During the 8th and 9th of November, around 30 experts with varied kinds of expertise, from HCI, to art, design, computer science, linguistics, literature and more, gathered in the village of Ponta do Sol on the island of Madeira for the Narrative Strategies Symposium 2014. A series of speakers presented their work our assumptions and open new avenues for to think about the theme of Prototyping what is not tangible, and discussions sparked from the participants in questioning such practices, and challenging the status quo of research in the different fields represented by the speakers backgrounds and expertise. The discussions and exchanges that followed the guest lectures where often continued over coffee breaks and meals at the Estalagem Ponta do Sol, where everyone was based for the rest of the day, and nights. The days were packed and the atmosphere vibrant. We hope that by gathering such a variety of experts for two days in such an contained and charming place we have establish a basis for connection among different disciplines and dialogue about how to prototype intangible objects, atmospheres, and future situations. More details about the presentations and events are available by clicking here.
Future Fab M-ITI organised a two-day workshop where all the Fabulators would come together with various experts in order to understand and imagine the past, present, and future of the laurisilva forest, especially in the context of the transmedia story in the making.
On the morning of the first day an experience prototype of the story was deployed and experienced by the whole group.Twelve people walked through the village of Ponta do Sol encountering characters, settings, plants, and natural remedies that are part of the life of our heroine Laura and that led to the creation of Laura’s fabled herbarium.
In the afternoon a group of researchers and experts (including biologists and ethnobotanists) took the group on an educational walk in the heart of the Madeiran laurisilva, describing the plants, climates, and remedies that form such a wealth of heritage on the island.
On the second day of the workshop, FoAM led a future scenario session based on four generic images of the future as defined by Jim Dator, Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The future scenario session process can be consulted here
These four alternative futures were labelled: ‘grow’, ‘collapse’, ‘discipline’, and ‘transform’.
The ‘grow’ scenario imagines a future in which society continues to grow and develop according to its present trajectory. The ‘collapse’ scenario, meanwhile, has been gaining popularity in recent years as more and more people worry about the unsustainable state of the environment, the economy, and so on. In order to avoid ‘collapse’ many people favour a ‘disciplined’ vision of the future, in which people’s lives are governed by a set of values (e.g. natural, spiritual, or cultural) rather than by endless economic growth. The fourth alternative is ‘transformation’, in which for example many technologies converge rapidly to transform society from its present state into a new post-human world. The one thing that people still do better than machines in this radically transformed future is to be creative.
After discussing and highlighting the major drivers of change with regard to the future of the laurisilva forest, we discussed these drivers in relation to three of the four futures mentioned above. We explored possible scenarios that could develop from such drivers and what the future might be like for our character Laura and the herbarium in each of these three alternative futures.
The ‘discipline’ scenario envisioned a future for Madeira ruled by an academic, eco-conscious elite. The ruling party, alternately described as a ‘botanocracy’ by adherents and ‘Botanistan’ by reactionary critics, swept to power on a wave of support following the collapse of the island’s longstanding human-centric, pro-development party, which in turn was brought about by a series of natural disasters including floods and fires. Concepts and keywords forming the basis of this scenario included rewilding, quarantine, sensing and monitoring, re-education, maximum biodiversity, living lab, seed and gene banks, botanic music, migration control, and economy of PhDs.
Madeira’s governing slogans in this scenario were ‘discipline and flourish’ and ‘maximum eco-discipline, minimum eco-footprint’. The island advertised itself as ‘the ultimate eco-conference destination’ and offered access via an airshaft lift to an unspoilt conference venue in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage protected laurisilva forest. Under the new government, the island also claimed to be ‘the world’s leading evidence-based, double-blind peer reviewed political system’.
In the most extreme part of the scenario, projected fifty years into the future, Madeira’s ‘scholarocracy’ took as its foundational text the vast herbarium compiled by Laura Silva, the pioneering botanist turned eco-goddess of the island. The herbarium was discovered some years earlier in a cave in an isolated valley, clutched to the breast of the mummified corpse of Laura herself. A climate-controlled, high-security library room overlooking a prime expanse of virgin forest was purpose built to house the book. The herbarium was used by the ruling party to build a genetic time machine, to return Madeira to a pre-settlement landscape comprised almost entirely of lush forests with a minimum of human interference.
