Project Description

The project seeks to explore significant social, cultural, and political issues that will impact possible human futures. We aim to do so by creating a series of experimental and interactive digital narratives. This project does not assume “the future”: a monolithic concept that often comes from technologists and policymakers. Instead, we explore what alternative futures might look like when imagined by and with marginalized communities.

This interdisciplinary project brings together New York-based Transmedia artist and theorist Thenmozhi Soundararajan and two faculty from Ci3’s Transmedia Story Lab, Melissa Gilliam (adolescent health researcher and physician, Biological Science Division-founder of Ci3), and Patrick Jagoda (game designer and scholar, English & new media studies). 

The three phases of the project will use storytelling, filmmaking, and digital media technologies to curate the voices of activists, community leaders, artists, youth, and others to enter this participatory conversation in the discussion of resources and trajectories of the human species. The lynchpins of this project are a series of digital narrative productions, an experimental course that combines elements of a seminar and a workshop, a crowd-sourced documentary, and an interactive platform. 

Background 

The early twenty-first century has unfolded as a time of unique challenge and opportunity. The next generation of adults will be racially and ethnically diverse and connected to digital technologies; yet they will come of age amid deep insecurities. Psychosocially, this generation faces a society where violence (at home, in schools, on the streets of Chicago, and around the world) seizes media headlines; in the wake of the Great Recession, financial security remains more elusive than ever; and nations fail to agree on whether and how to conserve our environment. Against this backdrop, communities of color in the United States and globally argue that their lives matter.   

Yet, this anxiety is not shared by all. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil, Peter Canton, and Peter Thiel look forward with excitement as they predict an Internet controlled by the brain, mobile technologies that deliver personalized medicine, and cheap on-demand transportation. Even so, growing inequalities in wealth, education, and access to technology means that only a small minority will imagine this future and even fewer will participate fully.  

Thinking about the future as a perpetually in-process and undetermined concept opens up the possibility for powerful interventions. Future orientation, defined as consciously self-constructed and represented images of the future, contains cognitive (e.g., thinking about the future), motivational (e.g., planning for the future) and affective (e.g., being optimistic or pessimistic about the future) dimensions. Higher future orientation has been linked to lower risk behaviors (e.g., alcohol, HIV acquisition, and drug use). Thus, perhaps being a futurist also contains a therapeutic dimension. 

This idea drives “Imagining Futures.” Our hope is that in creating this platform for marginalized communities, they can begin to engage in topics of the future, and eventually even shift future possibilities for themselves and for our society as a whole.