Artifact from the Future:
Glasses that enable you to see around corners
I have just returned from the year 2036 where I saw people wearing these really funky glasses. I took a picture of two of them. One little girl sported glasses that only covered her eyes.
Another had glasses that covered her whole face with a special opening for her mouth. I didn’t know what to think. At first, I thought it was some sort of costume. But, when I saw so many people wearing them throughout the city; I had to know what was going on. I sat down at an outdoor cafe where a woman, who looked to be in her mid-thirties, was wearing one of the full-face glasses/masks. “Excuse me.” I wasn’t sure how to approach her. I wondered. Was social interaction the same in 2036? Could she talk with that glass/mask on? “I don’t mean to bother you,” I continued. She turned toward me, opened her arms in a wide V-shape and replied.
“Why would an opportunity for connection be a bother?” She removed her glasses/mask, and I could see a broad smile spreading across her amber face. As I spent more time in this future, I came to learn that the will to create spaces of belonging was a hallmark of social life in 2036. Marissa, the woman I am in the midst of describing, was one of many people who literally extended their arms in the same V-shape in the face of meeting a new person.
Encouraged by her warmth, I continued. “I noticed that you and others I‘ve seen around town are wearing glasses unlike any I have seen. Would you mind telling me what they are for?”
“Really?” she inquired. “You’ve never seen benders before?”
“Well, no. I am not from here.” I didn’t want to risk alienating her by explaining I had traveled from the past.
“I see.” She politely accepted my explanation and moved on. “These are benders. They allow me to see around corners.”
I was confused. I looked around and could not see any corners in our visual field. Marissa watched me scanning the area and giggled.
“No, not literally see around corners. They allow me to pick a topic and see what factors might affect it in the future. You know, things I wouldn’t think of on my own. For example, as you sat down, I was focusing my glasses on some senior citizens who live in my building. As a member of a shared community, I, and the rest my neighbors want to support them as they experience some physical and cognitive decline. I was using my benders to focus on what we should anticipate and how to avoid being paternalistic.”
I was floored. “Why do yours cover your face and others don’t?”
“Oh,” she sighed. “In 2030 we had an environmental collapse, that left some of us without the ability to use our lungs consistently. Because of the collapse, I don’t have the full lung capacity to make my benders work their magic. Breathing is what generates their power. The mouthpiece helps me draw in extra oxygen so I can look into the future.”
“Mind blown!” I exclaimed, then noticed that my outburst had drawn the attention of others in the café. I regained my composure and continued. “Who invented these?”
“Well, they were built by a large group of people. None of them claimed to be the sole or main inventor. From what I have read, it was a combination of using technology in two ways. There is a scanner that uses an intelligence gathering worm. It allows the glasses to identify all of the signals present in the universe at any given time. For example, when I focus on my neighbors, it gathers the signals related to what the universe is anticipating about aging and mutual aid. They then use a technology called “non-line-of-sight imaging”. This technology reveals objects around a corner by reconstructing the scene from multiply scattered light. The signals become a series of images that are projected on the lens for my view.”
I was intrigued. “I get it. So, you don’t have to deal with uncertainty when you are making decisions.”
Marissa practically doubled over with laughter. “I wish”, she spit out between bursts of hilarity. “The benders don’t take away uncertainty, they just remind you that you can use signals to act in the midst of uncertainty.”
My 2036 conversation with Marissa gave me a lot to think about upon my return to 2021. Signals are a very important aspect of futures work. When I began learning about them, I was confused. It was difficult to understand the difference between something that was “interesting” and a signal – that which occurs on the margins of society and anticipates some aspect of our uncertain futures. I believe I am getting a better grasp of the concept; but one must both play around with identifying signals and describing their future implications to use them in building future scenarios. For example, Covid-19 has been a significant disruption for all of us. Julian Brave NoiseCat looks back on Indigenous experience to consider how the pandemic might signal new forms of dreaming of a flourishing life amidst our darkest hours. As a signal it reconsiders grounding flourishing and a good life in ideal circumstances. It suggests that the pandemic has encouraged people to stop thinking about “good enough” or “low hanging fruit”. If we can come up with computers for every kid in the district to work remotely, then what does that tell us about our ability to bridge the digital divide. I was talking to education advocates last week. They told me that many districts have asked for those computers back and will no longer supply them for students. What does that signal about the intentions toward educational equity? What pandemic signals through Build Back Better are we getting about the will to provide a stronger safety net for families? Brave NoiseCat recasts everyday notions of the “American Dream” and directs us towards the creative construction of life narratives that integrate, joy, survival, resistance, and agency. As I look at the signal, I think of futures that are flourishing, of a good life, of well-being. I think these futures will begin with asking how we reckon with experiences of structural oppression as we work toward our preferred horizons.
I think of my 2036 conversation with Marissa and wonder what brought upon the collapse in 2030. I think about my ongoing efforts to recognize and record signals…
Written by Tonya Bibbs