Amber Case is an artist and designer who studies the interaction between humans and computers.
Amber looks at how our relationship with information is changing the way cultures think and act, and how they understand their worlds. Amber's work in the field of cyborg anthropology and user experience design led to a two-year fellowship at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and the MIT Center for Civic Media. Amber is the author of two books: “Designing with Sound” and “Calm Technology: Design for the Next Generation of Devices”. Amber’s TED talk, “We are all cyborgs now,” has been viewed over one million times. Amber was featured among Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010, was the co-founder of a location-based software company acquired in 2012, was named one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers and was listed among Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30.
Along this journey, just for fun, Amber founded CyborgCamp, a conference on the future of humans and computers. I caught up with Amber there, at the tenth anniversary of CyborgCamp, where we stole some moments away in a sunny corner of a little classroom. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion on career, creativity, class, the theory of time, and time management.
Listen to the whole episode here.
Find out more about Amber here.
This month’s Future Prairie Radio episode features interviews conducted out and about in the streets of Portland, Oregon.
The artists of Future Prairie spent a day interviewing the public in celebration of International PARK(ing) Day, an annual global event that occurs on the third Friday in September and has been taking place in Portland since 2006. PARK(ing) Day supports creative placemaking by allowing people to temporarily convert on-street parking spaces into interactive public spaces. This year, eighteen parking spots around Portland were turned into unique spaces such as a bubble park, a miniature salmon stream, an art studio, a putt-putt golf course, a letter-writing lounge, a bike-fixing station, and more.
We set up a mobile podcasting studio on NW 11th Ave between Couch and Davis right outside the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books, and we asked people, “What do you envision for the future of our city?” Produced in collaboration with the City of Portland and the Bureau of Transportation.
Listen to the whole episode here.
Find out more about PARK(ing) Day here.
Our music for this episode is by Maiah Wynne.
Pick up any business forecasting magazine today and you’ll read about how the future of business will be defined by collaboration. For our latest podcast episode, I wanted to get beyond that catchphrase and find out what it looks like to professionally collaborate from someone who’s in the trenches.
Natalie Rose Baldwin is a highly-decorated brewer and a multipotentialite with many interests and pursuits. In her teenage years, she trained to become a professional skiier, then she studied biochemistry at the University of Colorado in Denver before beginning a career in beer making in Portland, Oregon, where she’s become one of our brightest and most collaborative beverage industry leaders. Not only that, but she’s a gender-bending queer woman who mentors members of her communities and co-founded the Lady Brewer Girl Gang, a professional association of women helping to shape the future of the brewing industry.
In today’s episode, she talks about some of her favorite collaborations, how to be a good peer to your collaborators, why the communities pubs create are important, and the history of women making beer.
You can hear our whole conversation here.
You can follow Natalie's adventures in brewing on her Instagram, and you can find out where to taste her beer at breakside.com.
Our music for this episode is by Lenore.
I was thinking of home when I first learned about supercities. What feels like home to you? Do you feel a certain civic pride? In this nebulous landscape of ever-shifting political boundaries, is home a state or a nation, or is a racial or a religious pride, or a regional one, based not on the lines we draw but on a shared natural or cultural beauty? Imagine if a group had the power to take your home and redefine it, to give it a new name, assess its worth and potential, and redesign its map, structure, and systems. In the long dance of history, this has happened many, many times, and it's happening again, now, in China.
The Chinese government recently announced their intention to move forward with a long-term urban development strategy they've been considering for years. The plan will foster the rise of enormous economic regions called supercities, anchored around large central urban cores like Hong Kong; Shanghai; or Beijing, and encompassing a number of surrounding, smaller cities. Kind of like a county, but WAY bigger than any county you've ever seen or heard of. By the year 2030, China's nineteen planned supercities will be connected by 26 high-speed train routes. There's a possibility that governance models would shift to mirror the supercities. Many urban planners and economists predict supercities could transform China into the wealthiest, most productive country in the world.
