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Interaction design for sustainability futures

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Sustainability, it has been said before, may mean different things to different people.1 Such definitional concerns notwithstanding, the position taken here is that sustainability is predominantly about the future. There is, of course, a semantic reason for that. Without the temporal elongation represented by the future, sustainability remains an empty signifier. But there are also more substantive reasons. A future devoid of nature’s productive beauty is the grim image that hangs over Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), considered by many the rallying cry of modern environmentalism,2 just as a ‘business as usual’ future burdened by over-population, dwindling resources, and unchecked industrial growth marks humanity’s endgame according to the pioneering computational models that ground The Limits to Growth report (Meadows et al., 1972). Inversely, prospects of a more hopeful future inspired the consolidation of sustainability as a distinct sociopolitical program. In the oft-quoted definition of sustainability (then, “sustainable development”) provided by the Brundtland Commission, the future plays the role of a moral and ethical yardstick: “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (UNWCED, 1987; my emphasis). Stark or hopeful, not only is the future-orientation of sustainability undeniable, but sustainability itself emerges as a platform for futurescaping – a space for imagining and materializing “hybrid, humane alternatives to the deterministic, ‘business-as-usual’ consensus future” (Jain et al., 2011, p. 6).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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