ARC

FROM LATER

[ All Relevant Change ]

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from later is a foresight studio.

We monitor and make sense of change, developing clear-sighted and judicious futures perspectives.

We develop tools and ways of working that augment our research, problem-solving, and creative abilities.

We explore the capacities of art, science, theory, and strategy to address complex challenges.

FROM LATER

ARC | All Relevant Change

ARC is a living document monitoring emerging issues, drivers of change, and critical uncertainties (related to the complex COVID-19 crisis) that may challenge the status quo. In perpetual draft form, ARC catalogues the nowness of later.

We have organized this deck as a series of themes so as to create a broad and digestible understanding of factors that may influence, evolve, or disrupt our presiding economic, social, cultural, industrial, and infrastructural operating systems. For each theme, we suggest some key considerations and potential surprises that may emerge in near and further futures. We also touch on factors that may accelerate or interrupt pre-existing trends.

ARC is a work of sensemaking. As an effort to manage the overwhelming flux of information pouring out about a chaotic web of issues, all cross-impacting with unpredictable consequences — ARC aims to reduce the space of unknown unknowns. It is also intended as a generative resource — the raw material for building worlds, developing scenarios, and determining long-term strategies.

We hope ARC provides a shared understanding of what is happening in the present; helps you imagine what might be; generates better conversations about possible futures; and equips you to create the futures you want.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, questions or comments or want to learn more about how ARC may be useful to you, please email us at: arc@fromlater.com

[ All Relevant Change ]

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Will emergency measures prove persuasive enough to create enduring changes to our economic systems?

Could a truly universal basic income?

A truly universal mutual aid program /

Platform cooperative using tech infrastructure to lean into

Sidewalks, paths

Public spaces, convention centres and stadiums /concert venues

As covid19 will likely accelerate transition from brick and mortar to online retail, how might we rethink the design of urban environments?

BUILDING FUTURES AMIDST COVID-19

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

THEMES: DRIVERS OF CHANGE AND CRITICAL UNCERTAINTIES

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How might we better integrate health, environmental, and economic policy in decision-making processes? How might we reorganize interactions between civilizations and natural systems to ensure biodiversity and preserve habitats?

  • What, if any, are the long-term effects of a period of intensely reduced air and noise pollution? Will natural systems rewild? Will new ecosystems emerge?

  • Could green stimulus packages serve to recover both the economy and the environment? Could commercial flight for leisure and business travel become significantly less frequent?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Environment entanglements

As much a public health issue as an environmental one, COVID-19 is a reminder that humans are part of, not separate from nature’s self-regulating systems.

David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, argues humans “shake viruses loose from their natural hosts.” UN Environmental Chief Inger Anderson agrees, “our continued erosion of wild spaces has brought us uncomfortably close to animals and plants that harbour diseases that can jump to humans.”

Amidst the massive shutdowns for transportation and industry, some scientists have estimated that in China, the number of lives saved due to reduced air pollution might be twenty times the lives lost due to the pandemic. Yet, as governments invest in reigniting the economy, environmental issues may be at risk of being deprioritized.

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Sidewalks, paths

Public spaces, convention centres and stadiums /concert venues

As covid19 will likely accelerate transition from brick and mortar to online retail, how might we rethink the design of urban environments?

UNCERTAINTIES

  • Will emergency measures prove persuasive enough to create enduring changes to our economic systems? How will new economic policy impact employer-employee relationships and the economic expectations of individuals?

  • Will governments, corporations, and grassroots organizations each take different approaches to safeguard our economy? How might these entities work together?

  • How might existing trends such as automation and increasing gig work converge with the economic effects of the pandemic?

  • Could new forms of organizations like platform co-ops and peer-to-peer networks fill emerging needs? Can they endure past the pandemic to increase economic resilience?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Mainstreaming heterodox economics

Economist Milton Friedman once said “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around”.

Before the pandemic, prominent voices like Andrew Yang and Ray Dalio were drawing attention to ideas like Universal Basic Income (UBI) and the controversial Modern Monetary Theory – both of which are approaches to tackle mass unemployment. Many nations have already announced safety nets for citizens facing economic hardship.

