An Alphabet of the Future – Expanding Understanding and Insight Through New and Emerging Futures Terminology

(Revised January 2023)

To celebrate my first “Blog-iversary” a couple of years ago, I put a collection of futures-oriented words together in one place. I’ve heard from readers that this has been a helpful orientation to some useful cross-disciplinary ideas. I’ll likely keep adding to this as time goes on! Enjoy and share. We are more ready to build the future we want, if we keep learning together and widening our capacity to grow, shift, resist and/or create as the need arises!

Abyss Gaze – the author Warren Ellis wrote a novel in 2016 called “Normal.” The book is about a “treatment center” for futurists who break down due to the weight, complexity, confusion and despair of looking into hard futures – and frequently not being listened to in terms of taking appropriate actions to avoid disaster. Here’s a review of the book. The “condition” that brings folks to the door is called “abyss gaze.” It’s an occupational hazard for anyone working in foresight. The future can be a place of hope, possibility and promise…but it can also be a dystopian hellscape. No one who does foresight work is unfamiliar with this “fictional” possibility. Sometimes the work takes you to hard places that are difficult to extract yourself from. Here’s another futurists take on how to manage the condition!

Agroecology. Imagine agricultural practices that were rooted in ecology and implemented with a keen eye and ethic of gentleness to the earth and sustainability. That is what “agroecology” is all about.

Agroecology is concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts” (Miguel Altieri).  More information here.

Algospeak – web actors codes or invented phrases specifically developed and used to fly “under the radar” of online content moderation systems. During covid-19, this phenomenon really accelerated according to this piece. Author Cory Doctorow takes a deeper dive in the emergence and evolution of the phenomenon as an emerging vocabulary itself.

Anthropocene. In short, it refers to a new era where humanity has impacted the earth’s storyline in an irreversible way. While it doesn’t suggest we are defeated…those who seek to name this “new” period in the earth’s life cycle, alert us to the very real risks and dangers this new phase involves.

Black Swan Theory. Based on the idea that unexpected and devastating events will always be part of life, and that in hindsight we can frequently see that we “should have” seen the signs leading up to it. Developed by theorist Nassim Taleb, this framework is a model to assist in guiding analysis of current events to help to predict future calamities.

Brief film about Black Swan theory , Nassim Taleb’s book: Black Swan Theory (2010), and NPR Story about Black Swan Theory with book exerpt (2007).

Block chain. A block chain is a digital “distributed ledger” record of transactions which are called “blocks,” and which link together through use of cryptography, are date stamped, and which are resistant to modification once stamped.  

Excellent brief video overview of the fundamentals of block chain (2018)

The truth about blockchain (2017)

What is blockchain?  The most disruptive tech in decades (2018)

Bug Bounties – A bug bounty program is a deal offered by many websites, organizations and software developers by which individuals can receive recognition and compensation for reporting bugs, especially those pertaining to security exploits and vulnerabilities (from Wikipedia). This is a really interesting example of collective effort in technology and almost gamify inevitable glitches that are going to happen with emerging programming. This piece talks about the increase in and reasons for the growing popularity of these programs. Here’s one list of available bug bounties.

Calm Technology. Ever get the feeling that the noise of technology is becoming too dominant, that it interrupts our attention and actually makes us less productive and more anxious? Welcome to the idea (and true design principle) of calm technology. This is a growing movement.

“Calm technology or Calm design is a type of information technology where the interaction between the technology and its user is designed to occur in the user’s periphery rather than constantly at the center of attention.” Amber Case

Amber has a book about her work which you can read about here. She shares some of her principles and ideas here.

Captology. ‘Computers as persuasive technologies’ (Fogg, 2003: 5). ( Science of how technological products can be best designed to change users behavior.

Civic Hacking. This is a term that refers to the creative, dynamic and emergent practice of using data in unexpected ways to solve civic problems and/or challenges. Those involved come from a variety of formal and informal locations – but all are united in thier desire to use data for good and to harness the dual powers of data technology and democratic community activism to make the world a better. place. There is a great definition with some history here. There is actually a national “civic day of hacking” (it’s coming up September 21 this year.

