When it comes to A Future In Sync, there’s little more powerful than story to restore the ties we’ve felt fracture beneath us. Narrative is in our blood. It provides our foundation, and quite literally synchronizes our brain waves. From personal narratives rooted in strongly held values, to sources of common language that keep us on the same page, we can’t help but look to these markers of shared meaning as we think about building toward our vision for a better future.
“The correction to uncertainty is mythmaking. It always was. Not punditry, allegory, or mandate, but mythmaking. The creation of stories. We are tuned to do so, right down to our bones. The bewilderment, vivacity, and downright slog of life requires it. And such emerging art forms are not to cure or even resolve uncertainty but to deepen into it. There’s no solving uncertainty. Mythmaking is an imaginative labor not a frantic attempt to shift the mood to steadier ground. There isn’t any.”
– Martin Shaw, Navigating the Mysteries
“My Indigenized Internet project is an email course about the Internet and how we can transform it based on the indigenous principles of care, connectivity, decentralization, and storytelling. Storytelling is very important for indigenous peoples — It connects them to the past and helps them make sense of the world. For the Internet, it’s not as easy to find a uniting narrative, and maybe it’s even impossible now; however, that doesn’t mean we should give up. An earnest effort in working towards that future is the first step, and before that effort comes imagining a better Internet, and in turn a better world.”
– Jake Advincula
What we hold as valuable is changing fast. Just two tumultuous years into the 2020s, we’ve learned that work will not love us back, that slowing down will be key to our survival, and that our relationships with the things we own are long overdue for change. Consider all of this a shift from resumé values to eulogy values, as we reckon with a moment in time that has made us rethink the legacy we’re leaving — in a world that needs our best now more than ever.
In capitalist societies we gravitate to defining nearly everything in relation to its economic value. But as Kohei Saito argues in his new book Capital in the Anthropocene — which has been a breakout hit in Japan — the climate crisis will spiral out of control unless the world applies emergency brakes to capitalism and devises a new way of living. The book makes the case for degrowth, largely through ending mass production and consumption of wasteful goods in categories like fast fashion. Saito also advocates for decarbonization by way of shorter working hours and a new prioritization of labor intensive work like caregiving. As The Guardian’s Justin McCurry notes, the book’s 35-year-old author “needn’t have worried about using the language of radical change; as the world emerges from the pandemic and confronts the existential threat posed by global heating, disillusionment with the economic status quo has given him a receptive audience.”
Re-evaluating the role of traditionally paid work within capitalist systems has knock-on benefits. Research has found that reducing worker requirements to a four-day workweek from the traditional five has unintended benefits around sustainability, cutting an individual’s carbon footprint by 20%. And it doesn’t only come down to commuting: When people feel a sense of time expansiveness, research shows they’re more likely to use it in ways that are more sustainable — like shifting from pre-prepared food to making their own, or choosing to cycle instead of drive. As more and more of us reconsider the role work plays in our lives, we should be cognizant of the broader, collective positive externalities that such a mindset shift can provide.
While narratives of degrowth are becoming more common, we’re particularly interested in Saito’s focus on prioritizing essential labor. As many populations are getting older fast, economies will need to place more emphasis on the value of service-based work such as caregiving — and adopting a framework that makes this work feel both important and aspirational will be important in speeding this transition.
Dormio is a wearable device that influences biosignals in order to incubate and induce different kinds of dreams. As we fall asleep we enter a state called hypnagogia: a semi-lucid sleep state where we begin dreaming before we fall fully unconscious. Hypnagogia is characterized by phenomenological unpredictability, distorted perception of space and time, loss of sense of self, and spontaneous, fluid idea association. Dormio can detect the beginning and end of our time spent in this state, using audio cues to incept content into this phase of dreaming (yes, this is literally Inception). Scientists are experimenting with using these techniques to treat recurring nightmares and even PTSD.
Amid our ongoing re-assessment of ambition, there’s been an emphasis on the importance of rest and recovery. From socialclubs centered on rest to the emergence of communal dreaming practices, cutting-edge technology isn’t the only way we’re seeing rest prioritized for the well-being of people and our planet. Ensuring that people are able to access the seven different kinds of rest — physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, and creative — is key to ensuring we can move forward and avoid burnout.
As tools like Dormio move from the lab into the market —and places and practices mentioned earlier invade the mainstream — we imagine a future with greater control over the type of rest we’re able to induce and the ways in which we do so.