Meanwhile at the grassroots level, mutual-aid groups have sprung up to coordinate grocery deliveries, collectively purchase essential supplies, and provide mental health support. Nathan Schneider argues that many current institutions such as labour unions, charities, and cooperatives have their origins in mutual-aid during a momentary crisis. He asks, “What legacies will we build out of our responses to this crisis?”

Updated: 2020.05.13 v02

Will emergency measures prove persuasive enough to create enduring changes to our economic systems?

Could a truly universal basic income?

A truly universal mutual aid program /

Platform cooperative using tech infrastructure to lean into

Sidewalks, paths

Public spaces, convention centres and stadiums /concert venues

As covid19 will likely accelerate transition from brick and mortar to online retail, how might we rethink the design of urban environments?

UNCERTAINTIES

  • As nations pump money into the living sciences, will we see innovations that accelerate biotech progress with applications beyond the near-term objectives of addressing COVID-19? Could scientific breakthroughs being made now lead to applications in industries outside of health (such as materials, energy, and food)?

  • How might health data from regions with varying responses to the pandemic be compared to develop more robust models of how outbreaks spread?

  • How will AI be used to rapidly explore vast solution spaces such as finding new applications for existing drugs? How will use of machine learning improve triage effectiveness by more accurately predicting which patients are most at risk?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Injection of funding in biotechnology

In the past, investments made during times of crisis have led to technological booms. During WWII and the Cold War, such investments were instrumental in the advancement of computation and IT, leading up to the digital age. In response to the current pandemic, public institutions and private investors have poured over $5.3 billion to fund R&D efforts, with the potential to revolutionize biotechnology in the coming decades.

Historian Walter Isaacson argues that technologies like CRISPR, gene-editing, and RNA-guided targeting, which are currently being explored as treatment approaches for COVID-19, will inspire a new generation of scientists and innovators to “drive the first half of the 21st century.”

Increased focus and funding toward disciplines like virology and epidemiology will also demand the development of new tools and methods. The application of machine learning, statistical modeling techniques, and lab automation processes may further accelerate the pace of innovation in the life-sciences.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How might the movement of people in urban environments be regulated or monitored in new ways?

  • What would a ‘socially distanced’ but ‘minimally disrupted’ world look like (i.e. sidewalks, convention centers, public amenities)?

  • How might automation of services not only be added to cities, but lead to their wholesale redesign (eg. dedicated robotic corridors and pathways)?

  • As COVID-19 accelerates the transition from brick-and-mortar to online retail, what will the walking experience of a city be like?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Design of built environments

COVID-19 could induce shifts to our built environment. From materials and roads to floor plans and zoning policies — the challenges of social distancing in cities could motivate new designs that minimize the spread of contagion, similar to how tuberculosis shaped modernist architecture.

Designing for contagion mitigation will involve utilizing diverse materials — from antibacterial copper to high-tech nano materials — but also entirely new systems and behaviours. The possibility of extended stretches of on and off distancing has led Anthony Townsend to describe a scenario for ‘turn key social distancing’ — the ability to rapidly adapt the built environment to periods of self-isolation and distancing with minimal disruption.

Automation — from touchless retail to robotic delivery — along with gestural and voice interfaces, all of which lower literal touchpoints, may become fixtures of future urban spaces. Additionally, the ability to dynamically repurpose space and infrastructure, such as by changing how roads and sidewalks are used, or policies to prepare hotels and shipping containers to be transformed into hospitals.

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Sidewalks, paths

Public spaces, convention centres and stadiums /concert venues

As covid19 will likely accelerate transition from brick and mortar to online retail, how might we rethink the design of urban environments?

UNCERTAINTIES

  • Could self-sufficient lifestyles and technologies see a surge after the crisis, such as back-to-the-land movements, solar panels, etc.?

  • How might it affect breakaway movements, secessionists, or republics looking for more autonomy?