Sounds innovative, right? Kind of. City-states have been around since ancient Greece. Rome, Athens, Carthage, and the Italian city-states of the Renaissance were all pretty comparable to China's planned supercities, but it’s the scale that’s unparalleled. In a way, it's thrilling, because we've never seen urban planning theory implemented at this scale before. The supercity that's planned for the Pearl Delta area will cover 16,000 square miles, that's as big as the Netherlands. Seoul and São Paulo each have ten million people; the Tokyo metro area has 40m; we're talking about supercities with 150m people each.
I admit, I'm a little jealous — the United States is drowning in inefficiency and bureaucracy. We could never pull off a project of this scale; we can barely agree on what to name a post office. The only thing we have that's slightly on par is the Silicon Valley, but that economic region developed relatively organically; China's approach is heavy handed. I love the sheer audacity of someone thinking they have the insight and discernment, not to mention the privilege and power, to sit there diving up the country based on extant and potential resources, giving regions new names, new jobs, and new purposes. It's deliciously grand, and you can see why Chinese millennials are excited, and proud! But it also feels a bit...evil, and the plan will likely result in massive overnight gentrification. Is it the function of government to make spatial planning decisions on behalf of one billion people? Is it ethical to draw an oval on a map and say, "You're the textile district. Everyone here is going to make textiles. You're the rubber district. All of you make rubber." If you read The Hunger Games, this might sound familiar. China's plan hasn't gone quite so far as to designate entire supercities as being responsible for one major industry each, not yet, but some economists have insinuated that degree of a top-down approach might be in the cards, and if it is, it'll be unprecedented. Coming in at the federal level, seizing property left and right by eminent domain, and telling everyone what to be and do? What could possibly go wrong?
To explore the context of a supercity, I interviewed Vivek Shandas, an urban studies and planning professor, fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions; and founder of the Sustainable Urban Places Research Lab.
“If our intent though is to create identities, cultural identities of people who share a common vision and share a common interest in seeing a place thrive in their own way…a supercity may be difficult. What would it mean for a community to maximize for happiness? What would it mean to really authentically think about people's self-identified state of wellbeing? That would include health, how well your physical body is, how well your mental body is, how well your spiritual body is, your community or family or whatever you identify with as your group, your kin — how intact is that? What if we were to think about happiness indexes that were about our human health and wellbeing, in the broad sense, and maximize towards that?
Cities can take so many different forms, and yet, human humans have been roughly doing the same thing in all these places. We have a human capacity to negotiate these landscapes...in the US and the west, in western Europe, parts of Mexico and Latin America, we're trying to create an organized set of physical features on the landscape: a home, a sidewalk, the space between the sidewalk and the street called a median strip, your parking, the use of the street.
The systematic organization that the West has created through this discipline of urban planning is now in a real interesting conundrum of saying, 'Do we impose this upon places as a standard way of organizing space? Do we say your place is a mess and it's chaotic and it's no good? Can we bring our system of organizing spaces in this way to you and make it more 'ordered'?" There is a vocal, well-situated group of intellectuals as well as practitioners and decision makers in what we call the Global South that are really challenging these ideas and saying, 'Actually, you know, these informal settlements that are often referred to as slums or ghettos or favelas have an incredibly robust set of social interactions and social capital, the connection between and among individuals.' That is a very strong indicator of a well functioning society: bonds between and among individuals.
Favelas, informal settlements, slums are highly capable of withstanding some of the most intense shocks to urban systems, whether they're economic shocks, whether they're diseases that come through, whether they're floods, heat waves. These are communities that have organized responses to these intense shocks. They find a way to make it through."
You can hear our full conversation here.
Check out Vivek's work here.
In this episode, we explore how best to live while in a body. It seems we’ve been living with a mind, body, spirit split for a while now. Assuming we are comprised of these three component parts, it’s in our collective interest to learn more about them and how best to navigate our time here.
Brain mapping and new research into AI neural networks promise to deliver a future where we can shed our bodies like a snake shedding skin and step into a house of our own choosing. I wonder though, how we feel ready to go ‘round inserting our consciousness willy-nilly into any old sheath when we have hardly learned to cope with the everyday burdens of existing in our current flesh.