Selfridges has set a goal for half of all transactions to be resale, repair, rental, or refill by 2030. The upmarket UK department store is stepping up its efforts after increasing sales of secondhand items by 240% last year (to 17,771 pieces) and facilitating 28,000 repairs in order to operate more sustainably. We’ve had our eyes on the Repair Economy for quite a while now, from visible mending as an aesthetic and right-to-repair laws, to repair as luxury and entertainment. This is but the latest — and perhaps the biggest — signal that we’re transitioning our relationship with consumer goods from products → artifacts.
As an aspirational brand, Selfridges often finds itself at the forefront of industry trends, which means that this statement will surely be something that encourages the market to follow suit. Sustainability advocates have previously suggested considering if we would wear something 30 times before purchasing; but as the climate crisis becomes more urgent, we should now be evaluating whether we’d wear it for 30 years instead. Improving our attitudes on disposability and what’s deemed worthy of repair may be an uphill battle, but we’re hopeful — keeping our eye on emerging efforts to reframe repair as an aspiration, not just an occasional necessity.
As raw materials are likely to become more expensive, we’ll need to begin building the second and third lives for items into their initial design. Creating products that consumers will love longer than a single trend cycle will be key, while design and fabrication choices like enhancing durability and offering modular options can ensure even longer wear.
Hamlet Organic Farm (or HOG Farm) is one of many community-supported agriculture farms vying to bring people both closer to the food they eat (through access to seasonal produce) and to each other (through seasonal events). They shift the conversation around localism from merely cultivating vegetables to cultivating social connection. HOG Farm and its likeminded brethren are doing a bit of everything: hosting earth-to-table dinners, cooking classes, biodynamic wine tastings, performances, sound baths, and yoga sessions. And as regeneratively-minded web3 organizations like Farmers Marketverse, Thirsty Thirsty, and Happy Goat get in the mix, this feels like it’s the start of something bigger.
Strategies like this help shift the narrative when it comes to what can often feel like a dull topic, dimensionalizing something earnest and good as trendy and fun, as well — faster than you can say ‘sound bath’. By fostering both sustainability and social cohesion, these players are closing the gap between ourselves and our neighbors, creating deeper connections to — and care for — the places where we work, eat, and live.
As we consider the overwhelming challenges we’re all facing, organizations are likely to find greater success enacting strategies that combine good vibes with the ability to do actual good across multiple facets in a person’s life.
As the global landscape becomes increasingly polarized, it’s becoming harder to find words that unite us. But then again, maybe the problem lies in trying to find the same old words to tell the same old stories. Identifying better sources of common language — born of shared experience, acknowledgment of context and complexity, and accessible both in particularity and universality — will be essential as we look to build bridges into this better future.
“A real antidote to [how bleak and out-of-sync everything feels] is trying to understand ‘what are the timeless things about being a human that aren't going to change?’ We’re always going to want to break bread together, we're always going to want to dance, we're always going to want to sweat, talk shit with our friends and family, we're going to want to create or procreate in several different ways. [When you think about these things, it’s like] Goddamn, the synchrony is so real. It's just such a small thing of cutting up a plantain in your kitchen, and someone saying, Hey, in my culture, we call it ‘plátanos’; or It's ‘dodo’; or It's ‘mofongo’. And us all having this kind of claim over it, but in a slightly different flavor.”
– Tamika Abaka-Wood (Expert Interview)
When people move to a new country, they look at what’s around them and try to shape that into something familiar. This can mean, for instance, home-cooking that melds together flavors and techniques from “home” with locally available ingredients. For Soleil Ho, it’s assimilation food — “food that’s made to close the gap between homes” — but for Mexico City’s acclaimed Masala y Maiz, it’s mestizaje: the “organic blending of cultures over generations often in response to colonization & displacement.”
Where ‘fusion’ is traditionally created by colonizing a foreign cuisine into something with more ‘mass [read: white] appeal’, this reclamation of mestizaje decolonizes the act of cross-pollination. It tells the real, meaningful, in-between stories of families and the homes they’ve made for themselves through cultural quirks and out-of-place ingredients. It’s a hyphen in action; for chef and cookbook author Eric Kim, it’s a bridge to be embraced.
We’re already watching the decolonization of the ‘ethnic’ food aisle in Anglo countries, with brands like Omsom (self-described as a proud and loud Asian pantry staple founded by first-generation Vietnamese-American sisters and daughters of refugees) being stocked in the likes of Whole Foods and Foxtrot Market. As multiculturalism in all its forms becomes increasingly celebrated, expect to see more founder-led brands, chefs, and restaurants start to celebrate and embrace this ‘in-between’ element of their heritage in proud and public ways.