  • How will global norms of cooperation and negotiation be affected by a crisis mindset?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Individualist autonomy

Instincts for self-reliance and self-preservation have shown themselves during the pandemic. Sales of guns have spiked in America, prompting fears about declining trust and increased polarization.

The prepping industry has surged during the crisis – even the Kardashians are hawking luxury preparedness kits. And panic-buying behavior has been common, leading to shortages of essential goods. Whole countries are even stockpiling food, leading to fears of global shortage.

A self-reinforcing loop, the retreat from collective ways of managing the crisis could shape scales ranging from the local to the national and global. The result could be less dialogue and negotiation and more unilateral action.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • With the increased level of collaboration and urgency, current research efforts resemble a global hackathon. What can we learn from this moment to apply to other complex global challenges such as climate change and resource security?

  • What funding and incentive models can sustain the open sharing of scientific knowledge?

  • What new risks emerge when the pace of innovation accelerates? How might we ensure that research conducted under the pressures of a tight timeline is adequately vetted and meets ethical standards?

  • From counting penguins to mapping solar panels, Citizen Science projects are reporting a boost in participation during the pandemic. Can Citizen Science projects become new models for distance education and learning?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

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Open science

Responding to the need for new vaccines and treatments, researchers are sharing knowledge early and openly. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch says in this “completely new culture of doing research” large groups of scientists are working together to audit results, check assumptions, and advance the scientific enterprise.

To enable real-time collaboration, researchers have adopted channels like Twitter and Slack and are releasing vast amounts of daily data through preprint servers. Leading Scientific publishers and journals like Elsevier and Nature have committed to making all coronavirus-related studies freely available to aid in research.

Yet, online activists believe that the response to COVID-19 may have been swifter and stronger if restrictions to scientific knowledge were lifted altogether. Archival project “The Eye” has offered open illegal access to over 5000 studies related to the coronavirus in order to remove the “copyright on the health of humanity.” Parallel to this, open technology activists are advocating for a “Right to Repair Law” that would require manufacturers to share necessary information allowing citizens to repair their own goods.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • COVID-19 may catalyze a ‘decoupling of global economies.’ Which industries may come to benefit from an autarkic economy?

  • Who will be responsible for and what might incentivize building resilience in to supply chains? What role could insurance play?

  • Will unique cultures of innovation and repair exist within each nation if global trade restrictions are imposed? What can we learn from trade embargos of the past?

  • How might we grow reserves for essential goods at local, regional, and national scales? How do we develop a criteria for what is considered essential?

  • Will reshoring production limit the ability for corporations to benefit from offshore tax havens?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Unraveling global supply chains

From shortages in essential medical goods to the disruption of auto manufacturing in India, the coronavirus epidemic is exposing existing vulnerabilities in our sprawling global supply chains.

Over the years, reducing reserve inventory, offshoring manufacturing, and consolidating supply networks had helped lower prices in the West, but policymakers today are voicing a need for diversifying and localizing supply to increase resilience. Some analysts believe that achieving complete national self-sufficiency is cost prohibitive and the world should continue to embrace globalization.

In the wake of the current crisis, new trade policies, technologies like 3D printing and robotics (for local manufacturing) or IoT (for monitoring goods during transit), and the growing tensions around economic nationalism may all play a role in determining how future supply chains are reconfigured.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • What methods can businesses use to assess their response to the pandemic? How might the shift in business operations during the crisis become the instigator for a longer process of business transformation?

  • Businesses are demonstrating their capacity for agility during the pandemic. How can this agility be carried through beyond the crisis?

  • Which industries will find new importance in the future? Which white-spaces can we detect in the market?

  • What methods and technologies for collective organization and coordination are going to emerge? How can businesses become more dynamic by increasing their engagement with civil society?

  • How will the ways brand respond to COVID-19 result in enduring shifts in how they’re perceived by customers?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Crisis innovation and brand repositioning

From stitching masks at home to retooling assembly lines, individuals, businesses, and Governments are working in unison to find solutions to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Crisis time efforts in the past have led to tremendous business innovation. Many familiar and valuable brands such as Duct Tape, Superglue, and even M&M’s got their start during World War II.

