I’ve just come across a fascinating article by Tyler Pace on the Design Philosophy Politics website: ‘Digital life identity crisis: tales of security and sustainability’.
While the issue of sustainability is a pressing one and is now solidly embedded in contemporary design thinking, it is still rare to find an article such as this one, which carries over the issues into what we are still calling the ‘virtual world’. Pace’s comments make it clear that we are using an incorrect, and misleading, terminology. There’s no such thing as a virtual world, there’s just the world. Here’s some food for thought:
Linden Labs, producers of the popular social virtual world Second Life, expressed their consumption problems in 2006.
“We’re running out of power for the square feet of rack space that we’ve got machines in. We can’t for example use [blade] servers right now because they would simply require more electricity than you could get for the floor space they occupy.”
Identity information in Second Life is more complex than a traditional web application as “residents” of Second Life own clothing, chairs, cars and pretty much anything else you can imagine. All of this accessory information becomes part of the identity maintained by the Second Life servers, thereby requiring vast amounts of electricity. Popular technology blogger Nicholar Carr calculated that Second Life avatars consume as much electricity as the average Brazilian citizen.
On a parallel tack, I’ve received a very interesting call for papers sent out by the online journal Design Philosophy Papers, on the need for design history to address sustainability as a historical and historiographical issue. Full details below.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Design History Futures – Sustaining What?
to be edited by Karin Jaschke, Paul Denison and Tara Andrews
in association with Anne-Marie Willis
Modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that a re-writing of design history seems inevitable.
Conversely, a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices.
How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?
What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?
What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?
Submit 200 word abstracts by 12 Dec 2008 to:
Anne-Marie Willis, Editor, Design Philosophy Papers firstname.lastname@example.org
Design history has evolved over recent decades through engagement with matters of concern like class, gender and the postcolonial. In turn, critical design histories have contributed to new ways of understanding the world around us. Today, the matter of concern is sustainability: an issue that is almost too large in its implications to be grasped outright. It presents a challenge that is new in scope and kind. Design history cannot remain unaffected by this.
Design historians are well aware of the role design has played in making the modern world. Yet the modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that on these grounds alone a re-writing of design history seems inevitable. Modes of practice and thought, social and economic contexts, and the ideological premises of past design practice need to be addressed anew.
At the same time, this raises the question of design history’s own disciplinary past, present, and future. Design histories have used and perpetuated ways of thinking that have fed directly into current, unsustainable design practice, including notions of progress, newness, and obsolescence, ‘iconic design’, and the star-designer or ‘starchitect’. Historians of design thus need to consider the implications of their value-systems.
Climate change, resource depletion, and pollution will lead to major changes in modern lifestyles in the near future. Design has a major ethical and professional stake in this transition and the direction it will take.
We propose that a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices. Thus we ask the following questions, and invite papers that address them:
• How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?
• What insights could be gained by re-reading design’s past through perspectives of sustainability and unsustainability?
• Could design history contribute to a more developed understanding of sustainability and unsustainability?
• Are there past writers who have already done this? Is their work relevant to today?
• Have we overlooked historical subjects that are of importance to the sustainability debate?
• What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?
• Do we need radically new ways of thinking to understand the role that design has played in bringing about the present unsustainable state of the world?
• What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?
• Is there an ethical imperative for historians to reconsider their disciplinary approach with view to sustainability? Does this imperative undercut notions of impartiality?
• Where are the blind-spots in design historiography that may hinder a real rethinking of design history?
• What methods and approaches from other disciplines or traditions of thinking could offer ways of understanding our unsustainable past that might be relevant to the historical study of design?
Abstracts (200 words) due by: 12 Dec 2008
Select and invite full papers by: 19 Dec
First drafts of papers due by: 13 March 2009
Papers refereed by: 3 April
Final drafts due by: 24 April
Publication online by: 22 May