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Cultural Trends 2014

20 Jan

Welcome to 2014

Our job is to look at big cultural shifts, we can see that 2014 is going to be a year where consumers demand more than ever.

Check out our fantastic trends video,  and see for yourself.

Can Gaming Save the World?

5 Sep

A new wave of so-called ‘serious games’ are mobilising  the collective intelligence and imagination of gamers for real-world benefits in the diverse fields of science, politics and social development.

This is repositioning gaming as a productive enterprise, rather than merely passive, escapist, or simply a waste of time. Research suggests that gaming will dramatically transform the way that we communicate, build communities, and solve complex problems. The ‘collective intelligence’ of the world’s gamers has been elevated as a valuable resource, which can be mobilised for strategic thinking and problem solving – outweighing the power of a supercomputer. The game ‘Foldit’ uses this collective intelligence to solve complex scientific problems which are beyond the capabilities of individual biochemists.

Gamers (mrtoledano.com)

Gamers (mrtoledano.com)

Jane McGonigal – a prominent figure head in gaming development – has designed several influential games such as ‘Superbetter,’ which includes personal challenges to improve health or support depression. The game ‘The World without Oil’ encourages players to imagine their responses to an oil shortage,  generating content within an on-line community.  At present, as a planet, we spend 3 billion hours a week gaming – what if it was possible to transform these gaming hours from a leisure activity into labour. And what if that labour was part of a collective effort beyond each participant’s cognitive ability?

 

Out of this World

23 May

Astronauts have always been heroes. And ever since Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind, astronauts seemed to become more real, more accessible and more broadcast.

Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield

The last months have provided extra entertainment from out of space, since the witty Commander Chris Hadfield used modern communication to show us down here how things work out there. He showed us how astronauts brush their teeth and even explained how a spaceship toilet functions. Almost 1 million people followed him on Twitter and learned how life feels when there is no gravity. He ended his space odyssey by performing a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and delivering what we Earthlings now call the first music video filmed in space. The video has already had over 12 million views on YouTube.

 Yet, we don’t need to look at viral video numbers to guess the popularity of space. All it takes is for us to believe the unbelievable: that around 80.000 people subscribed to win a one way ticket to Mars, in the most literal way possible. Mars One is a project that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023.

Applications are open on their homepage where they also explain more about the project: “Mars One intends to fund this decade-long endeavor by involving the whole world as the audience of an interactive, televised broadcast of every aspect of this mission, from the astronaut selections and their preparations to the arrival on Mars and their lives on the Red Planet.”But be careful when signing those terms and conditions! The adventure goes one way only. There is no coming back from the Red Planet.

All of this other worldy activity will certainly raise the bar for future reality TV shows…

Good Chemistry

25 Mar

We have watched as Science has moved from being the domain of geeks with their graphic calculators to being a fascination for us all. With science programmes on prime time television and the Raspberry Pi encouraging children to learn to code and make their own inventions, people seem genuinely excited about Science again.

Topshop have even turned this interest into fashion, with a range of shirts declaring their obsession with all things technological.

Science Shirts (topshop.com)

Science Shirts (topshop.com)

It seems little surprise then, that in our survey of brands’ cultural vibrancy – Cultural Traction - tech brands rule the roost. Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft dominate, with the highest scores for being inspiring, exciting, visionary and bold. It seems that these brands are able to harness our interest in technology in a way that stirs us to dream, to create and to glimpse the future.

Supergods and a Japanese Jesus

21 Aug

Supergods by Grant Morrison (wired.com)

Science and faith have stood opposed to each other for as long as anyone can remember. The two poles have recently been embodied in public debates between people like the late Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig. The battle is very much still alive and great thinkers both for and against religion continue to hold the public’s attention. But between these two poles we have discovered a third world – a world less polarized and less concerned with the absolutes of organized religion and science.

A fascinating evangelist of this intriguing border world is Grant Morrison, who argues that people are creating new gods – gods agreed as not real, but who act as idols and messiahs nonetheless. His book Supergods takes an interesting and comprehensive look at superheroes, and at the way they’ve shaped and been shaped by generations.

Manga Jesus (eden.co.uk)

We’ve recently come across the wonderful world of Manga Jesus – a faithful, but fantastical, comic book representation of the story of Jesus. Here, ancient scrolls and the modern high-quality printed text are presented in a way that has been traditionally reserved for geeky teens and eccentric collectors.

