This special episode is the first of 5 talks delivered on stage at StartWell’s Event Space on King St W in downtown Toronto on November 28, 2019 for a globally roaming annual series called Dark Futures.
This talk was presented by Geoff Snack, a strategist at the Toronto design and experience agency JAM3, and is titled “New materiality Things that don’t exist”
*Dark Futures is presented by globally renowned Futurist, speaker, researcher, and author Nikolas Badminton. (https://nikolasbadminton.com/)Podcast Transcript
Qasim Virjee 0:11
Welcome back to this the 25th episode of the start well podcast. As always, I am your host Qasim Virjee, the founder and CEO of start well. And for the next five episodes, we’ve got something very special. They comprise the talks that were presented live in our event space on King Street in downtown Toronto as part of a series that roams the world and happens annually hosted by a chap named Nicholas badminton. Nicholas is a member of start well, and he’s a globally renowned futurist advisor and author who works with everyone from trillion dollar companies to investment funds, progressive governments, and an organization’s in between to shift their mindsets from what is to what if he essentially develops foresight for his clients. And the outputs of that are things like increased revenue, reduced risk, and global impact. So very interesting guy who’s brought very interesting speakers to our stage. And for this, the first episode that we’re broadcasting of dark futures Y, Y, Z recorded on November 28 2019, we’ve got a talk by Jeff snack, and the title is new materiality, things that don’t exist.
Geoff Snack 1:36
Everybody, yeah, is this good? Awesome. Um, so many good talks earlier, everybody’s so smart. Um, so this is a deck for talking about the future of things. My name is Jeff. So I do strategy UX. I also work in education. And I’m also like, just a pretty enthusiastic guy. I love stuff, like I love. I like buying stuff. And I like collecting. So that’s the thing I do. And then in addition to that, I fund that habit by working at digital and experience agency called jam three jam threes in the building today. Whoo. That’s true. And then I also teach at OCAD. I teach a fourth year illustration course in digital media, so I teach them how to use the internet, for better or worse. And I’m also doing a little bit of work for OCAD small business incubator called CO. So that’s me. Um, do you guys remember this billboard campaign by the musical artist, Kanye West? No, um, this was a tweet that Kanye did. And he kind of mocked up this billboard campaign, the billboard like doesn’t actually exist. And the album itself doesn’t really exist in this form. Then this tweet was kind of put out to eventually Jandi became Jesus’s King, sort of, as we all know, with Kanye West, and like the future of albums like he has been changing the tracklist of his albums, and iterating on them, because they all exist digitally. This blue vinyl release does not exist yet. Um, this sucks. But this is a political straw. So the Trump campaign is actually charging $15 for these straws as kind of like they’re called trigger straws. Because that’s what people sometimes spend their time doing. But the point of this is that this straw is not made for drinking at all, like this is a political straw. And it’s more gestural than it is for actually consuming, consuming your beverage or also consuming things like you are buying this as a gesture. And that sucks. Come at me, it’s probably not gonna go to market, at least not the way it looks right now. And then there’s fortnight. I don’t know a lot about fortnight, but I know you can buy like digital uniforms and stuff in there. And it’s like, made 3.3 billion I think last year. So anyways, like, none of these things actually exist in the real world as we see them, like even that trumps straw that physically exists. Like they’re using this weird drop shipping thing. So they actually manufacture based on demand. So like, unless people buy it, it doesn’t exist. And then there’s this so this is like an internet, Instagram, or they’re all Internet things. That’s why we’re all here. But this is like an Instagram thing. There’s these two influencers, they have this fashion line that started as a virtual fashion line. And here we’ll actually see we’re not going to watch because it’s quite long, but it’s like a virtual fashion show in the middle of New York and an alleyway for a virtual clothing line. And you can even see they included like the virtual wealth disparity in there as well. So as people are walking down that alleyway you can actually see like real well not real, but like the virtual homeless and poverty. Very cool. Um, so like, God, how did we get here? Um, but things have been getting less real for a pretty long time now. I’m over there. We you guys know the pop artist Andy Warhol deck, um, but like. Later in his career, like Andy Warhol, like wasn’t actually doing his work. Like not only is it like about pop art and celebrities, but like he had his assistants do all the work.
