Category Archives: history

The Invention of ‘Jaywalking’

In the 1920s, the public hated cars. So the auto industry fought back — with language.

If you travelled in time back to a big American city in, say, 1905 — just before the boom in car ownership — you’d see roadways utterly teeming with people. Vendors would stand in the street, selling food or goods. Couples would stroll along, and everywhere would be groups of children racing around, playing games. If a pedestrian were heading to a destination across town, they’d cross a street wherever and whenever they felt like it.

The internet’s famous dancing baby from 1996 is getting a new look

It can be hard to explain why any particular image goes viral, and the “Dancing Baby,” which is widely credited as being the first big internet meme, is no exception. Like many memes, it was originally an obscure graphic — in this case, a sample file for software company Autodesk’s animation plug-in Character Studio (which was created by Unreal Pictures, a firm co-founded by Girard, Chadwick and the animator and artist Susan Amkraut, with Lurye later joining as a freelancer). Remixing, or modifying, the baby was central to its original purpose.

Robert Moses and the decline of the NYC subway system

New Yorkers now use a transit system in a state of emergency. The past few months have laid bare the enormity of the problems currently facing the century-old subways, from aging infrastructure to a lack of federal dollars available to help make things better.

Futuristic ‘automat’ dining thrived a century ago. Can covid revive it?

The arrival of the virus shut down restaurants across the country, then saw them reopen with social distancing and outdoor dining. Face-to-face contact was no longer a plus, but a potential liability. Meanwhile, restaurants grappled with labor shortages. It all made the automat ripe for a comeback.

Wellness & fascism have more than just a modern connection (thread)

The Radical Roots of Bikesharing

Many of the issues the first White Bicycle Plan grappled with have also returned to public conversation. Arriving decades before technologies that manage the modern industry, like smartphones and GPS, Provo’s guerrilla bikes were still harbingers of the disruptive effect wrought by dockless bikes and scooter-sharing, as well as the concerns around sidewalks clutter and vandalism that have come in their wake.

13 ways 2022 looks like 1982

To begin seeing change, heed the externalities

The practice of foresight has always believed in the critical nature of the past. In fact, we believe knowing the past is imperative to see the future that might await us. Our usual approach is to start with a classic PESTLE (political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental) analysis to see the externalities in play. We do this through a semiotic lens. We are looking for signs so that we can speculate about design futures.

Consider the 1980s as an example. On the surface, 2022 seems like a replay of 1982. So many happenings from fashion to pharma feel like déjà vu — whether you lived through the ’80s or not. Yet, there are fundamental shifts from 1982 that can only be understood by looking at the years side by side.

In 1994, the Newsweek staff critiqued its earlier decade. They wrote, “The market magic of the triumphant conservatism of the 1980s did help squeeze out fat and make American business more competitive in the brutal global economy. But we have yet to come to terms with the social costs.”

Unfortunately, in 2022, we still have yet to come to terms with the social costs of the ‘80s – but we are finally making headway. The aspirational “trader” archetype spawned in ‘82 by the Baby Boomers and portrayed in movies like Wall Street has given way to a socially aware archetype within Generation Z. A disruptive layer of behavior has pushed in through Gen Z and bolstered by Gen X, the generation once thought of as slacker. Critical policy thinking is coming to the forefront as a layer of fear fades away.

The information presented in this report shows that 2022 is not on the same trend trajectory as 1982. Too many cultural tensions exist for that to happen. However, to have confidence in this cultural evolution, we need to respect even the smallest signals of change.