Businesses today are stepping up their response to the pandemic. LVMH and Coca-Cola among others have switched factory operations to produce essential goods like hand sanitizer and face shields. As consumption patterns adapt to new safety measures, companies are pivoting to opportunities in home delivery, emergency kits, and temperature screening.

Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter once said that downturns are moments when companies can shift positions in the marketplace. “It’s times like these when leaders can become followers, and followers can become leaders.” While many companies may resume usual business operations, some will discover new purpose or a unique competitive edge for the future.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • What do the analogies tell us about how people are interpreting the current crisis? What might following metaphors to their logical limits reveal about people’s beliefs and assumptions for the future?

  • Do military analogies that may accurately emphasize the danger and distress of the COVID-19 situation also lead to irrational fears and policies of control?

  • How might various claims and names for the virus contribute to structural injustice, harmful stigmas, and explicit bigotry?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Making sense of the moment

As the basic dynamics of time and space have changed, the search for meaningful semantic devices abound. From wartime analogies used to galvanize collective action to literary interpretations framing the experience as a cocoon or portal, zealous language has helped to shape our response to the imperatives of the moment.

But as Susan Sontag argued in AIDS and its Metaphors, the language of illness is not neutral. Voices describing COVID-19 as the “chinese virus” or as “gods punishment” reflect specific political ambitions. Others claim that “we are the virus.” As economists seek to reduce market volatility, the analogy of “induced coma” and “coiled spring” have gained popularity, revealing aspirations for perceived control.

Yet, for many people the search for meaning has been personal, with one study estimating that for every 80,000 cases of the virus the search volume for “prayer” doubles. A Yale University course called “The Science of Wellbeing” had over 600,000 enrollments in March alone. As religious institutions look to creative solutions for safe community engagement, we are reminded of the famous dictum that “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

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Arundhati Roy – pandemic being a portal (https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca) (latest novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”)

Yale Happiness

Churches meeting in online theatres

Using Google Trends data on internet searches for “prayer” for 75 countries, she said she found that “search intensity for ‘prayer’ doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.”

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2020/04/googling-prayer-has-skyrocketed-with-coronavirus-spread-expert-says/

“If climate change is the great test of civilization in the 21st century, COVID-19 is a pop quiz,” said Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Hesed, a Reform synagogue in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

We watched as cat videos, practical jokes, blunders, over-the-shoulder half-court shots, and celebrity meltdowns all went “viral.” And it was there in the notion that those who could make things go viral were to be celebrated, cultivated, compensated, imitated.

Sontag wrote, “My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking.”

Images from editions of Albert Camus’ The Plague and José Saramago’s Blindness, all the way back to Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, popped up in my feeds.

UNCERTAINTIES

  • Service occupations also play another important role in our society–second jobs are safety buffers for individuals often taking career risks. How might a decline in these services impact career mobility?

  • How might increased government debt impact policy decisions if COVID-19 lasts longer than expected?

  • Could employment tensions contribute to societal unrest? How might social upheaval lead to regime change or revolution across different regions globally?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Rapid loss in service occupations and gig work

With social distancing measures in place, many workers are facing mass lay-offs, or turning to the gig economy for short-term contract work, exacerbating issues of economic precarity and elevating health risks.

In response, workers have begun to collaborate, forming mutual aid collectives and planning national “sickouts”. Still, as emergency aid programs reveal benign incentives and benefit gaps, activists are calling for more extreme measures, such as rent strikes and increasing the mandate for national service.

With the duration of the crisis uncertain, more creative solutions to labour allocation are being proposed, from provisional medical licenses for internationals to employing summer students as seasonal farm workers.

Yet, as government debts continue to mount, critical voices can be heard, as the pandemic becomes another factor in the creation of a millenial ‘lost generation’.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How might the release (as in at Rikers) of non-violent offenders become a case study for prison abolitionists?