Here’s a recent(ish) academic article about the phenomenon and practice.

Climate Contrarianism – despite the massive, repeatedly affirmed body of scientific knowledge about climate change, there remain those who actively push back against this knowledge and/or participate in trafficking in or creating disinformation in this space. These folks have gotten their own title – “climate contrarians.” Scholars are now beginning to study these people and the varieties of their attitudes and activities (as well as underlying drivers). Here’s a podcast episode with author Richard Black, who has written a book on the subject. The point of the focus is to learn to navigate and address the disinformation purposefully.

Climate Gentrification. This terms refers to the gentrification that occurs when wealthy people are able to escape the effects of climate change by relocating from less desirable to more desirable land even if that means displacing others. It can also refer to the simple changes in value that occur as climate change predictably or unpredictably changes the value of real estate – more easily absorbed by people of means than people without resources. You can read more about it here and here.

Co-Bot – slang term for collaborative robot. This is a transitional kind of robots that interact with and require human/robot interaction – some suggest it is a wave of the future (at least for a while). Here’s a story about it. Here’s another that drills down into why they are desirable. Here’s another that explores what this means for the future of work. Still thinking through the frequently discussed dangers of making autonomous tech too “friendly” – which this term leans toward. Here’s a piece that dives into this idea. Yet others suggest that robots can/should address the need for connection among humans. This is a quickly developing space full of “inevitability talk” that may or may not be accurate.

Copaganda. The term is defined as “…a portmanteau of cop and propaganda. As a concept, it encompasses any form of media, news coverage, or social media content that portrays police and law enforcement in favorable ways to the public. The image of policing it creates often serves to shield police from accountability and skeptical coverage, boosts public relations of police departments, and portrays a version of policing that is dramatically different from reality, particularly in regard to the treatment of working class, BIPOC and other marginalized communities.” Willow, 2022.

Here’s some more overview/explainer articles – here, here and here. There’s an emerging academic discourse on this phenomenon too which you can see here. This term has emerged due to increasing abolitionist activism and literacy building in communities – and has great potential to reveal huge change potential in attitudes in some spaces.

Critical futures studies. Endeavors to reveal political and power relations embedded inside of futures studies. This type of futures inquiry involves deconstruction and unpacking of texts, meanings, and embedded or hidden control systems in terms of who “decides” what the future will be and who is silenced in that process.

Culture jamming. “Culture jamming is an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life.”

Cyber Hygiene. This term is “…often compared to personal hygiene. Much like an individual engages in certain personal hygiene practices to maintain good health and well-being, cyber hygiene practices can keep data safe and well-protected. In turn, this aids in maintaining properly functioning devices by protecting them from outside attacks, such as malware, which can hinder functionality. Cyber hygiene relates to the practices and precautions users take with the aim of keeping sensitive data organized, safe, and secure from theft and outside attacks. (Brook, 2022). This seems like a simple and relatively “everyday, boring” kind of topic – but in point of fact, it reveals an assortment of new vulnerabilities for organizations and for individuals. It has become a reality that modern life requires a new kind of non-optional set of safety habits lest chaos potentially ensues. Here’s an overview of what kinds of everyday cyber hygiene practices matter, and there a host of institutional practices as well. The U.S. gov. has whole division at Homeland Security dedicated to cybersecurity which is an increasingly active space. As social workers, we may not think this “applies” to us in many circumstances, but it is more relevant than we may realize. At the very least, it is shifting huge amounts of resources to addressing perceived threats and as come have complained, massively increased surveillance in modern life.

Cyborg Anthropology. This is totally fascinating. Cyborg anthropology is the study of how technology is impacting and changing human behavior. This brief TED talk by Amber Case is really interesting and asks a simple question: “Are we already cyborgs?”

