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How can content help unlock imaginations?

Matt Golding, founder of independent film studio Rubber Republic, explores how we can bring the future alive for people and help them see the possibilities.

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So we’re sitting at a crossroads in human history. With many of the systems we live in breaking down, and the growing urgency of the climate crisis, there is a strong imperative to fundamentally change our societies.

At this crucial moment, we need more people to be involved in creating our future. We need to democratise access to imagining what comes next, otherwise the same interests that got us here will decide where we go from here. With a growing acknowledgement of the reality of climate change, there’s a danger of the people with the most power, money, influence, and strongest voice creating the ‘solutions’, when what we need are solutions that work for all of us.

To create more positive futures for all, it could help to do two things:

  • Firstly we need to help more people see that there are multiple potential futures ahead of us, and some of them will suit their interests better than others.
  • Secondly we need to help people see they have agency (and a right to input) in the decision of which future we pursue.

Given imminent choices will affect everything we do every day - how we eat, move, power our homes and live - and will require huge taxpayer investment to bring about, it really is up to all of us what we do next.

To achieve this we need engaging ways to show, as well as tell, people about the many potential futures ahead of us - so that we can collectively start to paint a clearer picture of where we want to go. We need more imaginations contributing to what the future could look like, so that the technology being developed becomes a tool to achieve a society we want, not the thing that shapes the society we get.

The good news is that there is a growing movement of people democratising access to the future. From organisations like MAIA and Civic Square pioneering future-focussed communities, to the experiments of Kiondo, or the Community Land Scotland movement, or the community housing projects across the country, bold visionaries are practically exploring what’s possible.

Now it’s time for those of us who create content to pick up the baton.

We need to show as many people as we can these possible futures. Creative content could play a vital role in growing the number of people engaging with the future. It can enable people to see and explore what could be coming down the line, to get a feel for the fact they have options, and provide space for reflection, discussion and action.

An inspiring start to this work has been made by the Solar Punk community; visualising the future they hope to see is a key part of their movement.

How can the wider movement expand on this visioning work by creating more content that is easy to engage with and consume?

  • How might this look on Netflix?
  • How could this look on TikTok?
  • How could this look in Virtual Reality (VR)? Can we make spoof cookery videos about various futures for TikTok to drive discussion of the possible options?
  • Could ‘The future but with guinea pigs’ (filmed with actual guinea pigs) be a YouTube hit?
  • Can Virtual Reality (VR) provide a discussion space where people who might never connect in real life share thoughts?
  • How do we make this endeavour creative, desirable to engage with, and fun?
  • Where grassroots community action and imagination infrastructure workshops can provide the depth of engagement for people who have the time to commit to imagining a new future, can content that is easy to distribute and share provide the breadth?

At Rubber Republic we’ve been thinking about how to do this for a few months and have some ideas we intend to start testing.

At first we thought the hardest bit would be working out how to show futures in ways that felt inspirational (but not didactic), engaging and watchable. However, the harder challenge might be identifying which futures to show. They need to be realistic and possible, but also just and diverse. It’s impossible to show all the possible futures, so how do we pick which to visualise without disproportionately advocating for those futures?

But whilst that poses a challenge, the idea that we need more people to see more futures, to inspire them to come alive to the possibilities and spark their imaginations, feels important enough to force us to overcome this. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places, and so sparking more imaginations can only increase the awareness, ideas and options available to us.

What might this look like?

Here’s the process we’re exploring, using TikTok, VR and Discord as potential ways to test and learn:

  1. Identify possible viable futures and make them relevant to people by showing how they might affect an everyday part of our lives. Show a couple of ways everyday life might evolve (for example, two ways we could eat when we’re at home, two ways we could travel to work, two ways we could charge our phones).
  2. Visualise possibilities in easy to consume snapshots - this should be the fun bit, and we’re exploring everything from VR, to comedy, to comics.
  3. Encourage viewers to discuss / interrogate.

Our experiments are just starting and we have a lot to work out in terms of how to measure the effectiveness of, as well as create, the content we’re devising.

But as the saying goes, we can’t create what we can’t imagine, and our intention is to share some of the most inspiring existing visions of the future to spark more imaginations.

Our creativity is one of our species greatest attributes and right now, we need to unlock it on a massive scale, and from a far broader range of people than might think they are ‘creative’, or might currently believe they have the right to dream.

By doing that, we could create our way out of our predicaments in ways that are… well, just imagine!