It all begs the question– is religion moving into a new space? A space of myth and story, where the battles with science matter less and faith is re-contextualised as heroic.

In haircare no one can hear you scream

13 Jun

L’Oreal’s new hair colour, Inoa, has taken an interesting stance on the science and technology often used to talk about beauty products. Their advert is reminiscent of sci-fi movie trailers – complete with glowing orbs, explosions, strobe lighting, threatening music and a naked woman curled in the foetal position as if she has been birthed from some otherworldly creature. It could almost be the trailer for Prometheus.

 

Inoa describes itself as “the hair colour of the future” and sells the fact that it is ammonia-free and odourless – this sci-fi aesthetic seems to us a pretty unconventional way to talk about a product being more natural, and it makes us cautious about putting it on our skin. We might go and see the movie though…

 

The Wonder of Brains

6 Jun

One look at the brain and it’s got to make you wonder. It’s nothing short of mind-boggling that from the ridged undulating pink walnut-shaped mass emerges the taste of a madeleine, the pain of a paper cut, or the happiness at the first day of spring. All from something that looks disturbingly like Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Thankfully, it’s not everyday that we get a peek.

Neuro drinks (drinkneuro.com)

It’s no surprise that neuro is the buzzword of the moment. Neuromarketing. Neuroarchitecture. Neuroesthetics. Neurolinguistics. Neuroscience and the military is a whole battlefield in and of itself. There’s Neuromanagement and even a drink called Neuro.  It is easy to be swept away by the promise of an answer to the questions that have plagued philosophers and scientists for centuries. There is  magic in solving the mysteries and in the physiological complexity that underpins the everyday experiences.

At the Wellcome Collection’s Brains; The Mind as Matter exhibit we were intrigued by its focus on the brain as a physiological organ and nothing else. Implicit throughout is the realisation that however much we have desperately, painstakingly – and often painfully – attempted to understand how it works, we still can’t explain the genius of Einstein, what keeps a memory from disease, what really makes me me. Despite every surgical operation and every experiment, the brain is one of the few remaining parts of ourselves that is not quite fully within our reach.

Brains; The Mind as Matter at The Wellcome Collection (wellcomecollection.org)

When we go back to ‘neuro’ as a buzzword, this is why we worry. Popular science, whilst brilliant at talking to the layman and inspiring generations of budding scientists, can often fall into reductionism. As a culture, it makes it all too easy to design, dismiss, and decide on things purely from the results of a few EEG studies. In the not-so-distant future will advertising be solely based on firing cells in a few test subjects at the business lab? Will we choose future employees, friends or life partners based on compatible brainwaves? Will art and music be created to follow an optimal algorithm of neural creativity? Will we become immobile physical beings, experiencing the fullness of life through virtual interaction, active in our minds only?

Western culture’s obsession with control and logic pounces on any chance to drill down the complicated to a few simple truths, especially when it comes to understanding ourselves. The danger here is that tampering with, or tailoring directly for, the brain removes any chance for human error, spontaneity, or surprise. As homo sapiens we grow and learn by being exposed to novelty, it’s the exercise of our minds. It’s what creates culture; the result of subtle synergies and often chance. By pinning down, say, creativity, as Jonah Lehrer has not inelegantly achieved in his latest book Imagine, we worry that we put shackles to the freedom that lies at its very heart.

Of course, there is a flipside – in this case that the more we understand, the more we can treat disease, illness, even reassess the very definition of mental illness and make the most of what we have. The complexities, and ambiguities of the science need to be communicated and acknowledged, but not reduced, not simplified, and not confined to another buzzword.

It’s my data and I’ll visualise if I want to

9 Apr

The alarm bell rings just as you emerge from the sleep cycle, the perfect time to wake up. You rise and an icon on your phone gently reminds you to take your multi-vitamins. Every step you take on the walk to your train is logged and instantly merges with your cardiovascular score, which tells you that breakfast would be better with some protein. Welcome to the future. Or actually, the near present. 

Jawbone (Jawbone.com)

Personal data mining, personal analytics, or the more science-fiction-y term ‘self-hacking’ is not new. Nike+ pioneered it on a scale and seamlessness unseen before. And for centuries, thinkers have kept personal diaries to keep track of their lives. But with technological innovations, smartphones and the possibilities of the cloud, personal analytics is going to a whole new level. The buzz around Steven Wolfram’s recent Wired post about his 20-year obsession with his own data just goes to show how much it captures the blogosphere’s (or maybe just the geeks’) imagination.

