starry sky backdrop against wide open field and mountains

A tall dark, handsome  stranger will soon come be part of your life and future.

You will  travel overseas…

An unexpected  gift will change your life….

Something you lost will turn up soon….

You have a secret admirer…

Fortune tellers predict a future that is intriguing, enigmatic – bright and positive.

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

Whatever worries that you may have at the moment it is nice to think that things will get better. It’s comforting to be told that a shift in your future is already set in the stars and in the universe.  Your fate is  ‘planned’.

The mystique of fortune-telling carries with it the very appealing idea that science doesn’t know everything, or have all the answers. It speaks directly to us because it is personal; based on our palm-reading, our aura, our tea leaves,  birth chart, our 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  life with all the signs of success and prosperity. 

We want to know the good stuff. 

If you really could ‘know’ what is going to happen to you in the future, would it help you to plan ahead? Would you be more prepared? Would you enjoy your time and your life more?

It is a nice idea that somehow our futures can be read and interpreted. Also, that a total stranger has the ability to predict something specifically about my personality, my  life and what will happen to me

In times of great stress and upheaval  people turn away from bad news and regular sources to seek out alternative perspectives. However, irrational they may seem, traditional superstitions such  as not walking under ladders, looking for the second magpie,  avoiding cracks on the pavement still endure. This way of looking at the world is still a feature  of many people’s lives. 

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 want 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 the ‘gift’ to access all the mystical signs, omens and portents set at our birth. 

But, there is already a lot of information  circulating about the person we are today that can be used to predict something about the person we are ‘likely’ to become. 

Many aspects of our lives are routinely measured and analysed, quantified and compared. These include: our diet, stress levels, personality, genes, family history, age, sex, exercise levels, BMI, job, place of birth. Evidence-based indicators and metrics create alerts about our general well-being, health, habits and potential risks.

When this information is combined with our digital profile from a loyalty card, bank account, online gambling history, level of debt, websites visited  it all adds up to very specific profile. This is you/me, not just as a demographic,  but as a well-analysed individual.

And that, of course is where big data is big business. 

Knowing you; knowing what you like and knowing how you behave is a massive marketing opportunity. It is something that (annoyingly) invades your space. It prompts you to buy things that a sophisticated algorithm has decided you ‘might’ want, and like. These are often subliminal, cleverly timed suggestions based on your previously made choices. In marketing terms it is seen as a little nudge in the direction they want you to go. You didn’t know you wanted it until they told you. They made it part of your life.

The digital story of your life is retrievable, can be manipulated and can be sold.  Think of it as a big data picture of you ‘floating in the ether’.

Your digital persona  is easily accessible by Artificial Intelligence. Similar to a fortune teller, AI  is an ‘alternative’ way of thinking. It has the gift of ‘seeing’ and can  access ‘real’  and ‘instinctive’ information that can be profiled to predict aspects of your future-life.

Artificial Intelligence  already impacts on every aspect of our lives. Because it is intuitive, and sophisticated it can access masses of data, create insights and make fairly accurate predictions. Unlike a human, it is unlikely  to go off-piste with a random, out-of-character projection. However, that may change.

Every year, major companies such as DeloitteAccenture/Fjord come up with predictions about ideas, tech  and innovation and the impact these will make on our everyday life. Lying somewhere between forecasting, trend-hunting and innovation this is a big-picture view of changes that are occurring. Used to strategise and plan 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 data, knowledge, stats, trends, and innovation. 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.

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

When political, global, economic, geographical, social and cultural factors come into play the major events  and crises that affect countries also affect individuals.

Our lives can dramatically shift direction for reasons beyond any level of personal control. The Coronavirus pandemic, severe drought, or war –  as a case in point.

So, we go to a fortune-teller and they tell us that we  will live  happily ever after. That’s the future what we want to hear. But what exactly does that mean? 

If it is a state of blissful nirvana in a world where life is lived as some sort of a fairytale – it is not real life.

Even  a ‘happy’ life will encounter some level of illness, stress, anxiety and fear. Be careful what you wish for: the tall dark handsome stranger… may destroy you. 

What are the things we fear most?

Divorce, illness, bereavement, poverty, homelessness, loneliness?  All the things that could happen to us happen to other people everywhere all the time.  In the law of averages they are more likely to be part of our future than winning the lottery.

What would, in fact,  be more useful to us would be to know what happens when something happens. That is: what that experience feels like, what it entails and the consequences thereafter. 

Right now your job may be secure, your home and family relationship good, but life can change. It may be sudden (big job offer, new love, illness) or something that slowly creeps up on you (addiction, debt, relationship breakdown).

There is only one thing we know for sure that will come true: at some point we, and everyone close to us, will die. 

Because we don’t know when that will be we can anticipate that long-term caring may cost us financially. It will involve organising support packages, appointments, medication and may last many, many years. The emotional stress, worry, time and effort  involved in dealing with illness (and ageing parents) may consume a big part of our future. It may affect our work and our relationships. 

Any  diagnosis of serious illness has a ripple effect. How it all pans out longterm will be influenced by factors such as: the nature of the illness, wider family support and local government services. It is also relates to the deep personal/cultural /religious attitude to caring and bereavement.  

Nobody predicted this  pandemic. The countries that fared better did so because they have experience of previous pandemics. They were ready and prepared.

 

Over this past year many people have faced the shock and suddenness of bereavement with the added  distress of being allowed to hold only a very small funeral. And, although the stages of grief are well documented, that experience is very different in the midst of a pandemic. 

So, instead of trying to predict a future we should anticipate what that future might be. And, with any difficult situation it helps to know  how it was for other people. What was their experience in going through the process before, during and after. What was their story?  

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

To have someone who understands what it feels like makes you feel that you are not alone.   Turning to other people can give us significant strength, knowledge and support in areas where medical interventions cannot help.

A diagnosis of cancer, for example, is not simply a medical issue; it is a whole physical and emotional experience. Cancer services such as Marie Curie recognise the value of human to human support from people who have been through this experience. 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. 

Which is why human-centred stories are so important. They explore the outer remits, consequences and potential effects of multiple and overlapping experiences. The more stories we can access, the more we can extend our awareness of the human condition. It helps us to understand the journey that people go through when we need it most.

Predictions may tell us what is likely to happen, but  personal stories tell us a full account of that event as an experience. These are stories that could at any point become part of my/your future.

All of the stories on Anyone at Home provide rare 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 older person who can live very well independently

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

What happens when you believe your life is in danger and you have to leave your home and 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

Who truly knows what your future has in store?

Anyone At Home is more than just a glimpse into someone else’s life and home. It is a resource. It is somewhere to turn to when you need it most.

Nuala Rooney

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

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