  • Harkening to the “Tocqueville effect”, which suggests that freedom breeds freedom and revolution is more likely after an improvement in social conditions, could freedoms granted today trigger a more extensive overhaul of the justice system?

  • Could the re-prioritizing of police duties lead to longer term police reform?

  • Could the increase in home confinements transform prisons into housing complexes focused on a rehabilitative approach to crime?

  • Is the American prison industrial complex too powerful for such changes to occur?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

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Criminal justice reform

The spread of COVID-19 in Rikers Island and other correction facilities has spurred large scale prison depopulation worldwide. Iran, for example, reported the release of 85,000 prisoners. Blanket releases of non-violent offenders as an emergency public health measure could accelerate the agenda of activists advocating for mass decarceration and long-lasting criminal justice reform.

Meanwhile, ICE continues to imprison migrant families, and the extension of emergency powers to detain citizens for violating quarantine have caused scrutiny over policing and public safety priorities. Advocates are now calling for measures to grant reduced sentences, stop police arrests of minor offenses, and institute a “presumption for release” to potential parolees. These efforts are galvanizing a reassessment of “tough-on-crime” policies and the modernization of justice systems that have long resisted change.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • Who will have access to new surveillance data? How will the protocols for its use be established? What are the potential ways it could be (mis) used?

  • Will individual privacy remain the frame through which the issues of surveillance capitalism and government monitoring are best understood? Can there be a democratically informed notion of ‘surveillance’?

  • Are government initiatives, like ‘snitch lines’ and incentives for citizens to inform authorities if their neighbours break covid restrictions, creating an atmosphere of increased fear and division?

  • When and where might the measures taken to monitor and model the crisis remain in place afterwards? Might “temporary” emergency surveillance measures become permanent fixtures of the security landscape?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

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Public health surveillance

Coordinating a decisive response to the crisis has justified government efforts to monitor citizens with data collected by technology companies. But the backlash to surveillance was growing even before the pandemic; some watchdogs have raised concerns over a “Patriot Act for health care.

Israel has used its spying infrastructure to monitor the public health crisis, while Singapore is piloting participatory contact tracing and inspiring the development of privacy-preserving protocols. In China, the Alipay Health Code is a color-coded QR code given to each citizen to link health status and travel history with clearing checkpoints in public spaces.

Companies and governments are also using the crisis as a way to test and deploy new systems like machine vision, to automate the monitoring of temperature or mask adherence. One of the biggest questions the crisis raises is whether the language of surveillance and individual privacy is nuanced enough to handle these new situations and use-cases.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • While it’s too early to tell which model will most effectively deal with the crisis, the outcomes will be important in determining the post-covid geopolitical landscape

  • Will this crisis lead to new global leadership models, or will it contribute to a fragmented global landscape without clear leadership?

  • What will become of the roles of multilateral institutions like the WHO?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Reshaping global order

Different national responses to COVID-19 have exposed the strengths and weaknesses of their respective governing regimes. In terms of superpower contentions, it has exacerbated tensions between the US and China, with finger-pointing on both sides of the aisle, including calls to hold China or the WHO accountable for damages, or on the other side, claiming its place as a global leader.

Even before the crisis, nations and models of governance were diverging, a process that is deeply imbricated with the information technologies and systems used to govern. The various governance/tech models of the US, China, the EU, and Russia have only accelerated in becoming different.

China’s state-blessed super-apps, the EU’s hyper-regulation, Russia’s digital self-isolation, and America’s public-private cooperative model have all, so far, doubled down on their approaches. As this hemispheric divergence continues, the role and relation of multilateral institutions and unilateral superpowers remains an open question.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • With information about the pandemic being in many instances a life or death affair, will practices like information hygiene become more common during/after the pandemic?

  • Who will be the newly empowered and entrusted actors when this pandemic is over? (e.g. tech companies, medical researchers, twitter mavericks, etc.)

  • How will the pandemic shape future perceptions of the political establishment (local, regional, national, international)?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Trusting experts?