Here’s a great site that has collected and defined Cyborg Anthropology and does a good job of organizing topics by various areas of interest. Here’s an additional article and book on the subject (I just ordered it – very intrigued). I’m guessing this is an area of practice that is going to continue growing.

Data Exhaust. This is a common phrase referring to “the data generated as trails or information byproducts resulting from all digital or online activities,” Technopedia. This includes cookies, and other digital by products of online activity. More and more companies are looking to mine this information as it thought to have value that is going unappreciated.

Deep Fakes. This has really popped up quite a lot in recent media. A deep fake is moving image/film-like document that appears real, but is in fact, manufactured with great technical precision to fool the viewer. Because of our extraordinary talent-base in movies and the technical aspects of creating special effects – many people are somewhat familiar with the idea that we can make anything look (somehow) like anything else. But concern has grown recently because of use of these technologies outside of entertainment spaces, and of particular worry, emerging potential for them to be used in politically unstable situations to complicate and/or weaponize communications. This is part of a broader set of concerns about “disinformation campaigns and warfare” (see below). Here is a brief popular journalistic overview. Here are some more articles specific to political/national security concerns about the technology and it’s use.

De-Growth. Contemporary movement initiated in Europe focused on anti-capitalist, anti-materialist and anti-development aspirations and vision.

Design Fiction. Emergent discipline related to use of narrative and story to provide structures, supports, challenges and provocative possibilities to guide human thinking towards a range of futures. Creative, disruptive and dynamic…this is a really interesting and helpful set of people, practices, and literature-based methods that have deep roots in the futures world. Of course it has deep connections to the world of science fiction…but is more likely to be explicitly engaged in futures practice than exclusively delivered as a work of “art.” Here’s a helpful overview and “how to” piece. It’s connected to and a variation of “speculative design” working in some of the same spaces. I’m imagining how these techniques could help us imagine futures of social welfare and/or social problems that might expand the range of creative possibilities we might discover/consider as a result of said explorations! MIT Media Lab has a whole project dedicated to this approach . Or as is evidenced by Afrofuturism (which I’ve written about previously on this blog…), these methods open deep possibilities for deepening our collective abilities to see, hear, and respect various identity-based expressions of possible futures.

Ecocide – mass damage and destruction of the living world. There is power for really naming a thing clearly that we all know is happening. There is an international group of lawyers endeavoring to get this term enshrined as a crime. You can read about that here. Here’s a global NGO that is organizing around this idea. Here’s a legal information hub to dive in deeper.

Email Apnea. This is an actual “thing” where people actually hold their breath just before or intermittantly while reading their email. It would definitely be a modern problem…which makes you laugh until you realize you might be doing it too! You can read about it here.

Epistemic Web – one view of a future of the world wide web that seeks to rectify current limitations. The epistemic web posits that it would become a universe of knowledge that parallels human knowledge and evolves to be a dynamic repository of knowledge that is co-created by those using it. Read more about it here. (Related interesting and relevant piece about the epistemologies of the internet and challenges ahead in this space.)

Esports. Fast growing sector of gaming. Some think it will rival traditional athletics and absorb attention, revenue and global enthusiasm.

Ethics Washing – also known as “ethics theatre” is the superficial performance of caring about, asserting commitment to the issue of ethics (including dimensions such as racism, sexism, ableism and other justice-anchored ideas) but actually doing nothing about improving the ethics climate, or worse, actually accelerating unethical activities/behaviors. Most frequently utilized in reference to the technology industry (and specifically related to artificial intelligence), but relevant elsewhere too. Speaks to the shortcomings of “good intentions” and “window dressing” and points to the need for regulation. Here’s a call to action. Here’s a paper from the EU that goes into detail about the need for laws. Here’s a deeper scholarly analysis of this issue (specific to AI). This is an issue for all kinds of “emerging issues” that we are engaging with, without or with inadequate understanding of the ethical implications of what the impacts may be. I did a longer post about this this past year with regard to the (relatively unexamined) presence of AI in the social work practice ecosystem.

