Tobias Revell’s POV
This interview is part of the collection called FuturED, that explores the relationship between education and futures study. We created a form to interview educators, academics, designers, and anyone who works in the field of design fiction, speculative design, critical design and so on.
The result is a mix of different visions, tools, methods, to teach how to think at the futures.
Tobias Revell graduated in BA Design for Interaction and Moving Image and MA Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art.
As well as being an internationally exhibiting artist, he’s Course Leader of MA Interaction Design Communication at the London College of Communication and Senior Lecturer in Critical and Digital Design for Information and Interface Design and Interaction Design Arts and a founding member of research consultancy Strange Telemetry. He is one half of Haunted Machines, a research and curatorial project curating Impakt festival 2017 in Utrecht, NL. He is undertaking a PhD in the Design Department at Goldsmiths, University of London.
As Near Future Designers it’s not unusual for us to have difficulty to explain our job, because there isn’t yet a common perception of why and how the exploration of possible futures would be a profession.
For this we would like to issue a challenge to you today:
Can you explain to us what you do as you would explain it to your parents?
Not easily. I tend to just say I’m a designer or artist or academic depending on who I’m talking to. I’ve never found a good way to explain it to my parents or people like that. I suppose the problem isn’t so much what it is, but what the value is. My parents’ generation grew up in a world that didn’t have an idea of plurality in futures so they don’t understand why anyone would need to study it. There was a two-sided ideological war, career paths based on skills and social class, normativity and supportive financial systems. My world, the networked world creates both uncertainty and opportunity. There’s value in studying and speculating on plural futures because it’s a very real existence for myself and others of my generation.
Today Future is a hot topic. Why, in your opinion? How do you relate to future? Why do people talk about future instead of futures, plural?
I suppose for the reasons listed above. Determinacy has gone, the world is filled with uncertainty. It’s not easily explained by bilinear arguments as it once was. I suppose that’s the same reason why some organizations talk about ‘the future’ as opposed to ‘futures’ – it’s a claim to certainty that implies strength and stability as opposed to uncertainty and flexibility.
Future is a complex matter, involving culture, technology, psychology, anthropology, complex dynamics and a whole lot of other things.
What does it mean to study and research the future and, connecting with the
previous question, what does it mean to “teach” how to study and research the future? How do you do it?
I think futures are everywhere and everything. Since the modern era we have future-orientated all fields of study and practice. Nothing is untouched by this because it falls under the remit of progress, innovation etc. etc. etc. The nuance is in trying to challenge hegemonic futures – particularly ‘the future’ – in order to understand the control we have over it and the plurality of futures that happen to people all the time at different times. The point of teaching future-oriented thinking is to help students understand how they’re work fits in a chain of causality beyond where they are now and how it goes on to change the material world and culture for those who encounter it.
Which education models and practices do you think are more useful in your practice? Talks, lectures, workshops, experiences, e-learning, masters…Do you have an educational model or practice which you would consider to be the perfect one? Maybe something which is not currently possible or expected in current universities and schools?
All of the above I suppose. I favour an atelier-style studio model but that’s what I was brought up in. I like to consider students as co-researchers developing their ideas at the same time as me. This doesn’t always work out but it often opens them up and me up to new ideas. I generally work with all the above tools except e-learning. Largely because I haven’t found a way to make it as effective as sitting in the same studio talking to people.
Finally, what do you think if we say that “the Future doesn’t exist”?
It’s a provocative statement. The concept of ‘the future’ is very European and western. The idea of the future isn’t as prevalent in all cultures so that’s something to bear in mind. You run the risk of opening a philosophical can-of-worms that I don’t particularly want to go into. The future is an ever-receding orientation point. We never actually get to ‘the future’ – we get glimpses of it – like when I see Amazon delivery robots on my high street. But, like utopia, dystopia or whatever it’s an orientating point for aspirations (of all sorts, cultural, technological, religious, etc, etc) so it’s not that it doesn’t exist, so much as it ‘can’t exist now’.