We are gifted or afflicted with bodies that, more often than not, don’t align quite right with our perception of ourselves. This is troublesome because the body is a form of self-expression, a dynamic manifestation of our attitudes, aspirations, our trials, our tone, our choices. If you've been furnished with a body that reflects your innermost workings, I applaud you, but I know that I for one, the I, the me who names myself, would like to find a way to be happier while existing in a body. How should a person be?
Here to help me examine this question is Beck Beverage, an artist, musician, dancer, and certified personal trainer who owns a gym called Sweet Momentum. Beck has a quiet joy about him that draws clients who’ve struggled with illness, chronic pain, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and many other issues I’ll group under the broad umbrella of “Body Feelings” to seek training with him.
I’ve never met someone who explores movement like Beck, who perches on the tip of a rock to find the stillest stillness, lowers himself off limbs of trees to hang in the breeze, and walks barefoot across the forest floor, attending, listening. Or maybe I’ve met hundreds of people like Beck — children — stainless, fresh humans who move with curiosity and ignorance and are happy to report back to you on every feeling they encounter. Beck shares his personal embodiment journey and offers tips for ours.
You can hear our full conversation here.
Check out Beck's gym here.
I came upon Jaleesa Johnston’s art while I was studying Afrofuturism, a cultural philosophy and aesthetic that explores the intersection of African culture with modern futurism. Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and magic to critique the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine historical events. Jaleesa’s art brings a stark, energetic perspective to our cultural conversation about race, and we can’t talk about the future without candidly examining who gets to live in that future. Jaleesa integrates sculpture, collage, and dance into installations and performances, many of which are Afrofuturist in their exploration of Black women’s bodies. I sat down with Jaleesa to ask her about art and identity, and two specific pieces of hers: a contemporary dance called Rise and Fall, and a photo collage series called Between Contact. You can hear our full interview here and see more of her work here.
One of the questions I love to ask people when I talk to them about the future is how they will know when the future has arrived. Will there be a certain marker or object or system that will indicate to them that we've really made it? A frequent refrain is about flying cars: "Once we have flying cars, I know it will feel like it's officially the future."
I find it interesting that transportation and mobility make up so much of our fantasy of futurism. We dream about better ways of getting around because we want to spend our time more prudently. We're looking for ways to spend less of our hard-won free time in traffic, and if we are going to be in traffic, we hope to find ways of being more productive, happy, or engaged while we're in there waiting to arrive at our next destination. For me, the future often feels like a destination. It has an elsewhereness; it's the promise of going somewhere, working towards something, keeping ourselves in motion, hanging onto a hope that it gets better.
One of the industrial shake ups that's changed how we look at making our systems better in the transportation space has been the advent of the sharing economy and the resultant shift away from car ownership to ride-sharing. In the United States, low-income citizens, minorities, teens, people with disabilities, and older adults typically have longer commutes and higher transportation costs. Ridesharing is seen as a potential solution to this inequity. Our best regional planners, policy-makers, non-profits are looking for ways to ensure that all their citizens can affordably access housing, jobs, healthcare, childcare and other essential services. Part of this depends on our support for the investment and production of equitable transportation-oriented development.
Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft offer a solution, but many people have factors that limit their access to ride sharing platforms. A primary factor, of course, is cold hard cash — whether or not you have enough to be able to afford a Lyft or an Uber to get you where you need to go. Many other accessibility factors come into play, some as basic as whether or not you can afford a smartphone and if you have a good data plan that will allow you to send and receive information quickly. Another is if you can see well enough to use an app on your phone that isn't designed with the visually impaired in mind. Another is if you have the manual dexterity to type in the address of where you want to get to. Another is if you have the familiarity with technology to understand how to use a ride-sharing app; for those who aren't digital natives, this might not be intuitive at all.
One of my biggest questions about the future is how we can include under-served communities in our grand visions, when we use new tools to fix old, broken systems within urban design, strategic economic development, social planning. When we look at the arc of history, class disparity comes up again and again as a thorn in the side of our biggest aspirations.
