) has had little impact in releasing the grip of consumerist convenience on the throttle of industrialization and globalization, it was hard for either of us to feel like we could infer what could actually become the final tipping point.
This is why, without giving much context to why this event had happened or even what the event was (a government measure? social unrest?), we decided to frame it as this clear reaction to an unknown event and crystalize its impact on society by highlighting one resulting aspect of this transition: brands leaving behind in a moment’s notice the spaces (stores, warehouses) dedicated to the sale and storage of their physical consumer goods, as well as heaps of “raw material” in the shape of unused, unsold home appliances, smart devices, shoes, or even fake plants in the wake of their escape.
We thought it’d be interesting to set the scene of our workshops a few years after “the Great Satisfaction” so that new ecosystems would have had time to emerge from the abandoned malls, including the Black Friday Foundries (BFFs). These spaces, (in which we hosted our speculative workshop) would be the next iteration of today’s makerspaces and fablabs but would have also evolved to expertly, and creatively, transform the raw materials left behind in the aftermath of the “Great Satisfaction”.
In a world where malls and warehouses are turned into ad-hoc creative centers, it is likely that the platforms that exist today to collect the creations of global makers, Thingiverse, Wikifactory, Instructables, would also grow to a much larger scale. The Haul-Earth Ledger, was intended to be the organic evolution of these platforms, covering the breadth of topics its predecessor the Whole Earth Catalog did but complemented by all the things people might make in Black Friday Foundries in the 2080s, and hopefully, with a lot more cross-integration between designs, maybe a bit like Openstructures!
2. The Black Friday Foundry and our online workshop
The whole session was hosted between an online call and the visual collaboration tool Miro. We tried to capture the essence of the hacking experience one might enjoy in a “BFF” in 2081 by using a mixture of brainstorming and collaging activities.
It was however important for Pedro and I that we design these speculative sessions to be welcoming for non-designers and non-makers. This meant creating an easy to grasp set up with plenty of room to grow and experiment.
We were also running against the clock so we made sure the session format was short enough to be repeated several times in one evening. In fact, by hosting it as an open-office format, we allowed for different people to come in as they could and stay as they wished, resulting in impromptu encounters of participants coming from different backgrounds but involved together in the same activities.
In the end we decided on a 30min+ session in which we’d start with a warm-up activity and propel the participants into the speculation in the first 15min, followed by the core activity, a kitbashing exercise that could be done in another 15min but for which participants were given the option to take as much time as they required.
The whole process was facilitated by a series of sharply curated work stations Pedro put together. This included a final showcase, the Haul Earth Ledger itself, where we collected each creation made during the workshop.
3. The Haul Earth Ledger and its creations
As a way to showcase the work done by the participants, some of the final creations were re-created in 3D and presented in the haul.earth site. Here (while avoiding to break character) we also explained the motivations for the project and promoted a call to action for getting people involved in the issue, by redirecting them to some initiatives and organizations doing a great deal of work today to shift the status quo away from mass-consumerism. They include: The Restart Project, Extinction Rebellion, Precious Plastic, the Fablab Foundation, or the Repair Cafe community, as well as these resources and communities: the advocacy group Repair.org, the free online repair manual iFixit, this lovely podcast (listed above as well)The Restart Project, these two repair-focused events Maintenance Festival and 4S, this online research community Discard Studies or this artist working with discarded mechanical parts, Aleksandar Petrovic.
Now on to the actual creations, we got a lot of wonderful concepts, in the spirit of covering as many different ideas as possible, we clustered them into themes (which later became product categories in the Ledger): Energy generation, Eco-abundance, Leisure, Self-hacking, Material restoration, beyond-human communication. As mentioned above, these themes represent top of mind concerns that frame the current debate around ecological transition, but was able to translate these possible sources of anxiety into quirky solutions that add refreshing perspectives on the matter.
A super high resolution sound improver that helps you hear music better by cleaning your ear canals
Tools used: Highest quality earpieces by Bose and the rarest resources of water ever.
Risks of using this device: None other than mixing water and electronics (short circuit situation but worth the risk)
A reliable kitchen aid that helps you create delicious dishes from disposable plastic.
Tools / Parts used: Molecular fragmentation technology and a kitchen robot.
Risks of using this device: Not having enough plastic as a raw material (will probably never happen).
By: Camille Wiesel
It’s a removable shoe that helps people fly so they don’t contaminate or damage the environment.
Tools used: Let’s reuse our boots. The fan and the air thingy are flexible since whenever you are inside a building you can take them out.
Risks of using this device: People might fall if the air stops working.
By: Inès Theriaga
An easy to disassemble and biodegradable wind turbine that helps create truly clean energy (instead of using fiberglass!).
Tools / Parts used: Woven bamboo and a mold.
Risks of using this device: It could cause storms if reversed.
Despite the fictional nature of the work done, using the “Great Satisfaction of 2081” as a premise to create a space for people to reflect on the current shifts happening in the world and what needs to change before the fiction before it becomes a reality.
Following the lead of many climate fiction writers who use fiction as a way to catalyze attention to environmental issues, we want to use these fictional worlds as a means to inspire and raise awareness of alternative ways to live in relation to the natural and the built world, and connect back to today’s initiatives and protagonists already doing the work of shifting away from consumer culture and leading the way for a maker and repair friendly futures. This particular aspect of connecting back to the real world and today’s initiatives is of utmost importance and something we would like to explore in further iterations of the project.
We are now looking for new places to take the project, either repeat it for local makerspaces and fablab communities during the pandemic lockdown, or to host remote global meetups across maker groups, and share the maker and repair love.
We are also slowly making our way towards putting together a BFF of our own, inspired by projects like Project Kamp. Let us know if you have a space in Rotterdam we could work in!