Geoff Snack 5:05
Here you guys, you guys know Fluxus probably not. But it was like a conceptual art movement that came a bit after pop and like the 60s and 70s. A lot of hell yes. My Fluxus people in the building, I love it. Um, but Fluxus was like a conceptual art movement where a lot of this stuff was happening. So like these events, and performances that were annotated and recorded, but it didn’t really matter whether or not they actually happened. And a lot of them were, like, pretty impossible to happen. And then we see the big dog Baudrillard down there, he had this notion of the hyper real where like, things become just so I’m going to just butcher this. So let’s talk after you can correct me. But just the notion that like things are so wild in the line between like reality and fiction is being blurred. And like, it doesn’t really matter whether or not things are real. And then we’ve got a big old Xerox over there. And then that it’s that notion of a copy of a copy of a copy, and things get less real. And eventually, things lose any semblance of authenticity. So it’s been a long and wild journey. So this is kind of how we got to where we are, where there’s like, so many things that like don’t necessarily exist, and do they really have to exist? Like, do they really need to exist to have cultural meaning? I don’t think they do. And also, I love buying stuff. You guys love buying stuff. We go to Uniqlo we go to MUJI, we buy so much stuff. And all these things say stuff about us. We love our Allbirds we love our dad cabs that have like nostalgia on them. We love our air pods, air pods changed my life. I love those things. That isn’t the so many podcasts. We love our branded merch, ironic or not. We love really rare sneakers. We love vinyl, we can get this stuff on Spotify, we can download it illegally. But we still buy vinyl, especially young people like I love vinyl, but I’m old. But like, young people still buy records. And then we have Sam James coffee. Like I was having a conversation with my co worker. And the first thing he said he just moved here was like, Oh, the branding of Sam James is so good. And then we started talking about the coffee. Also good. And then you know, people like Tesla’s so objects are like kind of totems, they signal to others who we are like nothing I’m wearing tonight is an accident, I like changed my shirt a bunch of times, I’d like a pretty cool Aerosmith shirt but had a skull on it, it didn’t want to be too edgy look like my does metal hurt on it and like I’m wearing black because that’s a cool tech bro thing. So like I’m being pretty considered and I hope you all are as well. Um, but like not only do they signal to others who they are who we are, but they help us kind of catalog and understand who we are, they help us take stock of ourselves. And then that kind of leads us to this notion of like starter packs, where what we think are like individualized identities are kind of turned into these grids of objects that are very predictable, highly repeatable, and generally, universally, or often universally, correct. And then there was this artist, I forget his name, but he did this grid of like fashion. So it’s a lot of people who have like really unique subcultural looks often. But they all kind of look the same. It’s not people of New York, it’s like people of New York at Chase, and it’s this other photographer. And his whole thing was like creating these grids of people wearing like, the exact same outfit, but like, kind of different. And then this is really unfortunate. I didn’t include any of the memes because they’re just like really nasty and gross. But there’s this like far right thing, where they’re starting to refer to left leaning folks as like NPCs. So non player character, so anybody that plays a video game, you know, when you like walk up to the person in the pub, and they just repeat the same thing again and again. They’re they’re using that as a way to kind of attack folks that you know, potentially might be saying the same phrases again and again and again, in a way to basically kind of disarm leftists and disarm any sort of like intelligent political dialogue. But the fact that like, you can look at somebody and be like, I knew you were gonna say that already. You stupid tech bro. And the fact that like, that is the way we’re starting to think about other human beings as like these universally true archetypes are templates. Really weird. And then New York Times writer, John Cara Monica, coined this term of Spotify core. So this notion of like really easy listening, you know, kind of kind of electro but like not to electro office music that’s really great for coding or concepting. And then that actually started to produce Spotify core artists, like people who just go out and produce this type of music to get plays, because it’s semi lucrative. So that’s like a really weird thing, or like an algorithm is actually kind of driving the production of culture.
Geoff Snack 9:40
The wild stuff, um, cool. So, a little hand in there. We’re increasingly relying on algorithms for cultural discovery, obviously, like Spotify, those little grids like the internet, like the way we’re getting getting served ads, we all know this. And the algorithms getting better and better about how understanding what we like so like, the more we consume and use the algorithm and the More we feed into it, the smarter it gets. And that’s making things like kind of compounded by the fact of the world and, like Culture and Information is getting more and more complex. This is new rap artist, little NAS X. Okay, um, yeah, to hit, but like people are like, there’s a big thing like accusing him of being an industry plant. And by that I mean, a personality and a brand that was created by big music industry business, to basically appeal to young people and millennials. It’s wild that that is a possibility. So algorithms and computers are kind of going from curating culture, to driving the culture in Spotify core, and pretty soon, they’re gonna probably start creating culture, which is pretty wild. So send it off about objects, and there’s more to come, don’t worry, I’m not too worried about things, I think things are gonna be just fine. We’re gonna continue to buy stuff there. We’re gonna continue to use them to project who we are and understand who we are. They’re gonna help us understand, you know, what matters to us and quantify that. Yes. And remind us what we care about, like people have totems in their homes, they have pictures of other people, they have things that give them memories, they have like things that appeals to them things that say things about them. None of that’s gonna change. So I’m not too worried about the future of things. Gonna be just fine. But what about us? What’s gonna happen with us? Do we have ownership over who we are? Are we going to continue to have ownership over our identities over what drives us over who is creating, you know, the beauty and the art in the world around us? If we do, for how long? How long is it going to be that way as the algorithm gets smarter, as we become potentially more templatized? Or as we just like even plateau and flatline in terms of like our autonomy, and this thing just keeps getting smarter and smarter and smarter. And then what happens when we don’t? If and when that happens, what’s going to happen to us if we don’t? And will it even matter to any of us? Thanks, guys.