The pandemic is deepening the split between camps that argue for the trustworthiness of experts – for their ability to rise above the bickering of a politicking class – and those who see in experts decidedly less trustworthy figures, spectres of authoritarianism.

Many Americans trust the medical establishment more than business, government, and the media. Some say political processes should be rolled back and decision-making power put in those experts’ hands. Tech company perceptions have also improved, by monitoring the pandemic and linking the quarantined with the outside world as lifelines.

Against experts are an array of credible and less credible perspectives. Concerns about the WHO bowing to political pressures abound. Notions of a ‘medical deep state’ have been voiced across the political spectrum, and conspiracies like ‘5G poisoning’ have circulated widely on social channels. But individuals have also used social media to access and assess information in ways that have helped them prepare more efficiently than the mainstream media or experts have.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How might these remote interactions permanently influence the futures of collaboration, accessibility, and social dynamics? Could some businesses realize they don’t need office space at all?

  • How will enterprises rearchitect networks in the wake of the crisis (encryption, zero-trust systems, surveillance, data protocols etc.)? Will regulatory bodies change data-protection policies (HIPAA, GDPR, etc.)?

  • What kinds of work can’t or can’t currently be done at home? What elements of education (e.g. networking) can’t? What alternatives might arise (e.g. new tools, business models)?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

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Mass remote work and learning

With indefinite social distancing in effect, everyday interactions are shifting to remote form. These include work, education, and family and friends.

Where it can, work’s online shift has revealed class and racial divides, as some forms of cognitive work can more easily go remote while others can’t. What counts as truly ‘socially necessary’ work could be revealed, including how much of contemporary work culture is make-work. There could also be long-term transformations in enterprise networks, and new forms of managerial control, like ever greater surveillance of workers.

Education, too – from grade school to university – has gone online. This giant unplanned experiment might sour the field with bad experiences, or it could lead to innovative new tools, models, and practices. Higher-education, which is as much about credentialing as it is about learning, could come out of the crisis with a premium, as it becomes even more scarce. In that case, lower-prestige forms of education could remain forever online.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • As culture shifts online, how will subcultures adapt? Will there be an increase in ‘dark forest’ micro social networks/worlds?

  • How will the demographics of what was called gaming change? What kinds of practices will take place inside them?

  • How might UX and the spatialization of content and interfaces change?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Cultural production online

Culture has been forced to instantly and exclusively exist online. This period will see fringe digital practices embraced by the mainstream, while rapidly giving rise to new ones. Lacking the ability to demonstrate lifestyle choices through clothing and product consumption IRL, as Toby Shorin notes, new spaces and ways of performing lifestyle online are emerging.

For one, the trend toward metaverses – shared, inhabitable 3D universes like Fortnite and Roblox – will accelerate. Expect to see new practices within them, like graduation ceremonies, marriages, baptisms, and even funerals, continuing the trend to expand online virtual worlds beyond just gaming.

Livestreaming, as well, is seeing a boom in use and experimentation – hosting everything from cloud raves to private Zoom comedy shows. Some of these performances might even remain preferable to their offline counterparts – a strange new reality where everyone is alone, together.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • While many criminals persist, some have vowed to not profit from the pandemic. How might we take this opportunity to engender prosocial behaviour?

  • Are we morally responsible for holding individuals accountable for aggravating the crisis (such as knowingly exposing others to the virus)? What forms of justice may be appropriate?

  • At the scale of human civilization, how might we prepare to recover from widespread collapse? Do we have the ability to rebuild society from the ground up?

  • From off-grid solar energy to local mesh networks, how might models of anti-fragile infrastructure withstand large-scale threats?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Chaotic agents and accelerators

With supply chains and frontline services strained, the pandemic has left our way of life exposed to agents of chaos. An unforeseen disaster at this time could compound the effects of the coronavirus, further disrupting infrastructure, raising the death toll, and unleashing civil unrest.

Malicious actors have found abundant opportunities during this crisis. Underhanded profit schemes have ranged from extreme markups on essential supplies and selling fake medicine to hawking bodily fluids of survivors on the darkweb and ransomware attacks on medical services. Capitalizing on the uncertainty, terrorist organizations have doubled down on their efforts to spread propaganda and encouraged supporters to strike cities when defences are weak.