“I find it interesting to see the word ‘mestizaje’ being reclaimed in a positive and empowering way, especially in the context of food. Mestizaje has such a deep and attached history to Spanish colonialism and imperialism in Latin America. It speaks to the power of how cultural syncing can provide forms of healing from a shared traumatic experience.”
– Emmanuelle Naranjo
“The hyphen [in my name] gives a lot away. I like to work in the liminal space, not either/or. I grew up on the border of Essex and East London. My mother is white-British. My dad is Black-African. I'm genetically both. Culturally, neither. And it's so generative. So potent. So informative of the way in which I move through time and space.”
– Tamika Abaka-Wood
Say My Meme is a podcast that does just what it says: it describes memes for people who are blind or visually-impaired. Launched by the team at Be My Eyes, the hosts want to increase the practice of ‘alt-tagging’, which helps make images on the internet more accessible — much like the push for subtitles on TikTok. As the unofficial language of the internet, spoken in every forum from dating and bookselling to politics and finance, it’s of critical importance that that language is accessible for as many people as possible.
In a world where grand narratives fail to unite us, it’s down to everyday lore to work its magic — and memes are the language of lore. There’s a reason why generations around the world can communicate in stills from The Simpsons, and why the melting face emoji so quickly won us over: These visual proxies for collective experiences are a visceral means of communication — one that’s often better than words. Memes transcend borders in a way that other forms of storytelling have historically failed to do, and increasingly, they’re influencing the way forward.
We see twin tailwinds emerging off the back of this: as audio memes attempt to become the next meme frontier, and as audiences increasingly demonstrate their craving for cross-cultural content. Look for memes to fulfill the role of common language in a way that unites us through the tiny mythologies of everyday lore.
Second-brain services like Roam, Obsidian, and Mem are note-taking apps that allow users to create a web-like network of notes, information, and other bits of data they collect. The aim for these apps is to help people organize their information in a more connected way that makes retrieval easier (as Mem co-founder Kevin Moody puts it, “if a thought can’t be retrieved, then it’s not a useful thought”) and makes contextualizing that information more seamless.
As Louis Rossetto wrote in the very first issue of WIRED (and echoed by Reggie James in a recent Tweet): “the ultimate luxury is meaning and context.” It turns out that luxury is fast becoming a necessity: The problems we face today are multifaceted, ‘wicked’ problems that don’t have simple solutions; at the same time, the digital revolution has reduced our appetite for the kinds of deep work needed to address these problems. Services like these acknowledge the connective nature of the world around us, arming us with tools to connect disparate dots and unearth the patterns we need to solve them.
Understanding where the dots connect is crucial for anyone trying to gain a greater sense of the world and its trajectory; just look at how powerful something like System can be. But what’s even better is connecting those dots together. To date, that’s where apps like Roam have faltered: they’re second brains for just one brain. With multiplayer services emerging (Startupy, for one) and web3 tooling from the likes of Diamond DAO (a RADAR partner) emerging, collaborative context creation is likely to become the next frontier.
The state of culture today is defined by the individual as each of us is pulled down personalized rabbit holes in our explorations of taste and media. Often binging content in isolation, we find ourselves (politically and otherwise) more polarized than ever. We’ve lost many of the shared stories, shared rituals, and shared markers of time and place that connect us to each other. As we attempt to find our way back onto the same page, we must look for solutions that connect us (positively) via culture, that situate us in the same place (even if virtually), and take us on the same journey (even if it doesn't reach its destination in our lifetime).
As our time spent with culture becomes increasingly individual due to algorithmic curation and out-of-sync consumption, there are — with the exception of negative news cycles fueled by tragedy — fewer and fewer moments that bring us together. No collective zeitgeist, only shards. Increasingly aware of this lack of synchronicity, people are seeking out positive moments of shared cultural experience. Just take the viral video of a Brooklyn apartment complex lighting up in simultaneous viewing of the House of the Dragon premiere; or for an even more intentional example, look to the Beyhive: When Beyoncé’s Renaissance album was leaked two days before the official release, many fans chose to wait to listen — due to a sense of loyalty to the singer, but perhaps even moreso, out of desire for the collective pleasure of experiencing the record together.
While the nichification of culture has done some good in bringing microcommunities together over shared interests, it happens at the expense of the monoculture. Compounded by increasingly powerful algorithms customizing our feeds, this has meant fewer moments of connection with people outside of our immediate circles — yet another contributing factor to ongoing polarization. Seeking out — and doing what we can to create — more moments of genuine cultural synchrony is a mission worth undertaking.
