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FutureFest curator Pat Kane: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”

We’re increasingly hearing that our futures are uncertain - more so than ever before. Is this true? And if so, what can we do to collectively preserve our futures, and our free and intellectual thinking, for forthcoming generations?

FutureFest lead curator Pat Kane explores the idea of how we as humans can “collectively flourish” in the years to come in our interview ahead of the two-day event.

A positive and solutions-based festival dedicated to exploring new ideas, be they “big picture, personal or practical,” has called on headline names for talks, debates and discussions.

Annie Mac, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruby Wax, Paul Mason and hip-hop artist Akala lead the diverse line-up of guest speakers, who will talk on 2018's three distinct topics: ‘Alternative Visions’, ‘Alternative You’ and ‘Making Alternatives’.

A range of immersive experiences, which Pat describes below, aid the learning process by taking discussions about the future out of the hands of speakers and into the realm of personal experience.

Pat gave Run-Riot his pearls of wisdom ahead of the festival, which takes place July 6 & 7 at Tobacco Dock, London.

Adam Bloodworth: What's the deal with FutureFest?

Pat Kane: The deal is that the best way to predict the future is to invent it - and we have a lot of those inventors at FutureFest. But also, in these extreme political and economic times, if you don’t occupy the future, the future will occupy you - on the terms of elites, moguls and regimes. So this year’s theme is all about generating alternatives - big picture ones, personal ones, and practical ones.

Adam: Why do we struggle to engage people in discussions about our future?

Pat: Do we? With the universe of science-fictional and superpower-heroic scenarios that courses through our cinema halls and Netflix accounts, it sometimes seems to be that we can barely cope with current reality without imagining alternative and future realities. We have a theme this year about why escapism isn’t really escapism - it’s a form of ‘engagism’, but one which enjoyably tests out scenarios for living, rather than grimly following prescriptions from think-tank PDFs.

Adam: What are the most effective methods of getting people to change their behaviour today?

Pat: I really do dislike the term 'behaviour change'. It smacks to me of deliberately starved rats chasing pellets. It comes from a model of evolutionary psychology, called 'nudge' thinking, which proceeds from a kind of 'Homer Simpson' model of human nature: we are these stranded savannah-era humans, unable to resist sugar, stupidly optimistic about our prospects, essentially lazy and energy-saving in mind and heart.

As a long-standing scholar of play, I prefer to look in the 'Lisa Simpson' end of human nature: one that assumes that our ingenuity, curiosity, autonomy and creativity are just as, if not more, primal and determining. We are animals of cognitive excess, rather than cognitive limits. So it’s about 'platform', rather than 'nudge'. Universal basic income and shorter-working weeks to let ourselves collectively flourish.

Adam: What fascinated you about the subject of the future in the first place?

Pat: I’m a human being. We forge ourselves by projecting our imagination on the world, through early play, and later through arts, culture and sci-tech. We figure out how to survive with other complex animals like ourselves, by spinning out and dreaming up scenarios. I have also, admittedly, been a science-fiction fan from way, way back. Asimov and Philip K. Dick were my religious texts in teenage years.

Adam: How do you differentiate yourselves from the festival crowd?

Pat: We call ourselves a 'Glastonbury for the Future' - which isn’t so much differentiation as piggy-backing! But by that we mean that you will have an idealistic, meaningful and deeply fun experience at FutureFest.

Adam: What drives you to work on festivals when they're such risky business models?

Pat: Because festivals are clues to what the new organisations and institutions of the future might look like. My theory is that there’s such a disjunct - between what one of our speakers, Paul Mason, calls the 'networked educated individuals' driving change in society, and the often stupid and narrow slots that the official labour market holds out for them - that people are both attending and starting festivals to fill the gap. The 'festive' or 'convivial' organisation, or maybe even super-powered community, is where Ys and Zs want to be. I think they’re using festivals as laboratories to forge that.

Adam: What's the issue keeping you awake at night right now?

Pat: A big bit runaway climate change. A wee bit the Singularity (where AI begins to guide its own evolution into full consciousness, or something like it). Bloviating politicians in bad suits, of either sex, not so much (though we are delighted to have a complete exception to that rule, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, speaking at our event).

Adam: You have many strings to your bow, what with all the music, consultancy and festival-running. Which project would you keep if you had to drop the rest?

Pat: Aaargh! My main career strategy ("career” in the weave-all-over-the-pavement sense) has been to always have five things on the go. But ultimately, I would keep the music. To do it well means attaining levels of non-stress and wellbeing which would be good for me at this stage of the game. This scenario, given the financial state of the music business at the moment, is not likely. 

Adam: Do you have much time for new music these days?

Pat: Making new music, yes - as Hue and Cry (with my brother), we brought out a ballads album called Pocketful of Stones in September last year. Very happy with it and proud of it. Listening-wise, I am loving Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Jacob Collier, Kurt Elling, Field Music, D’Angelo.

Adam: Tell us a little more about these immersive installations at FutureFest…

Pat: We have always had a tradition of immersive experience at FutureFest. The Nemesis Machine is a fantastic construction that simulates a future city, pulsing with information and energy. We then go all the way to the Garden, which immerses you in a leafy Eden but connects you to the data-flow of the vegetation itself. Black Box Bellagio is a way you can gamble with your own data-stores - how much are you prepared to bet that your algorithmicized patterns are worth? And much more of beauty and stimulation.

Adam: Which other festivals are at the top of their game right now?

Pat: I am excited, just after FutureFest, to be presenting some futures panels at Bluedot. Any event that nestles under the galaxy-spanning eye of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope has already landed with me.

Adam: Is selfishness the biggest threat for our futures?

Pat: No. Not being mindful and playful enough, in order that the Western self does not defend its boundaries in a manic and panicky manner, will do us in, though. And men not letting go of the rationalist-patriarchal wheel, to allow more womanly times to enter, is pretty dangerous too. Well, you did ask.


Pat Kane:


FutureFest takes place at Tobacco Dock, London on July 5 & 6 and tickets are available online.