We review the manifesto that the co-founders of IAM (Internet Age Media) present to face the climate emergency and redesign the world.
There are many things that we need to thank the internet and the digital world for, and many others that need to be urgently redesigned, but one of the most beneficial aspects of the emergence of the digital world is that it is an incredible mirror (not free of scratches, cracks and distortions) to the functioning of the real world. Lucy Black-Swan and Andrés Colmenares, know a great deal about the metaphors of the digital, as co-founders of IAM (Internet Age Media), a constantly evolving project born in 2015 with a view to exploring, anticipating and addressing the multidimensional implications of internet co-evolution, technologies and societies in the near future of the blue planet.
On November 8th, as part of the 6th European Creativity Festival organized by ADCE in Barcelona under the theme “People for Tomorrow”, Lucy and Andrés presented «The Everything Manifesto», a declaration that serves as an introduction to the theme that will guide the next edition of IAM Weekend, the annual meeting organized every spring in Barcelona for thinkers and creative professionals interested in the futures of the Internet.
In this article, we review the keys to this manifesto, which is a declaration of interdependence to tackle the climate emergency and to redesign the world. We do this because we believe that as an organisation that seeks to promote design as a tool for social change, this manifesto not only upgrades, updates and extends existing protocols such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but also provides a much needed critical look at attitudes, beliefs and processes that we have normalised and that we must rethink and redesign in the context of the climate emergency in which we are currently immersed.
What is «The Everything Manifesto»?
As they explain in the introduction of the manifesto, the “Everything” in the Everything manifesto refers to the pale blue dot. Our home. Planet Earth. Including both the physical cosmic body and our collective perception of it as a fragile living organism.
The manifesto is a series of 10 hypothetical questions that do not seek any correct answer but can help us think critically and better understand the complexity of the planet and the reality in which we find ourselves.
What are hypotheticals good for?
IAM cofounders think that there is a beautiful question encoded in hypotheticals: What would happen if the world was different? They also highlight how hypotheticals can help organisations and citizens understand risks and opportunities, develop roadmaps and strategies and understand why things happen or how complex things work. But above all, they believe hypotheticals make visible possible worlds and worlds of possibilities, creating playgrounds where we can exercise both our imagination and skepticism, which is so necessary in a world full of fake news.
What is a billion and why is it important?
Understanding the scale of a billion seconds can help us reveal the interrelationships between time, money, power and energy, an essential aspect for the purpose of the manifesto. To understand this scale a calculator can give us numbers, but a hypothetical question will give us a much more revealing perspective, such as the one they propose:
“What happens when billions of humans, spend billions of seconds using billions of smartphones, concentrating money and power in the hands of a few billionaires who run corporations that manufacture billions of devices made of rare minerals used to extract and process billions of data points in data centers that consume billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity generating billions of tons of carbon emissions?”
The need to question, redefine and redesign
What is the relationship between the use of digital technologies and the climate emergency? This long hypothetical question connects the seemingly simple concept of scale with the problems posed by the advent and normalisation of digital technologies and their impact on the planet at many levels.
The speed of the changes that occur on earth as a result of changes in our way of life, especially with the advent of digital technologies, make it necessary to have a critical attitude, and that also implies constant changes: questioning, redefining and constantly redesigning the systems that support us so that they do not collapse. Therefore, along with the questions that support this manifesto, its creators have highlighted several terms that need a redefinition: climate change, the definition of designer or terms such as progress, leadership or people.
What if we change “climate change” by climate emergency?
According to Lucy Black-Swan and Andrés Colmenares there are bad ideas and there is something worse, dangerous ideas. A dangerous idea is to refer to and to understand the current climate emergency under the concept of “climate change.” Climate change or global warming is not something that is happening to us or an external entity we must fight, it is one of the many harmful results of our current way of life, it is something that we have created. Along with global warming, our way of life is raising sea levels, contaminating water, air and land, eroding it, wasting resources and destroying animal and natural ecosystems.
The signatories of the manifesto explain that misunderstanding the emergency as “climate change” is as misleading as misunderstanding a serious fever with a temperature change (when the actual disease is a virus), or misunderstanding a network of data centers as a “cloud” or Facebook as a “social network”.
Our responsibility as designers
IAM, as an organization born to explore the implications of the digital economy in our societies, has created this manifesto as a call for organisations, designers and citizens around the planet who are shaping and participating in the digital economy because they consider it a strategic ecosystem to address the emergency for three reasons: because digital transformations are happening across different sectors; because digital tools are very well suited to issues of scale and complexity; because the scale of impact, responsibility and resources in this ecosystem is huge.
In this call, they highlight also the need to redefine what we mean by “designers” which they understand in the current context as anyone using decision-making approach or any particular set of tools or techniques to solve a problem.
This redefinition, clearly broader than what has been traditionally understood by the design discipline, is a redefinition that especially resonates for FAD, as an organisation born to foster the idea that arts and design are intimately linked to the development of society, undesrtanding design as a tool to solve problems and beyond the scope of their professional activity.
Using this definition is recognizing something obvious, that, as they point out, many people are already using design tools and approaches unconsciously, beyond their titles, labels or the disciplines in which they operate. The manifesto defends this definition as a “broader, slightly provocative and more practical definition of who a designer is, especially because in the internet age our identities are less and less defined by those labels and more by what we do and what we can do”.
