Exploring the Future through “The Next Familiar”

7:45 AM, your eyes open, and your thumb swipes your phone to dismiss your alarm. You like a couple photos on Instagram, watch the Buzzfeed snap story, and send a hideous faceswap selfie to your besties (setting the timer to 3 sec, of course). All this is very familiar to you, but to a person in the 90’s this would seem like a scene from a science fiction movie.

Think about your everyday life, and the things you do and see day-to-day that would have seemed so futuristic to the people who lived a few decades ago. Video phones used to be a thing of science fiction, and now we send video snaps of us wearing each other’s faces every day. It makes you wonder, what seemingly futuristic technologies will become reality in years to come? The Next Familiar, a collaborative project by Karen Maxwell and Shannah Segal, gives us a glimpse at the status quo of 2044.

Maxwell and Segal create “experiential futures” – exhibits and installations that package futuristic ideas in realistic, familiar form factors that people might encounter if the situation were real. Salon Modifica, for example, is an interpretation of a salon of the future. It is very much like a hair salon or tattoo parlour, except instead of ombré colouring or tribal dragon ink, an appointment gets you body modification options such as “cybernetic body parts,” additional organic body parts (ear on arm, anyone?) or, for the regretful, implant removals.

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In another experiential future, Maxwell and Segal explore a controversy of the future, where people protest against “memotech,” a drug-like memory augmenting process. For this exhibit the researchers created photographs that would be taken by a photojournalist attending such a protest, as well as a sound byte of the crowd chanting, “hey hey, ho ho, memotech has got to go!”

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This is not just speculation, Maxwell and Segal used thorough research methods to analyze trends and create scenarios that produce a realistic and evocative account of what the world might look like in 28 years (to further understand their process, their full paper is available here). This is about as close as we can get to actually predicting the future. 

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