Our second podcast guest is Eric Johnson, who's talking to us about equitable transportation and a unique model of ride-sharing that's outside of the commercial model of transportation network providers like Uber and Lyft. Eric is a consultant for cities and counties; he helps them understand how to incorporate ride-sharing solutions into their communities. He's also the founder of the San Francisco Casual Carpool website.
If you're interested in learning more about equitable transportation, I encourage you to check out LivingCities.Org. Living cities is one of the best organizations I know that's working on class disparity. They work with some of the world's largest foundations and financial institutions to develop and scale urban design approaches that serve low-income people. Their investments and research support innovative, comprehensive, local approaches with real-time knowledge sharing. If you sign up for their newsletter, you'll find all kinds of ways to get involved.
If you're enjoying the podcast so far, I hope you'll consider checking us out on patreon.com. Much like your favorite public radio station, we survive on the support of a couple sponsors and our listeners who enjoy what we do! On Patreon, you can chip in a couple of dollars a month and help sustain Future Prairie. Your support will go directly to the production of our content. Patrons get first dibs on events, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, secret shop sales, discounts to community partners, & hot futurist music playlists. Consider becoming a patron today! Patreon.com/futureprairie
Our music for this show was mixed by DJ xCarlisax, a house DJ based in New Orleans. She is a member of our creative collective, and the weekly dance parties she helps host were recently written up on Noisey and Vice. You can hear a selection of her work here.
You can hear the full episode here.
Our first guest is artist Portia Munson. Portia Munson’s large scale object-based installations speak to our environmental imprint and consumerist culture through a feminist lens. Munson works in a range of mediums including photography, painting, sculpture and installation and focuses primarily on environmental and cultural themes. Munson’s work has been shown in major public and private exhibition spaces since the early 1990s, when she held “White Room” exhibition at White Columns (NY 1993) and was included in the “Bad Girls” show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (NY 1994). In 2015, she created a large-scale light box installation at the Bryant Park subway station for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Right now she’s having a show called Flood at Disjecta, a gallery in Portland, Oregon. Flood is a meditation on archive, materiality, and mass consumption. Describing her process of as “collecting objects and assembling, in essence using as my resource the refuse of consumer culture,” Munson assembles thousands of found objects, all of them made of blue plastic, creating a singular large-scale installation.
Flood was curated by Julia Greenway, who began her curatorial practice with Interstitial a contemporary new media gallery in Georgetown. Her work focuses on how digital media influences the aesthetic presentation of gender, economics, and environment. In 2015, Julia was recognized by the New Foundation Seattle as part of its New Fellows program. Greenway is Disjecta’s Curator-in-Residence.
At the entrance of the exhibition, the visitor is greeted by multiple vitrines encasing found objects. Among the display cases, wall-mounted monitors display video footage of scanned installation materials. Flood, the installation work in which the exhibition takes its title, fills Disjecta’s main gallery. Carefully sorted, arranged, and compartmentalized, blue objects cover the floor in its entirety. Muson’s installation speaks to humanity’s failure to contain its waste. Through monumental scope, Flood constructs an archive through which we can decipher the artifacts of consumerism.
I hosted Portia for a drink and spoke with her about the show, her inspiration, and how we think about plastic.
You can hear the full episode here.
See more about Portia here.
My name is Joni, and I'm the founder of Future Prairie. I'm pleased to be writing to you today to introduce you to our multi-disciplinary creative collective.
Future Prairie is built around a distinct aesthetic, one that interweaves the futurist values of our artists with the needs of their communities. We are going to be working with a diverse selection of artists, activists, photographers, illustrators, policy makers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, technologists, writers, and more. We'll be highlighting all of these on Future Prairie Radio, our podcast, and in Future Prairie Live, our variety show.
We have a few artists on our roster now and are excited to add more. We'd like to work with triple threats — artist/activist/model types with big dreams and gumption. 2018’s no time for creative minimalism.
We named our company Future Prairie because we're working within and inspired by the ethos of futurism. We want committed and passionate creators who are dedicated to their crafts and will work hard to make their dreams come true. Does that sound like you? Write to us.