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Future Thinking:

Whatever worries we have it is always good to think things will get better.

Sometimes, it can be comforting to think our fate is already set…. in the stars and in the universe

The mystique of fortune-telling carries with it the idea that science doesn’t know everything – or have all the answers.

We are drawn to the magical, cosmic aspect of predictions precisely because they are not based on science, evidence or reality: they come from left of field. 

These predictions speak directly to us; based on our palm-lines, our aura, tea leaves,  birth chart, roll of the dice. 

What most of us are looking for is reassurance – that we will find love, that our problems will disappear and we will  live a long, happy, successful  life.

We want to know the good stuff. 

In times of great stress and upheaval  people may turn away from bad news and regular sources to seek out alternative perspectives.

We can be strangely accepting of the fact that a total stranger somehow has the ability to know something about my personality, my life and what will happen to me

When we turn to  psychics, folk culture and spiritual vibes it comes from a need for deeper level of support. We take some comfort in the fact that this is what our ancestors believed, this is what guided them.

In a crisis, in the midst of uncertainty, when we don’t really know how to move forward, we desperately need to believe that our ‘ bad luck’  will change.

Fortune tellers, soothsayers, and clairvoyants supposedly have an ability to ‘see’.

They have contact with the ‘other’ world  and a ‘gift’ to access mystical signs, omens and portents set at our birth. 

But of course, in reality there is already a great deal of information already in circulation about the person we are today.

So many aspects of our lives are routinely measured and analysed, quantified and compared.

These include: our diet, stress levels, exercise, blood pressure, BMI.

There is also the hard data: age, sex, blood-type, family history, job, education, religion, place of birth, National Insurance Number.

All these evidence-based indicators, data and metrics define and record who we are: our general well-being; our health, habits and potential risks.

When this information combines with data from our loyalty cards, bank account, online dating, online gambling history, level of debt, websites visited  it all adds up to very specific profile.

This is you/me – not just as a real-life person, but as a data-generated individual.

It’s all out there.

And that is why big data is such big business. 

Knowing you, knowing what you like and knowing how you behave, translates into a massive opportunity for business.

They are able to make use of your existing information to predict and influence your behaviours.

Through the power of marketing big business can invade your space. It can prompt you to buy whatever their sophisticated algorithm has decided you ‘might’ want, and like.

These are often subliminal, cleverly timed suggestions based on your previously made choices.

It is a little nudge in the direction they want you to go.

You didn’t know you wanted it until they told you.

The digital story of your life is retrievable, can be manipulated and can be sold. 

There is a big, big data picture of you ‘floating in the ether’.

Your digital persona  is easily accessible by Artificial Intelligence.

Not unlike a fortune teller, AI can deliver an ‘alternative’ method of foretelling

It has the gift of quickly ‘seeing’ data so that it can  access ‘real’  and ‘instinctive’ information that can be profile and predict aspects of your future-life.

That is: a future based on who you are now, and where they expect you to be.

Artificial Intelligence impacts on every aspect of our lives. Because it is intuitive, and sophisticated it can access masses of data and make fairly accurate predictions.

Unlike a human prediction it is unlikely  to go off-piste with a random, out-of-character projection.

Every year, major companies such as DeloitteAccenture come up with predictions about how emerging ideas, tech, innovation will impact on our everyday life.

Somewhere between forecasting, trend-hunting and social listening there is a big-picture view of shifts, movements and changes as they are occurring.

Used to strategise and plan ahead these studies anticipate markets, potential disruptions, needs and behaviours so that their clients will be informed and aware.  EY (among others) also produce future economic forecasts to foresee areas of growth and concern.

Futurists tend to eschew the crystal ball for hard data, knowledge, stats and trends.

They are strategists, road mappers and analysts, thought-leaders, marketeers and visionaries. These are the soothsayers for business, analysing risk and the potential of new ideas/tech.

It is their job  to know what is happening, what is going to happen, and what needs be done to make it happen.

Whether it is in business, stock markets, or government they anticipate change based on solid evidence – but also on a hunch, gut feeling, experience  and/or intuition.

Big data is pervasive, ubiquitous and indicative,  but it does not have all the answers.

