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Visualizing the Future

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

As someone who reads a killing amount of text every week—news, blogs, email, journals, newspapers, reports, even (luxury of luxuries) books—I find switching over to nonverbal mode to be a sweet relief. Besides, other modalities (pictures, videos, sound) give us a different perspective on a topic. That’s why I love it when I can share videos via Futurist Friday here on the Blog, and images via CFM’s Pinterest boards—these pictures and vids provide literal “glimpses of the future.”

If you don’t use Pinterest (yet) this is a short pitch for trying it out—it’s a free public site where you can create “visual bookmarks” and organize them in “boards” (folders) dedicated to any theme you choose, . The “pins” (saved images) retain their link to the original source on the web. By following pinners with related interests, you can find images that may link to relevant stories. An article in the Atlantic last year called the site a “database of intentions”—a place to get ideas for projects and interests.  
That’s how I use Pinterest. When I start to write a talk, I scan my boards related to the topic,  mentally illustrating my story as it takes shape. Every year I start a “secret” (non-public) board for next year’s TrendsWatch report, where I drop in compelling images that I come across in my weekly scanning. When I sit down in the fall to start identifying the next set of trends, looking over this idea board helps me see patterns. 

Saving images also solves a mnemonic challenge presented by digital reading. Often I remember some fascinating nugget or fact, but not where I read it. Absent the tactile cues afforded by a print publication, it can be maddeningly difficult to track a stray memory back to its source. I solve this in part by bookmarking digital articles using Diigo, but also by pinning associated images. I may not be able to remember visual cues (logo, site banner) about where I found something online, but I often remember the associated illustration, and quickly recognize it when I scan my Pinterest boards. Because images “pinned” from the web link back to the original source, this lets me quickly retrieve the related stories. 
I’ve been updating the CFM boards, adding a new board for each of the themes in TrendsWatch 2015: Open Data, Ethical Consumerism, Personalization, Rising Tides, Wearable Technology and Slow Culture. I’ll continue to add images (linked to their originating stories and sites), throughout the year. Here are a few examples of what I’ve found so far. Please do send me links for suggested additions!
Open Data

Image from “Smart Art: Hack the Space at Tate Modern”In The Guardian

This is a picture of the depressed, tweeting, plush lobsters created in one of the projects generated at an art data hack at Tate Modern  last year. I mentioned these “Phamaceutically Active Crustaceans” in TrendsWatch, but couldn’t get permissions to use this particular shot. Isn’t it great? (The open datasets mashed up in this project were statistics about antidepressant use and recent findings about the emotions of crustaceans.) 

Ethical Everything

From “Santa’s Con: Protestors Challenge Serpentine Gallery on Unpaid Labor” from HyperAllergic

This is an example of an image leading me to a news item. I was doing a Google image search on “unpaid internships” to see what turned up, and this picture led me to a story about a group protesting internship policies at the Serpentine Gallery.


From Make Magazine

Here’s another example of an image leading me to a story. In this case, scanning other people’s boards about 3-D printing, I found this striking image and used it in a Wordless Wednesday post. Later I co-opted it to illustrate how technology is supporting the creation of personalized products, since Harker encourages buyers to customize his masks to their own face using 3D scanning.

Rising Tides

Sundial Pillar at Seven Dials by Michael Pinsky

My project assistant, Sylvea Hollis, tracked down artist Michael Pinsky and got his permission to use a PR shot of this installation in TrendsWatch. “Plunge” used LED lights installed on landmarks around London to visualize sea levels a 1000 years in the future. 

Wearable Technology

Floral Porcelain Limb, Alternative Limb Project

I note in the introduction to TrendsWatch 2015 that this year’s trends intertwine with each other in many ways. I actually used this picture of a bespoke prosthetic leg for the essay on personalization (since it reflects a highly personal vision of what the user, Kiera Roche, wants from from her prosthesis, but I pinned it to Wearable Tech. Most of the images on this theme are endless variations on “look at our cool new gadget! It synchs with your smartphone! It connects to the web!” This picture says a thousand words about how technology can serve deeply human needs about identity and self. Kiera says, about her vision for this limb

My attitude to being an amputee and wearing an artificial limb has changed with time. To begin with one is very aware of being different, of being disfigured, but as time moves on one adjusts and changes perspective. In the first few years my focus was on trying to be normal, wearing clothes that hid the fact that I was an amputee, but over the years I have become more comfortable with who I am and I now embrace having different legs for different activities and different occasions. I think losing a limb has a massive impact on one’s self esteem and body image. Having a beautifully crafted limb designed for you makes you feel special.”

Slow Culture

Skip over related stories to continue reading article

I loved this image of a slow reading club in Wellington, New Zealand. We couldn’t track down the photographer, but it inspired us to stage the picture of me that appears in the introduction to TrendsWatch. (OK, we added dinosaurs and a robot, but hey, embellishment).

So, if you are a visual thinker, and like noodling around with pictures to spark your creative process, start your own Pinterest boards, and follow CFM. I look forward to seeing what you pin.

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