An earthquake that disrupted the COVID-19 lockdown in Croatia, is a harsh but timely reminder of the wildcards that abound. While disasters like hurricanes (with an increased probability of North American landfall in 2020) or solar flares could become existential threats during a crisis, even minor shocks can trigger major breakdowns of communications systems and social order.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How might we prepare our public health capacity now in anticipation of an increase in broken homes and substance abuse cases that may follow the pandemic?

  • How can those living in unsafe domestic situations be supported through virtual means?

  • How might public health officials, private organizations, and community support groups collaborate to deliver support across population segments?

  • In times of widespread psychological distress, are those who have been dealing with chronic mental health challenges better prepared to cope? What might we learn from them?

  • How can a public health response to the mental health crisis incorporate art?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Trauma and mental health

As in past pubic health crises, COVID-19 may exact a lasting psychological toll and induce widespread trauma. Frontline workers have been forced into tough ethical positions, leading to moral injuries and compassion fatigue. For the general population, the prolonged effects of financial uncertainty, constant “low-grade anxiety”, and indefinite isolation may spark a mental health “echo pandemic” to follow.

While stigma surrounding mental health was already being lifted, conversations on Netflix and other channels in response to the pandemic may accelerate the process. But as liquor sales rise, domestic violence reports surge, and divorce rates spike, the mental health crisis to ensue will require therapy and support to be delivered at even greater scales.

Covid stress syndrome” has inspired a range of support services. From a boom in use of mental health apps and free video-based peer support groups, to individual artists hosting mindful drawing parties. Art therapy initiatives that were being piloted at museums have also found new urgency.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • Governments in the past have encouraged the cultivation of “Victory Gardens” to aid war efforts. What role might small scale agriculture such as indoor farming and community gardens play in securing urban food systems?

  • From Peak Phosphate to the threat of locust swarms, agriculture remains vulnerable while experts say that “We have to produce as much food in the next 30-40 years, as was produced in the last 10,000 years of human history.” Can the rising international awareness around food security today garner support to prevent future famines that may disproportionately impact the global south?

  • Food workers – grocery store staff, meat processing employees, restaurant couriers – have come to be seen as essential. How might we ensure the health safety and financial security of food workers in the future?

  • Like Puglia’s cucina povera and the depression era Rocky Road ice-cream, many food traditions and iconic recipes have their roots in times of hardship. How might the pandemic alter gastronomy in the years come (eg. an acceleration of plant based alternatives due to challenges in meat processing)?

[ COVID-19 Drivers and Uncertainties ]

FROM LATER

Food

During the pandemic, food has become an important issue not only because its essential for survival but also as a source of comfort during lockdown. Gardening, cooking, and baking have become modest means of achieving self-sufficiency. A household technology for food safety, fermentation is also on the rise as people share variations on sourdoughs and fermented brassicas. Restaurants and food suppliers are delivering directly to homes. Chefs and amateurs are sharing their recipes with patrons and neighbours. Some even offering dietary direction on how to boost immunity and reduce stress.

But like healthcare, access to food is unequal and the pandemic has exacerbated disparities. Dependent on lunch programs, school going children are going hungry due to school closures. Racialized neighbourhoods, often food deserts with higher rates of chronic illness, account for a substantial proportion of COVID-19 related deaths. With parts of Africa approaching famine, massive loss of work, migrant agricultural workers facing travel disruptions, shortages in fertilizer, and declining demand for the hospitality sector, the damage to our food systems will outlast the pandemic.

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • How will long-term patterns of social touch change in the wake of the pandemic? Will the effects be unevenly distributed across cultures with different expectations of touch frequency?

  • Will the sex-tech industry finally get the mainstream acceptance it’s been wanting for decades? What new haptic/cross-modal/internet-enabled intimacy practices could emerge?