While many moments of cultural synchrony in recent memory have been accidental — the dress, the llamas, the slap during this year’s Oscars — look for brands and creators alike to find (or manufacture) new ways of encouraging the cultural zeitgeist for lighthearted moments that bring us closer together.
Innovation and design firm Modem partnered with UC Berkeley Innovation to tackle challenges created by the shifts to remote and hybrid work. Aimed at alleviating concerns around things like power imbalance, weakening company culture, wellbeing — and yes — productivity, their series of digital interventions include everything from Virtual Office Twins and hyperlocal Office Outposts to circadian-friendly light installations and, our personal favorite, Time Travel. As a global project team spread across nearly every timezone, we at RADAR could have used the tools the Modem x UC Berkeley team conceived — like an asynchronous meeting platform with living transcripts — in a big way.
For all the benefits of our new trend towards flexible work arrangements, it’s also created a real need for someone or something to improve our ability to feel in sync at work. As Modem outlines, “whether it’s devising ways to spark spontaneous conversation through digital interactions, or methods to get working-from-home employees outside during the day, design and technology can be used to enhance our new working lives.”
Pre-pandemic, collaborative office tech and adaptive work cultures were in their infancy. The acceleration of innovation and adoption we’ve undergone since has been incredible to watch — and it’s only going to take off from here, because remote and hybrid work aren’t going to be put back in the box anytime soon. As David Mattin predicts, “the race to address this challenge — to enable what I’ve called a chit chat economy — will be one of the defining business stories of this decade.” And it won’t stop at tools for serendipitous productivity: Our shift from workplace-centric to worker-centric priorities will mean office innovations aimed at synchrony in all its forms.
Norway’s Future Library project is a public artwork aiming to collect an original work by a popular writer each year, over the course of 100 years. At the project’s inception, one thousand trees were planted in the Nordmarka forest, with the intention that the 100 manuscripts the library collects will eventually be printed using paper made from these trees. Each year, participating authors hand over their manuscript among the saplings. In 2022, after a three-year COVID delay, the ceremony was described as resembling a “glittering green festival” — encouraging participants and followers alike to consider the magnificent ambition, trust, and hope embodied by the project. As its creator Katie Paterson emphasizes, most of the authors that will participate are not yet alive.
We live in a society plagued by short-termism. This project is one where many of the artists who participate will not live to see their works released into the world, requiring us to think of our contributions beyond the rewards we would receive in our own lifetimes. It’s also an opportunity to act on hope for the future. As Karl Ove Knausgård, who delivered his manuscript in this year’s ceremony alongside David Mitchell, Sjón and Tsitsi Dangarembga put it: “The magic is to make the future present for us now. The future doesn’t exist, it’s what we make it.”
As we face what has become an existential polycrisis, thinking in this long-term and hopeful way about art opens new avenues of thought — allowing us to apply that same cathedral thinking to other aspects of both human and non-human life.
Look for more ‘collectable moments’ to make the mainstream. Much like Coachella, who trialed NFTs this year via collection stations placed throughout the festival site, moments of cultural (and subcultural) synchrony will increasingly be marked and displayed proudly by attendees for posterity.
As it becomes possible to watch just about anything online on your own time, brands will look to reward people who took the time to be there live and in the moment, upping their truest fans’ clout along the way.
Earlier this year, Twitch began beta testing something akin to their version of POAPs — named ‘Moments’ by the streaming giant — where the platform’s creators can capture big moments on stream and recognize viewers who were there for it with a commemorative badge. A Moments badge evolves as viewers collect more moments on the creator’s channel, and is shown as part of a viewer’s profile during future streams.
As even Netflix purportedly reverts from the binge-promoting drop model to a weekly release format, it’s clear that there’s something to the slow-drip format. But let’s take Dracula Daily a bit more literally: Consider how this form of epistolary storymaking could be applied in the modern age, with more immersive creative formats taking place across different platforms traversing time and space.
As a society hardwired for immediate gratification, there’s something to be said for deferred pleasure as a strategy for creating cultural synchrony — although perhaps at a smaller scale.
Dracula Daily, a project run by Matt Kirkland, is a newsletter that delivers Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel to your inbox, well, daily. The original Dracula is written in epistolary form via letters, diaries, telegrams, and newspaper clippings — each marked with a date between May and November. Much like how Animal Crossing unfolds slowly in real time, Kirkland posts a newsletter each day in which something happens in the world of Dracula, on the same timeline the characters are experiencing.
If you’re trying to read this RADAR report on mobile, don’t. Just don’t.
Grab a water, grab a seat, and cozy up in front of a bigger screen — because you’re in for a wild ride