E-waste Villiages – Places in the world (generally places that are economically disadvantaged) where computers are discarded, dissassembled and mined for parts. Time magazine did a photo essay about one such community in China. The waste is often toxic, and children are often involved in the work associated with this process posing signifiant health risks to all involved. One artist has actually created an immersive art experience about this phenomenon. Other artists have taken to drawing attention to the problem of e-waste and how to recycle it more effectively and humanely.

FAT (Fairness, Accountability and Transparency) . This is the terminology utilized by a growing body of researchers, programmers and other concerned citizens, FAT encourages dialogue and practice regarding ethics in machine learning development.   (Thanks to Lauri Goldkind for suggesting this term.)


Fourth Industrial Revolution. I have covered this in a previous entry in this series – but here’s a terrific new and very clear/well-written article defining this complex and important topic.

Gamification. Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play (Wickipedia).

Game designer Jane McGonigal’s classic TED talk from 2010 – Gaming Can Make a Better World

Gamification in Education: A Mapping Study (2015)

Top 15 Examples of Gamification in Health Care (2017)

The dark side of gamification at work (2018)

Geo-engineering. This terms is related to ways to slow down the deadly and destructive impact of climate change. This once purely science fiction-level set of ideas, but increasingly plausible though highly controversial proposed practices involve sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to trap less heat – and – reflecting sunlight away from the planet. These ideas are also referred to as carbon renewal or negative emissions technologies. You can learn more about it here, and note this piece referring to a piece written by 60 scientists suggesting that the practice should be banned.

Global Brain – is a term referring to the “distributed intelligence emerging from the internet” (Heylighen & Lenartowicz, 2017). The idea that a global consciousness could guide humanity towards more interconnected and sustainable functioning is regarded as being impeded by power and politics (Rosenblum, 2017).

Green Energy. Most probably – you already “know” this term, but since it is turning up a lot in the media (a good thing) with increasing interest and use, it might be a good opportunity to refresh yourself on the basics. It really is more than solar – good overview here.

Haptics – a form of interaction involving touch. In futures/tech language, this refers to technological features that involve touch or creating the illusion of touch. Here’s a short video about haptics, and an interesting overview called:Haptics: The present and future of artificial touch.

Information Warfare/Disinformation Campaigns. Back in December of 2018, I shared a term called “computational propaganda” (scroll down) in this ongoing vocabulary list project that is related to the idea of the idea of a particular way of weaponizing false information internationally with significant geopolitical implications.

As early as 1996, people watching the playing field, were very much aware of the potential for “cybersecurity” and information warfare to become increasing challenges in the world of ahead. This is kind of an interesting historical document that summarizes these ideas of that day. Here’s a more recent historical document that provides a historical overview of the U.S. military’s efforts to develop and guide security in this area. The definition of information warfare is literally when two or more parties use (mis)information as a weapon to divide and take political advantage in a conflict.

A related but distinct topic is that of “disinformation” which is similar to but slightly different than propoganda. Disinformation is the catch all term that describes how variations of information (sometimes variations of accuracy) are systematically deployed in a conflictual situation with the intention of confusing or misguiding people. Here’s a nice overview (and toolkit for fighting disinformation) developed from the UK.

Given our commitment to democratic political engagement, and given the rise of concern and activity to understand these concepts and join many around the world who are actively resisting/fighting against disinformation (often led by journalism), this is an important issue for social workers to have foundational working knowledge about.

(Special note: I wish to underscore that I’m far from an expert on this topic, and the previous one on deepfakes…but seek to provide some beginning definitions as I’m learning about in this blog. Inclusion of information in these entries is not intended to imply endorsement of the content – rather to simply amplify a variety of ways of looking at and understand the issues so we can continue to learn and debate about these issues together. )

Institutional Betrayal – Refers to wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (term originally focused on sexual assault but has since widened to concern a number of issues related to loss of trust among communities and previously trusted insitutions) committed within the context of the institution. The opposite of this concept is known as institutional courage defined as an institution’s commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost. It is a pledge to protect and care for those who depend on the institution. It is a compass oriented to the common good of individuals, the institution, and the world. It is a force that transforms institutions into more accountable, equitable, healthy places for everyone. More information here, here and here.

