Retrospeculative Design

This afternoon on the INPUT POKE SAVE Discord server that the UNIL-EPFL Gamelab put together, I attended a presentation by my colleague Douglas about is projects. Based on a series of examples, he used the term “retrospeculative Design” that he coined with Antonin Fourneau. A term that refers to the sort of design approach he uses in their work as well as in the context of workshops in Art and Design school.

He used this expression to refers to “the designs of an entirely unknown parallel history of video game consoles and controllers, the designs of which were to be reconstructed out of the history and æsthetics of video game history”. The process goes like this:

To aid us in our reconstructive efforts, Antonin Fourneau and I designed a series of playing cards to be drawn randomly by each collective group which was made up of at least 1 game designer, 1 human interface designer, and 2 managers. Before each group we placed a deck of cards which were broken down into five different categories : Epoch (yellow), Æsthetics (fuchsia), Technology (cyan), Management (grey), and Black (black). With some slight variance depending on the number of game designers, human interface designers, and managers in each group, the following distribution of cards was selected: 1 Epoch card, 3 Æsthetics cards, 3 Technology cards, 4 Management cards (2×2). (…) The most important card in the group was the Epoch card. These epochs were organised into what we considered both the significant and the singular dates of the history of video games and video game interfaces. For example, most of the significant players were there: Spacewar (1962), Brown Box (1968), Pong (1972), Simon (1978), Game & Watch (1980), Gameboy (1989), Playstation (1994), Eyetoy (2003), Wiimote (2006), iPhone (2007), Kinect (2010), et cætera. But we also included some important obscure players (and which should probably have been significantly expanded), such as Atari’s Mindlink (1984!), Nintendo’s never-released Vitality Sensor (2009), Woz/Jobs’ Blue Box (1971), and Woody Allen’s ultimate speculative technology device, The Orgasmatron (2173).

Why is this relevant in the context of this research project about discarded electronics? While “the consoles/interfaces associated with each date were not a required aesthetic or even technical reference; they merely gave a quick shorthand as to what was design-able within the epoch of the card”, one can also take these references (say a GameBoy or a C64) as a starting point to peripherals or games using these “old” devices.

See for instance this controller called Caligari, designed by Catherine Brand and Michael Martin, retroactively designed for Sony’s 1994 PS One, with a retrofuture port for Sony’s 2002 LCD Screen for PS One. At the surface level, their proposal might seem perfectly obvious.
caligari controller

Permacomputing and recycled electronics

In the latest instalment of his newsletter, Robin Sloane mentions the notion of “permacomputing”:

There’s an idea simmering out there, still fringe, coaxed forward by a network of artists and hobbyists: it’s called “permacomputing” and it asks the question, what would computers look like if they were really engineered to last, on serious time scales? You already know the answers! They’d use less power; they’d be hardy against the elements; they’d be repairable — that’s crucial — and they’d be comprehensible. The whole stack, from the hardware to the boot loader to the OS (if there is one) to the application, would be something that a person could hold in their head.

Further down his text, he describes how such kind of permacomputing may exist concretely on recycled electronics:

The sailing/computing duo Hundred Rabbits are pilgrim-poets of permacomputing. Their Uxn project is a clever 8-bit computer design that can be built or emulated in a variety of ways, including on old, recycled hardware.

“épaves” (shipwreck)

box with old cameras

The French term “épaves” (shipwreck) is often used out of the marine context, like here, in this box I found at at photographers’ shop in Geneva. A box in which you can find camera junk.

Collapse informatics/Computing with limits

Why blogging this? Bill Tomlinson describes here two stimulating concepts about novel forms of computing that might allow us as a civilization to more effectively engage with more durable ways of living:

For example, Collapse Informatics was focusing on building systems in the abundant present for use in the future of scarcity.

And Computing Within Limits has been looking at the notion that industrial civilization is typically very much growth focused, and the computing industry, situated within industrial civilization also tends to be growth focused. However, there might be new kinds of computing that could arise that could support a de-growth, or an anti-growth type of direction for civilization. With the broad sense being that that will either be something that we go into voluntarily by transforming civilization into something that is not so growth focused, or something that will be thrust on us involuntarily, as civilization potentially begins to collapse around us over the next couple of decades.”


“Détournement: s’emploie par abréviation de la formule : détournement d’éléments esthétiques préfabriqués. Intégration de productions actuelles ou passées des arts dans une construction supérieure du milieu. Dans ce sens il ne peut y avoir de peinture ou de musique situationniste, mais un usage situationniste de ces moyens. Dans un sens plus primitif, le détournement à l’intérieur des sphères culturelles anciennes est une méthode de propagande, qui témoigne de l’usure et de la perte d’importance de ces sphères.”

or in English:

Short for “détournement of preexisting aesthetic elements.” The integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of those means. In a more elementary sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.

Source: Internationale situationniste Bulletin central édité par les sections de l’Internationale situationniste Numéro 1, Juin 1958.

Why blogging this? As détournement seems to be an important notion in the social practices we are interested in here, I’m putting together a lexicon about its different expression. Might be relevant to express the nuances we run across.

On “critical jugaad”

An interesting interview of Deepa Butoliya by James Auger at Speculative dot edu. Based on a recent CHI workshop paper she wrote about non-western maker and DIY cultures, Butoliya describes the notion of “critical jugaad”:

Critical Jugaad is jugaad done as an act of everyday resistance and survival. Critical Jugaad is a term I have coined that is based on an inquiry that explains how people use ingenious making practices like jugaad as a tool for resistance, subversion and criticality against colonial powers of oppression. Jugaad is a Hindi term which means making do with what you have at hand. Jugaad-like practices form cultural binders and empower people to find a collective force to fight oppression while practicing creative self-expression.

Why blogging this? This notion, and the way she described it more thoroughly in the interview, is interesting both because it describes a counterpoint to Western visions of Maker culture, and also because it highlights a similar phenomenon to my earlier blogpost about gambiarra: DYI as a way to re-appropriate technologies and goods.

Zombie Media

“Zombie media addresses the living deads of media culture. As such, it is clearly related to the earlier calls to investigate “dead media” by Bruce Sterling and others: to map the forgotten, out-of-use, obsolete and declared dysfunctional technologies in order to understand better the nature of media cultural development. And yet, we want to point to a further issue when it comes to abandoned media: the amount of discarded electronic media is not only the excavation ground for quirky media archaeological interests, but one of the biggest threats for ecology in terms of the various toxins they are leaking back to nature. A discarded piece of media technology is never just discarded but part of a wider pattern of circulation that ties the obsolete to recycling centers, dismantling centres in Asia, markets in Nigeria, and so forth – a whole global political ecology of different sorts where one of the biggest questions is the material toxicity of our electronic media. Media kills nature as they remain as living deads.”

Hertz, Garnet & Parikka, Jussi. (2011). Five Principles of Zombie Media. Conference: Defunct/Refunct.

Why blogging this? This is probably the core notion of this project, to the point that our interest resides in documenting what one could call “zombie media practices”. Perhaps the “media” angle is less prominent in our project though.