In the future, I expect my cities to have trees. You may or may not have thought about this expectation, and you may or may not agree. But if you do, there are many actions required to ensure that future cities have trees.
Vincent Callebaut: Asian Cairns
This may not be on your radar of urgent environmental issues in the current political climate. But our long-term future cannot be driven only by urgency. We have to act out of aspiration too. In the short term (0-20 years) that means fighting ridiculous vandals who cut down trees; prioritizing keeping trees alive during our long California drought (or your local climate calamity); and supporting local ordinances that protect old trees and forests. It means valuing their natural and economic benefits. In the long term (50-200 years) it means re-imagining human habitats such that trees can thrive alongside, above, below, and within them. I want my arcologies and mega-structures and futuristic dwellings on earth and in orbit to learn from and incorporate trees. Tall trees!
High off the creative rush of Inktober 2016, I wrote a short story the other day. I wrote it in the world of my desk-drawer-half-written-novel, in which the San Francisco Bay Area of 2115(ish) is blanketed by a soaring, window-filled arcology. I’ll get back to that ambitious undertaking eventually, but nothing stops me from worldbuilding in the meantime.
It starts like this:
Stories about people’s tattoos are the worst. Listening to them tell about the pattern and the inspiration is boring, repetitive, and whatever meaning they capture on a person’s skin is utterly opaque to any other person. The aesthetics though, can be pure. Clean. A statement of commitment. A moment of clarity captured forever.
No one asks me about my tattoos during my work day, or even out at public clubs with friends. It’s not that they’re hidden under sleeves or skirts, though some are. They are not for common display. Their aesthetics are private; selective. And they are not drawn in ink, but in light and cells.
The futurist debt I owe to the Institute for the Future for this story stems from two streams of work: the soon-to-be-released New Body Language research I led (UPDATED: listen to my release podcast with Mark Fraeunfelder!), and it’s continuation under my colleague Bradley KreitEverything is Media. We drew on signals from cutting-edge DARPA funded research on implants, artists and hackers, and entertainment both popular and fringe. We also included my talented colleague Jamais Cascio, who has long explored the notion of the panopticon and it’s participatory incarnations in the present and nearish future. My contribution this year was to think about the implications for intimacy, hidden meaning and interpersonal care. The contrast of these two streams of foresight research beg the central question of this story: in a world where everyone could be watching all the time, what would you do to have an utterly personal, strictly intimate experience?
But I was also inspired by extracurricular science and art. The morning I wrote this I was reading about this fascinating study about how plants use light. This small finding, about how light may be beamed from leaves to roots, helps us get closer to understanding how living organisms perception of wave-based energy (light, sound etc) interacts with chemical signaling (molecules in host and symbiote tissues) to go about the business of living and growing. Signals of light excite plants and set of more chemical signalling than photosynthesis.
I’ve also been thinking quite a lot about the skin microbiome, both professionally and on my own. Throw a little CRISPR on humans and epidermal chimerism in there, and you get the possibility of a tattoo that altered the substance of human skin and its interaction with different fungi and bacteria. In other words, tattoos that are completely invisible unless excited by certain kinds of light and promicrobial mists.
Finally, we’re already in a world where privacy is something that you pay for (one way or another). Private clubs have been the work-around for a variety of intimate experiences, up to and including sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What would be more intimate than sharing invisible tattoos and dropping acid with 20 strangers with whom you share nothing else?