Intergenerational Justice – what we owe those who follow us (Baer, 2011; Vanderheiden 2008) – as cited in this piece. This term is most often associated with climate-related issues. Here’s a foundation that has this focus (founded by young people). Here’s a piece that discusses why current environmental law is inadequate to address the climate change emergency we face. There’s actually a whole academic journal devoted to this topic. I recently ran across an amazing book I highly recommend connected to this topic with many terrific chapters – called Institutions for Future Generations. Worth a look.

Kaitiakitanga – (Not a new term – from Māori People , but coming into broader use in recent years.) Guardianship or management, esp. of the natural resources of a place or area; environmental stewardship considered as a duty and responsibility of the inhabitants of an area. Also: the exercise of this. More information here and here.

Life Affirming Institutions – abolition thinker, activist and writer Ruth Wilson Gilmore coined this term to describe institutions that are an alternative to our current systems of carceral surveillance, control and punishment – especially to Black and Brown people. Ultimately, the idea that community organizations should be expressions of love, liberation and peace as an alternative to racism, social control and necropolitics. (See also – Beloved Community via Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Necropolitics and NecrocapitalismNecro comes from the Greek root nekros, meaning “corpse.” Necropolitics then translates to the “politics of death.” Philosopher Achille Mbembe describes necropolitics as “the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not.” (Cut/pasted from this piece.). This concept connects strongly with economic power sensibilities and points to lethal dimensions to racialized capitalism where profound power differentials inevitably leads to the power to decide (repeatedly) who lives and who dies, and even, who can profit from the deaths of others. Necropolitics frequently associated with prisons. Related to the concept of racial capitalism – here’s a piece that describes this in relation to covid-19.

Neo-Luddism – modern term about those who reject technology. Related to “ludditism” (a movement of workers in the 19th century which you can learn about here and here.). Neo-Luddism suggests that removing oneself from use and access related to technology is a form of activism or passive resistance in these highly technologically linked times. This piece suggests that as AI gets stronger and more ubiquitous, those who choose to live with “merely” human intelligences will be disadvantaged. This is an interesting space…with surely more to come. It sets up important and urgent conversations about the future of privilege, identity and agency.

Neuro-technology. Perhaps you’ve been hearing about this via the Elon Musk story about his goal of linking a human brain to the internet? While experts agree it is not yet ready for prime time, the mere fact that it is getting this much press says much about our curiosity and eagerness to explore more of what is possible in this space. So too, does this possibility inspire neuroethicists to converge on the topic (appropriately and just in time) to help us all figure out how to wrap our minds around (pardon the expression) what an ethical application of this possibility might be. Here are a few piecesI found that bring this topic to life in some interesting ways.

Nomophobia – Psychological condition when people have a fear of being detached from mobile phone connectivity.More information here and here.

Oblivionaire – 2022 “invented word of the year” submitted to the NYT by a 16-year-old in Pakistan. Defined as “a billionaire who chooses to be blind to the disparity and inequality that his or her wealth is creating.” More information here.

Omnicrisis – I first heard this term this past year from Vanessa Mason, Research Director at the Institute for the Future. It refers to how many have felt this last two years…a time in history when everything feels like a crisis all the time with deeply blurry edges…one crisis blending into another. It does feel like that lately doesn’t it? And what is the natural human output of this experience…feeling overwhelmed. Personally I generally shift my overwhelm into several specific spaces. Rest (deep respect to the Nap Ministry and its founder, Tricia Hersey ), get involved in activism as an antedote, and/or dive into this social change ecosystem map and consider changing my perspective, activities and/or role in contributing to things I care about that can refresh and inspire me (deep respect to creator of this model Deepa Iver).

