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Desert island futures?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 20, 2014
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sandra Geitz shares her thoughts with us about “desert island futures” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


Who and what would you bring to your desert island?

Imagine for a second, that you’re planning your own island retreat… a self-imposed, indefinite island retreat. Who would you take on your journey? Whose skills are most useful? What seems essential to bring along?

Now, is this scenario really so far-fetched? Let’s consider emerging social dynamics. Both the pace and volume of social media streams and vast hidden forces like globalisation and digitisation promote increased competitive and attention-seeking behaviours. How do we tend to respond to all this? By withdrawing to the familiar, comfortable and well-known? Are we retreating into closed worlds, hostages within reassuring personalisation algorithms, Eli Pariser’s filter bubbles, with a world outside hostile to our comforting ideas and worldviews, filled with those shouting, trolling and blocking any chance of real debate and learning?

“Both Whatsapp and Secret represent the ascendency of the phone book over the friend graph. It’s back to the future,” tweeted Yammer CEO/ Founder, David Sacks (Meeker 2014).

Ever more sophisticated filtering will reduce external noise in our social media feeds, and the potential for proliferating private desert islands of our close friends and genuine interests, according to Steven Rosenbaum, content curation author and promoter (Decugis 2014). Naturally, he advises business to curate quality content or face extinction via irrelevance. Seth Godin’s concept of permission marketing on steroids.

So what, you may ask?

Although, it appears an attractive solution in the current carcophany of noise, attention-seeking and celebrity trivia, there are significant downsides to this future of private retreat. Antony Funnell’s (2014) recent Future Tense program on ABC Radio National, examined this in perspectives on the power of provocation.

Funnell’s (2014) first guest, Graeme Turner, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland explained that the purpose of provocation used to be about challenging and debating ideas. Now, modern provocation has become a competition for attention, rather than ideas. It is about promotion and entertainment, requiring greater shock value and/or engagement over time to be noticed by provocation- immune audiences and/or participants. Turner believes the future of public debate and innovative ideas seems quite bleak (in Australia, at least). There are enormous competitive media pressures to entertain, whilst countering public dis-engagement with more complex or sophisticated issues.

Another perspective was offered by Scott Stephens, Religion and Ethics program editor for ABC Online (Funnell 2014). In his studies of the spread of philosophy, provocation and innovation were the product of dialogue and debate within historical constraints. Stephens suggests a future of greater discernment and discrimination is possible, if we are able to overcome cultural relativism or permissiveness for anything goes. Potential awaits for futures of value, integrating judgement with broad social acceptance.

Very similar conclusions to those of Alex Pentland’s (2014) Social Physics, were reviewed in a prior post. Pentland designed experiments that measued the productive output of different groups and the patterns of groups interactions. He found that innovation was optimised with iterative patterns of exploration for novelty interspersed with the socialisation of these ideas for acceptance. Pentland believes a diversity of shared experiences and history builds a stores of both trust and experiences to associate with for future application.

“Feedstock for innovation is insight – an imaginative understanding of an internal or external opportunity that can be tapped to improve efficiency, generate revenue, or boost engagement,” states the recent HBR article of Mohanbir Sawhney and Sanjay Khosla (2014). Similarly, foresight can be thought of as the imaginative understanding of potential impacts of internal and/or external factors in the future. The purpose of foresight is to help make decisions, solve problems, identify and adapt to changes by thinking about what could happen and how to influence and enable what should happen.

Future implications?

Both foresight and innovation introduce novel ideas for social acceptance to organisations and/or the public. They involve challenge existing ways of thinking, provocation of current thinking to generate alternative ideas, perspectives and spark imagination.

In current social dynamics, can foresight practitioners and the field expect a desert island welcome?

How might we further socialise foresight?


Decugis G 2014, The Desert Island: the future is the curated Web for Steve Rosenbaum in Curate This!,!, viewed 7Nov 2014,

Funnell A 2014, Perspectives on the power of provocation, Future Tense, ABC Radio National program audio and transcript, viewed 3Nov 2014,

Meeker, M 2014, Internet Trends 2014: Code Conference, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, slideshare, pp. 35-37, viewed on 9Nov 2014,

Pariser E 2011, Beware online “filter bubbles”, TED Talks, viewed 9Nov 2014,

Pentland A 2014, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the lessons from a new science, Scribe Publications Pty Ltd, Brunswick, Australia and London, United Kingdom.

Sawhaney M and Khosla S 2014, Managing Yourself: Where to Look for Insight, Harvard Business Review, November 2014, pp.126-129, viewed 5Nov 2014,

Tags:  foresight  future  islans 

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