It’s still early days. Many of the existing platforms are only devoted to a particular pocket of your life, like running (RunKeeper) or sleep (Zeo Coach). Jawbone UP, the most mainstream personal data tool, converges data from different aspects of daily activity – it was launched with much excitement, but was pulled in December because the technology didn’t quite live up to the promise.

But that’s starting to change. The growing ‘self-hacker’ movement passionately believe that ownership over personal data is empowering, allowing better choices and ultimately a life that is more aware, healthier and as a result even happier.

Tictrac, is one of the most sophisticated platforms yet. It gathers everything – blood pressure, what you ate for breakfast, how far you ran, what you weigh, how long you slept –  under one dashboard. You can cross-reference, aggregate, and even visualise a complete picture of your life, so it is easy to transform into action. Those weight gains coinciding with work trips during the Winter? Next time you’ll know to bring your running gear.

Is it the dawn of a new age of healthcare, where preventative and personalised is finally a reality? Or are these platforms an extension of our self-obsessed control-driven capitalist culture, destined only to fuel even more neuroses and disorders? We think self-hacking is a good thing. We see a future where medicine is holistic and forward thinking. In a way it  feels closer to nature, because these data visualisations are reflections of what our bodies try to tell us but we miss or ignore.

Whatever you think, what’s currently out there is almost certainly skimming the surface of what will be. The evolution of data mining is inevitable. How long it will take to become mainstream, how the web of privacy unfolds and how responsible we will be are measures which, for now, we have no data on at all.

Bring it on, Beaker

28 Mar

Have you noticed something in the air? The whiff of acetic acid, the buzz of electrons, the spark of firing action potentials? The socially incompetent Beaker-like klutz who’s suddenly the life of the party? We certainly have: science is back with a vengeance and we’re positively charged (yes, pun intended) that people are once again excited about science.

Brian Cox (Harper Collins)

This is what we think it’s all about: because our world is more chaotic, uncertain and – with global warming – more fragile, we want to understand, control, and preserve it. So we turn to the only way we can: rationality and science. Or really to Brian Cox. Sure he’s young, astronomically attractive for a physicist, and has a pop chart single to his name, but it’s no accident he’s a national hero. The atheism debate ignited by Richard Dawkins, and recently perpetuated by Alain de Botton, shows how science has replaced religion as an entity to be revered, almost worshipped. Just look at Jason Silva’s bombastic videos about philosophy and physics. It’s exhilarating, almost cultish, but you can’t help but get sucked in.

Science Ink (amazon.com)

Because of technological advances, science can now answer and reveal the most mystical questions of the universe – like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN explaining how it all started, the Cassini mission showing Saturn’s splendour and neuroscience unravelling what makes you you. These are questions that every respectable spectacle wearing chic geek asks, meaning the media thrives from the labs’ success and we all lap it up. Science is capturing the collective conscious imagination en mass (and yes, the ‘e’ is purposefully left out) to the extent that tattoos of Jesus have been replaced with tattoos of a double-helix.

Because science fiction now becomes reality at the speed of light we bask in the thrilling sensation of living in an Isaac Asimov imagined world. So we’re set ablaze just by the possibilities of Microsoft’s Kinect, by Apple’s latest gadget release, and the first flight of the Virgin Galactic.

Because tech is cheap – and with TED and Wikipedia et al, the internet teaches all – garage science is the norm. 3D printers will soon be everywhere meaning you can soon create the unimaginable in your very own kitchen. Already this year man sent a rocket to space. And in this case, ‘man’ was 2 seventeen year olds, the rocket was home-made and piloted by a legoman – and was created in a suburban Canada backyard.

Because culture responds to culture, and after climategate there’s no choice but to better communicate science – comedians like Matt Parker, artists like Katie Paterson (exhibiting now incidentally at the Haunch of Venison), institutions and organisations like the Wellcome Trust, Super/Collider and Guerilla Science are now curating and creating around science, propagating messages that are more engaging than a blackboard.

We love science once again because it makes us dream, it transforms dreams into life, and it explains why we even dream in the first place.

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