Panopticon. Actually an older concept of a form of architecture generally associated with prisons, that means everything can be “seen” at all times. Gradually coming into contemporary use associated with a society that is increasingly enacting digital surveillance. Here are a couple of pieces that drill down into this set of ideas. This concept has far reaching implications for social work practice…and the degree to which it is frequently argued that vulnerable populations are already more heavily (and frequently unfairly) surveilled more rigorously, multiplying their vulnerability and powerlessness. Truly – these ideas will impact all of us in so many ways.

Parasocial Relationships – Defined as interactions and relationships, one-sided connections imagined with celebrities and media figures. Is related to the more common “fan” experience but deeper, more personal and with more a sense of genuine relationship – generally believed to be uniquely fueled by social media. More information here, here and here.

Permacrisis – the Collins dictionary comes up with a new “word of the year” regularly. For 2022, the word was “permacrisis.” It hardly need an explanation, but relates to continual upheavals – the active state of living in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Here’s an overview about the word – with some other finalists from this year which are also interesting. (Note: Especially liked “sportswashing.”

Pluriverse – According to “Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary” (available free to download at this link), the pluriverse is the presence of many divergent co-existing ideas in an ecological balance, yet always changing based on principles of emergence. Writer Arturo Escobar describes pluriverse-centered design as: coexistence of plural meanings and connotations, is centered around the idea of building design practices that are situated in plurality: participatory, socially oriented, and open ended. The metaverse – focused on increasing immersive technical acumen stands in contrast to the idea that the pluriverse can and must hold multiple kinds of knowledges – and not all of them need to be immersive and technological – increasingly viewed as inevitable versions of a metaverse-anchored future. Something to keep thinking about.

Post-capitalism – futurist frameworks on the evolution of the modern capitalist economy and what will result in its place. A few resources include: The beginning of post-capitalism: Some say yes (2017) ; Post-capitalism: A guide to our future (2017); Video of author Paul Mason discusses his book “Post Capitalism” (2015) and; After capitalism, what comes next? Ethics, for a start…(2015).

Prefigurative Politics – this term has been described as “be the change you wish to see.” Prefigurative politics is about creating and practicing sometimes radical changes in society collectively before they may be widely accepted by the larger world. Here’s a couple of basic articles about it – here and here. Examples of prefigurative politics in action might be the practices of mutual aid, abolition and climate justice. What is beautiful about this frame is the degree to which it requires collective imagination to help envision and engage in the world that is desired…not just rail against the future that is unwanted. This is closely associated with speculative and design futures.

Proceleration. The acceleration of acceleration.

Protopian Futures– Compared to utopian futures, which many suggest are too unattainable, protopian futures are gradually and incrementally getting better on purpose. Think of the word “prototype” – we try things and if they work we grow them. But we understand that not everything we try will work…and we have to make space for experimenting (ethically) with new possibilities.

Quantum Communication. Ultra secure computer networks that could form the basis of a quantum internet.

Quantum Computing. What is the “next level” of computing and why does it matter? Folks at the deep end of the pool of technology are talking a lot about quantum computing and the almost beyond comprehensible things it can and might do. Get worried when the technology grows beyond our ability to understand it – and jump in with me and let’s try to learn more about it!! Here are a couple of pieces that attempt to make it accessible.

Ramp Education. This refers to the need to reskill massive numbers of workers who are most likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence. Deep questions persist about the fate and well being of potentially 32 million workers (according to some estimates) in the near future. This article (with embedded report) provides a road map.

Reference Rot. The thing that happens when digital links expire/change. Particularly troubling for the future of academic pursuits.

Resilience Hubs. This is my new favorite thing. I recently ran across this model and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it – found it most inspiring! What if everyday places that people just normally spend time in, became explicit “community resilience hubs” to assure readiness for significant challenges particular to that region and/or as the community themselves determined? In fact, my guess is that resilience hubs are already everywhere, sometimes just unrecognized. But in truth, so many of the answers to community challenges are best and likely found close to home. This is a fundamental social work value. What if every social worker were a “community resilience hub booster?” This link provides a wonderful guidebook to invite communities to consider and experiment with this framework. These authors were inspired by hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico – but they want to boost this signal to expand into all kinds of places where resilience is needed. Bottom line: I want to be in a future where this is happening more and more and more.

