Photo by Fábio Lucas on Unsplash

There is no blog that makes me feel excitement to meet the future than Interconnected, the public journal of Matt Webb. Webb is a UK based managing director of investment funds and former head of a design group. He specializes in imagining the near future, supporting businesses at the intersection of tech and material design.

I love the way that he incorporates a very long view of history into his imagination of the almost-possible. In this fantastic post considering the use of birds to divine the future in the ancient world, he connects this taxonomy of magicians codified in Roman law:

A haruspex is one who prognosticates from sacrificed animals and their internal organs;

a mathematicus, one who reads the course of the stars;

a hariolus, a soothsayer, inhaling vapors, as at Delphi;

augurs, who read the future by the flight and sound of birds;

a vates, an inspired person – prophet;

chaldeans and magus are general names for magicians;

maleficus means an enchanter or poisoner.

to some of the mystical personalities that have become common in Silicon Valley and globalized manufacturing:

I happen to have spent my career in a number of fields that promise to have some kind of claim to supernatural powers: design, innovation, startups…

It’s not hard to run through a few archetypes of the people in those worlds, and map them onto types of ancient magician.

Those like Steve Jobs (with his famous Reality Distortion Field) who can convincingly tell a story of the future, and by doing so, bring it about by getting others to follow them – prophets.

Inhaling the vapours and pronouncing gnomic truths? You’ll find all the thought leaders you want in Delphi, sorry, on LinkedIn.

Those with a good intuition about the future who bring it to life with theatre, and putting people in a state of great excitement so they respond – ad planners. Haruspex.

Those who have the golden mane of charismaenchanters. Startup founders.

People with a great aptitude for systems and numbers, who can tell by intuition what will happen, from systems that stump the rest of us. We call them analysts now. MBAs. Perhaps the same aptitude drew them to read the stars before? Mathematicus.

Just today, I was lit up with imagination and fantasies of the wonders of the future—confidence in the future is hard to locate right now, on the brink of a nuclear world war that all of the small people of the world are hoping against—by a new post connecting the physics of bumblebees and fish:

Vortices in the water are generated by the skin, and the side-to-side movement of a trout is the fish slipping between the vortices, pinballing between them, propelled on them like a boat on wind. (Shown, says the article, by the fact a dead trout on a line in moving water will still exhibit the characteristic swimming action.)

All of which leads to this REMARKABLE line:

Fish don’t swim, they’re swum.

ARGH. Too good. Am dead now.

to new forms of locomotion enabled by the marriage of machine learning with precise, instant control of motors:

How can the tools for inventing new wheels end up in the hands of the people with the right imaginations?


All wired together. Handed out to designers and mechanical engineering students.

And, given this package, perhaps the future will look very different from our science fiction.

Pinhead drones dragging copper wires behind them, darting through the home bouncing on air currents, generating electricity and power by dragging their tails through ambient magnetic fields.

Directional packaging that is can’t slip out of your hands (but dislodges easily when you move your hands the other way).

Cars with fine filament-bristles covering on the base, shaping and sweeping the air at nanometer resolution to ride on a silent and almost friction-free air cushion of vortex turbulence.

All mechanical objects with halos of filaments, magnets, mist, so fine that the eye can’t identify clean edges, no hard plastics or iron but all our artefacts in soft focus, encased as they will be in a gentle haze of turbulent air sculpted by alien intelligence.

It’s just fantastic.

I have such an inborn and church-reinforced worldview that is highly attuned to loss, and I never assume that just because the present followed the past it is automatically better. When I think about the lifestyles of the 1930s, I don’t think about how they didn’t have TV and most of their movies sucked, I think about how there were professional musicians in every city and dance halls where people had fun. Embodied, active fun. And their bread tasted better.

But it’s also true that I don’t have a way to think about all of the hunger, all of the people who had no bread at all. Maybe the truest truth about the 30’s is that the early 30’s sucked for almost everyone, and romanticizing anything about it is ridiculous.

A more balanced view would be to appreciate the good qualities of any given time, and appreciate it separately from comparisons to the future. There are social factors that make it difficult to set up a 1930’s style dance hall today: no one knows how to dance, the economic model relied on huge volumes and it would be a niche activity today, and it’s more expensive to secure and insure event spaces today. Not to mention that partner dances rely on rigid gender roles! All that means is that we need new models to respond to the conditions today.

It takes faith in the belief that people want to dance.

Future thinkers like Matt Webb give me confidence that we can figure out new models to create spaces where that can happen.

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