A commitment to a collective and collaborative re-design of systems
For IAM cofounders there are no simple solutions to complex problems. On the contrary, “we need new tools and systems for better decision making and we need to design collectively and collaboratively for the emergence of the many thoughtful solutions that the emergency demands in trans- and interdisciplinary ways for supranational contexts, in light of the borderless nature of the challenges we are facing.”
To construct these new tools, a different conception of terms such as progress, leadership and people is necessary, which are notions, according to IAM, needed to set the foundations of systemic transitions. For example, a progress that does not give priority to GDP or private benefit over social welfare, leadership with more feminine than masculine values and people understood not as individual users but as a collective of citizens.
The ten key issues of the manifesto
The overarching question that this manifesto responds to is: How can organizations, designers and citizens improve the interrelationships between humans and everything?
Through ten interconnected concepts and ten related hypotheticals that we transcribe below, IAM wants to suggest ways for organizations from private, public, academic and civic sectors to redesign the relationship of humans with the planet.
E · Identity – What if we go beyond static binary mindsets and then understand human identities as dynamic and fluid spectra?
V · Time – What if we go beyond the obsession for nowness, newness, and short-termness and then apply long-term thinking to better understand and anticipate the social, ethical, and ecological implications of the ways we are using the internet(s)?
E · Problems – What if we go beyond solutionism and making everything easy, simple, fast by default and then make visible the unpleasant consequences of the vast social and technological systems and infrastructures that make everyday computing possible, embracing the natural and challenging beauty of complex systems with accountability?
R · Scale – What if we go beyond using the invisible algorithms connecting billions of black mirrors and black boxes to make billions for a few billionaires, and then explore, anticipate and understand the ethical implications that shaping reality for billions of humans has, with an equivalent scale of responsibility?
Y · Growth – What if we go beyond becoming growth, progress and productivity fans and then start adopting alternative ways to define success such as their contribution to societal wellbeing and sustainable prosperity?
T · Energy – What if we go beyond producing devices with built-in obsolescence and ignoring the scale of the energy consumption that interconnected physical infrastructures enabling digital platforms and services demand, and then exponentially reduce their e-waste, natural resources consumption and carbon emissions?
H · Business models – What if we go beyond abusing opaque business models that commodify citizens’ time, attention and data, risking individual and collective privacy and then implement ethical, transparent and fair alternatives, delivering real value to society?
Y · Decisions – What if we go beyond understanding humans only as consumers or users, and then design for and with citizens who have rights and duties, promoting digital literacy, tolerance and solidarity and enabling everyone to make better and more conscious decisions individually and collectively?
N · Learning – What if we go beyond the obsolete industrial approach to education and then cultivate the potential of life-long learning with collective critical hope at its core
G · Design – What if we go beyond the selfishness of human-centered-design methodologies and singularity mindsets, aiming then for holistic Earth-driven-design approaches that lead to plurality and solidarity?
On a final note, the authors of the manifesto clarify that the purpose of these questions is not to find the right answers, but to try to formulate even better questions and use them as tools to better understand the complexity and interdependence of the planet in which we live.
Five key values to redesign the world
Once this complexity is understood, and in order to ensure the well-being of everything that constitutes the planet – of which humans are only a small part – IAM proposes five key values that we can put into practice to design or redesign more ethical and sustainable solutions for the systems that govern our societies.
Design with humility: in this call, IAM quotes the emergency statement of the Extinction Rebellion group which says that “to try to understand the full implications of the climate emergency, we need to think holistically and have a humble attitude” and also stresses that this emergency is not something that humans can solve, but something we must address understanding the difference between the design of precautions and the design of solutions.
Design with responsibility and accountability: living up to this value means starting to think of ourselves as citizens instead of users or consumers, as interdependent instead of self-sufficient.
Design for plurality: IAM defines this value as the ability to design against the polarisation of societies, by dissolving the binarism of “us vs. them” and questioning other obsolete dualities and false dichotomies dividing everything including: rural / urban, good / bad, nature / culture, man / woman, human / non-human, rich / poor, work / life, old / young, left / right or indigenous / scientific knowledge.
Design with empathy and tolerance: to explain this value, IAM points out that the countries least responsible for the climatic emergency are the ones that suffer the most and they refer to concepts from the Caribbean poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant, stating that “it is a good time to look at difference differently, developing nationalism-free identities, looking at the world as archipelagos of interconnected islands that only work as a whole, where the connections between the islands are the most important thing.” They also recover his term “worldmentality” understood “as a state of mind that recalibrates our existence as at the same level as animals, plants and the Planet as a whole”.
Design with solidarity: the last value identified in the manifesto, of special relevance for being something necessary to face any type of emergency, is the value of solidarity. Solidarity for IAM requires “reaching a collective agreement and giving each other mutual support despite the differences, recognizing the interdependencies between human beings and the need to live with other living beings.” To give an example of design with solidarity in the digital field that they know so well, IAM uses hypotheticals again to question what would happen if mobile apps used by billions were designed for solidarity instead of being designed for addiction and data extraction.
As a final note, the authors highlight a fragment of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” book, inspired by an image taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990, almost a billion seconds ago. From FAD, we encourage you to read the complete manifesto on its website, as it includes a multitude of links and other critical articles to understand the complexity of the emergency that we face, our responsibility as citizens, designers or organizations and the reasons why everything matters.
Text: Sol Polo