Rewilding – means restoring ancestral ways of living that create greater health and well-being for humans and the ecosystems that we belong to. Many things lead people to rewilding — concern over ecological collapse or economic uncertainty, health problems, a nagging sense of something missing in life, or a desire to “save the world” — but from those starting points we come together in a desire to rewild our homes, our communities, and ourselves. Rewilding learns from the examples of indigenous people past and present provided by anthropology, archaeology, and ethnobiology. It means returning to our senses, returning to ourselves, and coming home to the world we never stopped belonging to. (Rewild, n.d.). Have been hearing this word for a few years now and finally adding it to the list. There are all kinds of activist groups popping up and engaged this concept. Here’s one about rewiliding in cities. Some additional information about rewilding can be found herehere and here. It is important to note the Indigenous voice and principles present but not enough noted in some of the ways rewilding is showing up in the literature. Lastly – I really enjoyed this piece about “rewilding one’s attention” in these days of cognitive overload.

Sharent – Referring to the phenomenon of parents who “share” a lot of (maybe overshare?) personal information about their children online. More information here, here and here.

Soft Robotics – refers to a subset of robotics that are made out literally “soft” materials on the surface, which lends them to usability as prosthetic or medical devices – or devices which require flexible and more natural. These are most often inspired by nature, and involve multiple types and levels of computer and other design knowledges to create and apply to robotics challenges. You can read more about them here.

Solastalgia. Compared to “nostalgia,” or the longing for days gone by, solastalgia is a word that relates to the psychic pain associated with human realization (and to a certain extent feelings of helplessness) associated with climate change.

Splinternet – increasing presence of a discontinuous, walled, and disjointed internet. Lots of discussion about this right now. Advocates say it has huge implications on the future of democracies, economies and connectivity across national boundaries. You can track some of it herehere and here.

STEEPLED Analysis. Framework for environmental scanning. Includes Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological/Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethics, and Demographic dimensions.

Techlash. This article defines techlash as: (noun) The growing public animosity towards large Silicon Valley platform technology companies and their Chinese equivalents. It was a word of the year late last year…but I’ve only recently learned about it. It certainly fits a (continuing) trend internationally – and very real fears about the speed of change, the need for change, the motives for this acceleration and the well-being of all involved in the process. Certainly there has been growing critique of the need for more rapid expansion of explicit ethics in the tech world. I devoted a recent post to a “round up” of ethics articles and resources that provided a good foundation for social work (and beyond) to help to ground our thinking and work to help us navigate this complex matter. There is no way for us, as professionals, to simply “opt out” of this important conversation as if it doesn’t effect us. The truth is, tech influences and impacts everyone at this point in history. We have an ethical obligation to be both ethical innovators to advance the common good in our sphere of influence and interrogate/critique when harm is being done.

Terminology. Yes you know the word, but do you know what it means with regard to the future of technology (and in particular – the internet of things)? Terminology refers to multiple, interconnected digital languages that will provide the map, as well as the highway, of how things communicate digitally.

Techno-optimist. In spite of the many kinds of bad news about the state of the world and the risks of losing ourselves to technological troubles – there are those among us, who generally feel pretty positive about the likelihood of technology to do more good than harm. They do have some guidelines though! And guess what, some folks want you to know this isn’t really a good idea. Their perspectives are here.

Threat Multiplier (Also Vulnerability Multiplier) – this is the idea that different kinds of threats and vulnerability can have an exponential impact on one another. Most recently it has been used related to climate change and peace/security issues, but could easily refer to many other combinations of issues (go back up to “permacrisis” definition. Here’s a resource to discuss this concept, and here’s some additional information. (Note: I looked up “resiliency multiplier” just to see what might come up but didn’t find much. That said, one can surely assume that this concept is an important one.)