It cannot know everything about your experiences today, or in the past. 

It does not know the person you are.

Big data cannot predict sudden events: trauma, accidents, crimes –  or some sort of  an epiphany that might change the whole direction of your life. 

it is the job of governments to monitor political, global, economic, geographical, social and cultural factors. Of course, anything that come into play as a major event or crisis will affect individuals.

For reasons way beyond any level of personal control our lives can suddenly change: Coronavirus pandemic… severe drought… climate change… war.. economic recession.

On a personal level what are the things we fear most?

Divorce, illness, bereavement, addiction, poverty, homelessness, loneliness?  

The only things we know for sure are: that we are ageing and we will die.

In the law of averages the ‘bad stuff’ is more likely to be part of our future than winning the lottery.

And, all the things that we dread that could happen to us do in fact happen to other people everywhere all the time.  

What would in fact  be more useful to us (rather than big business) would be to know is what might happen to us  when  – or if – these things do happen.

How do other people cope in these situations?

What is their experience?

If we were to know what it is like for other people and exactly what that entails and the consequences thereafter we would have a useful insight.

Currently, your job may be secure, your home and family relationship good….but life can change.

Change may be sudden (big job offer, new love, illness) or something that slowly creeps up on you (addiction, debt, relationship breakdown).

With long-term caring for example, there is a cost: emotionally, physically and financially.

It involves organising support packages, appointments, medication and may last many, many years. This may require remodelling your home to suit – or living day to day with a home that doesn’t work for your needs. There is emotional stress, worry, time and effort  involved in dealing with illness. And so, if this is part of your.. your parents, …or child’s future it is will represent a new lifestage.

Diagnosis of a serious illness has a ripple effect.

How it all pans out longterm will be influenced by the nature of the illness, wider family support and local government services.

But also to our deeper personal/cultural /religious attitudes towards caring and bereavement.  

And where does Design fit in all this?

Design is about responding to human need.

It is first of all about simplifying and then solving an existing problem with a more innovative solution.

From gathering small data ( what people say, think, do) design research develops actionable insights that can lead to a better way of thinking/ doing/ behaving.

Where big data is massive and difficult to process, small data is easier to understand is people-centred, and therefore more accessible to all.

A human to human connection brings empathy and understanding to every experience.

If for example you are facing a difficult time, it’s always helpful to have someone else who understands – and knows – what it feels like. Especially someone who has been through this before – you are not the only one..  

A diagnosis of cancer is not just a medical issue; it is a whole physical, financial and emotional experience.

A doctor understands clinically what will happen to you, but  they cannot provide the same level information of as someone with a real-life, lived- experience of that illness.

Turning to other people who have been through it all before can help provide significant strength, knowledge and support in areas where medical interventions cannot.

Cancer services such as Marie Curie recognise the value of this human to human support. The stories and message boards/forums are a hugely important feature enabling connectivity and sharing.

Most of us we don’t actively seek out information and knowledge about life ‘experiences’ until they directly concern  us. 

However, as we age we will go through different lifestages – ‘where others have boldy gone before’.

It makes sense that the more stories we can access from others about this process the more we can extend our awareness of what lies in ‘the future’.

To understand the journey/process/ experience that other people are going through may in turn help us.

All of the stories on Anyone at Home provide rare and rich insights into someone’s life – and homelife. 

What is it like to go through the distress of divorce and cancer at the same time but (positively)  looking  forward to a new life through  home renovation.

When we get older, what are the signs that show we are no longer to  live independently.

Conversely, what is life like for an 92 year old who is is able can live very well independently

What is it like to live as a priest living in a home that does not belong to you…

What happens to victims of abuse when have to move into emergency accommodation?

When you have spent three years sleeping on someone else’s sofa, what is it like to finally have a place of your own?

If you care for someone who has severe disabilities how do you cope, without regular support, during a pandemic?

The difficulties of job-hunting  and on-line dating in London in a pandemic

The trauma when an elderly parent moves into residential care.

Anyone At Home is not just a glimpse into someone else’s life and home.

It is also somewhere to turn to for insights and assurance about the future.

When you need it most.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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