  • What will the effect be on the ‘textural turn’ in consumer goods retail and haptic marketing, which relies on touch? How will automation of retail through touchscreen checkouts fare?

  • To what extent is social distancing accelerating existing intimacy trends vs. transforming them?

  • Will it become normal to go on virtual dates across the globe rather than being geographically confined? Will self-sorting increase, at global scale?

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Touch and intimacy

The immediate effects of distancing are obvious: touch is taboo. Many are experiencing what therapists call ’skin hunger’ – a lack of physical caress and psychological anguish that’s reminiscent of Harry Harlow’s touch deprivation experiments on monkeys, only this time on humans, society-wide, indefinitely, and – then, as now – without ethical oversight.

Nor is the taboo of touch just physical. On Zoom, tutorials tell us to look at the camera rather than the screen, substituting sight for touch – becoming cinematic directors of our own eyeline matching. But when walking, eye contact is avoided. As the name implies, eye contact is a little too close to touch. Our behaviors might be a little less rational and a little more driven by affective intensity than we’d like to believe.

So here comes the sex tech revolution, tipping point: COVID-19. Luckily, the big patent on teledildonics expired two years ago. Welcome to the unbridled era of VR strip clubs, Zoom masturbation parties, and remote control sex toys. Add cross-modal sensations, like synaesthetic ‘digital foreplay experiences,’ to induce ASMR hybrids of audio and touch and suddenlyYou are your safest sex partner.’ But might we, Sam Kriss asks, just be getting the sex we deserve?

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UNCERTAINTIES

  • What kinds of locations and communities might witness the emergence of parallel states providing critical infrastructure services like electricity, water, food, and medicine? Who might these alt government coalitions be composed of?

  • Creative exercise: what’s the least likely platform to become a vehicle for online activist politics (e.g. Netflix), and what might it look like (e.g. browser extension, algorithm manipulation, etc.)?

  • Could the need for digital ‘publics’ – platforms that are open and accessible to all/have common carrier protocols/etc. – change the regulation of the tech industry? How might the pandemic push in the opposite direction – the reduction of liberal polities of dissensus, IRL or otherwise?

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Reorganized unrest

Disruption of services has triggered unequal forms of unrest globally. In Nigeria, police have killed 18 enforcing lockdown, while in Lebanon, the army is combatting protesters firebombing banks. Hunger and riots loom for much of the world’s most vulnerable as food chains suffer. This inability to supply services is being filled by parallel states, like cartels distributing food and medical supplies in Mexico, or jihadi groups seizing ports in Mozambique. Shadow entrepreneurial-ideological organizations could continue to play an outsized role after the pandemic.

In the US, consumer entitlement protests emerged, summarized by slogans like ‘I want a haircut.’ Other movements, like climate and Wet'suwet'en, are moving online, hosting Zoom rallies of up to 900 people and negotiating treaties – and trying to figure out how to organize digital publics. Biden staffers have floated the idea of holding Travis Scott-like concerts in Fortnite, with a giant Biden floating over the Grand Canyon. In places where censorship is more common and protests interrupted, like in Hong Kong, demi-publics like Animal Crossing have been used in place. Lacking an ability to gather IRL, online multitudes could develop increasingly effective digital tactics – ways of hijacking or disrupting entertainment and communications platforms.

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Contact

Robert Bolton

e/ rbolton@fromlater.com

t/ +1 416 854 3446

w/ www.fromlater.com

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Contributors and Credits

Themes and uncertainties are researched, written, and updated by Valdis Silins, Udit Vira, Macy Siu, Robert Bolton, and Sam Venis.

ARC is an evolving document which draws from reporting, analysis, and research by a number of individuals and organizations (linked to in the text) whose work we’d like to acknowledge.

The theme description and uncertainties text in this document are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Updated: 2020.05.13 v02

Changelog

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  • V03 (in progress)
  • V02 (2020.05.13) Added 3 new themes: Food, Touch and intimacy, and Reorganized unrest
  • V01 (2020.04.13) Initial 18 themes

Updated: 2020.05.13 v02

ARC - Google Slides