Time Banking. How do we make the most of the TIME we have (our most precious resource) and find ways to point it in the direction of social good? Here are a couple of articles that describe what time banking is, and some information about Andrew Yang, founder of a company called Seva. In addition to being a time-banking enthusiast, Mr. Yang is also interested in running for president of the U.S. on a high tech progressive platform that includes guaranteed income. This post is not an endorsement – but I do find his ideas fascinating and promising.

Time Wealth and Poverty – This concept is partially defined by its opposite – time “poverty” and the idea that even when financial well-being increases, people seem to still have less time than ever. This is a variation of the idea of being busy or overwhelmed. Here’s an encouraging piece about how to manage time poverty in your own life (editorial note…a little short on structural influences though…), and here’s a piece on time poverty related to gender equity. The academic literature is starting to have some interesting pieces appear on this topic like this one, and this one.

Toxic Positivity – Things are very intense in the world right now – we all feel it. And yet over and over again, someone will suggest that everything would be better if we just “stayed hopeful” “positive vibes only” or a similar kind of advice. Increasingly, there’s reaction to this kind of tone. It’s called “toxic positivity” and described here as: as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience. Much is being written about the importance of seeking meaning from the individual and collective challenges, injuries and grief we’re witnessing and sharing rather than minimizing, ignoring or numbing ourselves to them. It doesn’t reject hope…but it affords that authentic hope emerges from meaning making, evolution, genuine connection, love, healing, and action – not platitudes.

Transition Design – suggesting that we are actually in a humanity-wide and planetary shift that is both social and ecological in nature, transition design is an approach that says the only way to overcome the “wicked problems” of our times is to intentionally design beyond them. Here’s a more indepth overview. Of course the whole concept of “design” as a set of epistemologies has not been without its critics, from a liberation-based or critical futures framework. While design can be a powerful aid to move things forward, it can only do so with explicit attention to a “design justice” frame (with a shout out to Sasha Constanza-Chock).

Translanguaging – Emerging linguistic term describing the type of language that forms when two are more languages are spoken by the same person and/or community. Moving from a previously negative connotation to a more respectful understanding of the strengths and unique expressive qualities of this phenomenon. More information here and here.

Universal Basic Income/Asset models. The idea of assuring universal financial resources and security to all members of a society. Lots of good ideas – here’s a list for easier access.

Institute for the Future: Universal Basic Assets – Manifesto and Action Plan (2017)

“Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam” by Douglas Rushkoff 

Universal basic assets could be the key to an equitable society (2018)

Universal basic assets: The tip of the universal basic income arrow (2018)

Universal basic assets: A smarter fix than universal basic income (2018)

Grand Challenges in Social Work: Building financial capability for all

VUCA. Frequently used term in futures work and study associated with present ecosystemic conditions in society and various systems (economic, technological and civic). Specifically a “VUCA” world is one that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Again, many important ideas connected to this – here’s a list for ease of access.

Leading NGO’s in a VUCA world (2017)

Leadership skills for an uncertain world

VUCA Planning in the nonprofit world (2018)

What VUCA really means for you (2014)

Redefining leadership in today’s VUCA world (2018)

Weak Signal – futurists often say that the future doesn’t arrive all at once fully formed…we have to shape it. Further they say (and most futures methods involve) efforts to identify, catch, combine and analyze “signals” in the digital and physical world that may indicate that things are changing in ways that may or may not seem clear all at once. They may indicate a pattern. Futurists look for signals. Strong signals may be stronger indications that things are changing in a pretty consistent and widespread way (everyone is getting personal cell phones!!!). Weak signals are particularly quirky and modest evidence that others might overlook. But a futurist might “collect” them and get a sense that something is changing by careful and creative analysis and tracking. Sometimes these feel little more than a hunch. Here are a couple of interesting pieces about what “weak signals” are all about.

Xenodesign. What is beyond “human centered design” and what are the limits to thinking that the best approaches keep humans at the center? Emerging ideas in this space.


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