Some New and Emerging “Futures” Vocabulary – November 5, 2019

While I was at the Institute for the Future Annual 10-year Forecast meeting a couple of weeks ago (meeting download post to come…), I gathered up a few “new to me” futures terms. Thought I’d share them here and then add them to my larger “Futures Vocabulary” resource posted earlier.

Let’s go!


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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