Now to approach the idea of the technological panacea; the human and economic cost of the pandemic laying bare the power structures like never before. How are we to work with technology at this point? It is in part indirectly responsible for the rapid spread of a pathogen (from global aviation to industrial farming methods), and simultaneously our likely route out of economic paralysis. Each SME working to advance decarbonisation instinctively knows the power available at their disposal: High Performance Computing, scaleable data repositories, lightening fast connections and sensor and actuator arrays that provide a fidelity around how we act in the built environment and mobility.
The critical theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi states in “Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility”: ‘Far from rejecting the ambiguous legacy of technology, we have to re-program the relation between technology and life, starting with the sphere of work: the subjectivity of cognitive workers, their rebellion, their autonomy and their solidarity.’
Technology can remind us in visceral ways what we have and have lost. Photographs, recordings, the poignant symbols of lives intertwined. The potency is there, as Berardi would have it, of an internationalism and shared understanding of our collective planetary experience. He balks at the automation of thinking and of slavish pursuit of growth for growth’s sake. This, he contends, separates our ability to think, and our ability to feel – invoking the mythology of the Titan Prometheus and his gift to humanity of being able to consider a new and better future.
So our past experiences matter – our successes and failures – but we must surely resist with all our critical faculties the threadbare comfort blanket of a return to business as usual. We must fight to remember the authenticity. What the pandemic can teach us, is that the memories we have, filtered by our unique cultural context, are not so different after all.
At the start of the lockdown, inspired by the title of a webinar, I took on referring to the time of living in a pandemic as living in the Great Pause. I don’t believe in this anymore, and the experience of working with universities all over the UK reconfigures this as perhaps the Great Acceleration, certainly in terms of leveraging technology to support public health and support the hunt for a vaccine. Their institutional memories have deep roots, and it’s the reason their involvement in designing a collective better future is key, surpassing purely fiscal measures of wellbeing, and shaping prosperous, resilient and above all connected places.