Reverse Engineering the Unimaginable Future

Ben Van Dyke

Stewart Brand was half-right when he said: “This present moment used to be the unimaginable future.” As our species continues to evolve toward a state of predictable irrelevance, the future still feels unimpressive. Where Brand may have led me astray is in his subtle pessimism. During this year’s DI, I plan to share my experiences of rewriting a graduate program from scratch and rewriting policy for an academic unit that is navigating under a very dark spotlight. Over the course of the past year, I have been reading and rereading, writing and rewriting, listening, talking, and daydreaming about how to set the parameters for what the unimaginable future may unfold. I learned very quickly that Interrupting habitual patterns in academia is formidable.

Fire ants of South America have given me some clarity. These fascinating insects have evolved to predict the future. When traveling through their challenging landscape, often in a single-file line, ants at the front of the line will relay messages backward about what they experience. Ants in the back of the line will absorb the information and resend observations on the behavioral and communication patterns allowing the ants to predict the danger that lies ahead. The DesignInquiry ethos bears a striking resemblance to the fire ant’s profound understanding of the whole and subtle disrespect for hierarchies. My time in VH will be spent creating a complex feedback loop through a series of simple questions posed to my fellow inquirers. The anecdotes of struggle and progress will be an invaluable provocation as I set the stage for a very important year at Michigan State University.