The ‘collapse’ scenario explored what would happen to Madeira’s laurisilva forest if a natural or social disaster caused the collapse of the status quo. In the end we identified two main collapse scenarios: one led by nature, the other led by social factors.
In the first, drivers related to social systems would be affected and their collapse would lead to a different human organization on the island, which in its turn would affect the development of the forest and its ecosystem. Humans would eventually disappear and the forest would revert to its original state, significantly healthier and less endangered than ever before.
In the second scenario we looked at what would happen to the forest in case of a large-scale natural disaster. According to present scientific hypotheses, a large chunk of the Canary Islands is expected to break off and fall into the ocean. Such an event would cause an enormous tsunami, which would affect Madeira, the coast of Africa, and would eventually reach South America. Such a huge wave of seawater would change the face of the Madeiran coastline forever. In Madeira waters would surge by two or three hundred metres, destroying most human settlements along the coast, including the main cities of Funchal, Machico, Canical, Sao Jorge, Porto Moniz, and Calheta. Water channels would also be compromised: levada (irrigation) water would be polluted by salt and mud. Most of the population would likely perish. Many of the remaining survivors would emigrate; only a few would stay and try to rebuild their lives on the island.
In this scenario aid and rescue efforts from the mainland were limited, as they had also been affected by the disaster. Islanders retreated into the laurel forest and after some time they adapted to life there, learning to respect nature and eventually living in harmony with it. This allowed the forest to gradually expand and reach its natural boundaries, as they were before humans settled on the island and modified the ecosystem. Respecting the forest enabled humans to live better and survive longer, and in return humans and nature developed a healthier, more symbiotic relationship.
People in this scenario reorganized themselves into tribes and used the barter system as their main economic model. The laurisilva forest was given its proper respect and Laura became a sort of god, and her remedies were considered sacred. A special group of monks became dedicated to watching over what was left of the herbarium Laura had compiled centuries before.
A few adventurous visitors were curious about the island. They heard about its strange system of tribes living in harmony with nature and wanted to visit. However, a number of the relatively few tourists that now came to visit the very changed island of Madeira were reported lost and never returned. Human bones were sometimes found washed up on the beach near the rivers that came down from the forests.
In the ‘transform’ scenario we imagined what might happen to Madeira’s laurisilva forest in a far more distant future (in 1000 years). We imagined the forest embracing mutations. These mutations were the result of climate change, natural disasters, and direct human interventions. New ecosystems emerged and the laurisilva adapted with species that could for example filter, desalinate, and depollute seawater. But plants and animals of the laurisilva were not the only ones who suffered mutations – many humans did as well. There were amphibians living in the levadas (irrigation canals), and humans borrowed features from the forest itself, including the ability to filter water and qualities of the laurisilva’s fauna (e.g. bats and butterflies).
Madeira became a ‘living lab’, and was placed under the protection of UGESCO (United Galaxies Education Science and Culture Organization). This was made possible by a deep study of the seeds and DNA encountered in Laura Silva’s herbarium, which captured the laurisilva forest in its purest form. Laura was revered as one of the first and most revolutionary natural scientists. The laurel oil first distilled by Laura was still studied, and new properties were still being discovered from it. One of the trees belonging to the ‘new laurisilva’ was the Cacooum Laurel. Laurels were crossed with cacao trees and as a result laurel berries were chocolate flavoured.
In the future scenario, the laurisilva forest was replicated in miniature in many biodomes across the world. It was discovered that this particular ecosystem had the power to increase happiness levels in humans who were in contact with it. Those who could not experience the laurisilva forest in a biodome or in Madeira directly could access this happiness through a specially engineered pill. The pill, itself a direct product of the forest, enabled people to experience the laurisilva and all the happiness it could bring through vivid but pleasing hallucinations.