I’m just back from 3 weeks of travelling and speaking in Sweden, Mallorca, Spain and France. It was rather wonderful and included many great events, connections and inspirations. In this blog I am going to share it with you, with lots of photos and videos and links to media generated during the trip. If you followed my travels on Facebook you’ll be familiar with a lot of it, but hopefully it is useful to gather it all in one place. My deepest thanks to everyone who made it possible, and everyone I met. Apart from the guy who snored all night on the seat in front of me on the ferry from Mallorca to Barcelona. Not him. I hope you enjoy this, and it gives you a flavour of how it was.
Jamie Hanson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology and a Research Scientist at the Learning Research & Development Center. I read a paper he co-authored called Association between Income and the Hippocampus which explored the impact of poverty on the part of the brain most associated with the generation of imagination. The paper suggested that growing up in poverty can result in decrements in attentional processes, working memory, and a measurably smaller hippocampus. In an exploration as to the reasons why, as a culture, we might be less able to constructively imagine the future, Jamie felt like an important person to talk to.
Last week I joined seven others people in London for a Level 1A Improvisation training, led by Jeremy Finch of the Spontaneity Shop. I was intrigued by improv, and in taking some time and space to learn how, as an adult, to play again. As adults in 2017, we don’t play very much. As Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White, founders of Spontaneity Shop, wrote in ‘The Improv Handbook’, “many adults have simply stopped being creative, so those muscles are tired and atrophied. The imagination is like a scared animal – it needs cossetting and encouraging”. And so there we were, gathered in a room in an arts centre in London, all looking slightly nervous, but ready to cosset and encourage our imaginations.
Many of these challenges are what are called ‘eternity’ issues. Funds have had to be set aside, for eternity (which is quite a long time), to stabilise the landscape, to stop the mines filling with water, deal with ongoing infrastructure challenges and so on. I found myself thinking, on the 3 days I just spent there, what a powerful metaphor it was for the fossil fuel age as a whole. Had the people at the beginning, when coal extraction first began, been able to know what the long term impacts would be, what the ‘eternity’ costs would be, how it would shape the future the place was then able to build on top of the tailings of 200 years of coal extraction, would they have bothered?
“UBI is a challenging idea, and you want challenging ideas. You want ideas that take people one step beyond where they already are. It’s very difficult to teach people an entirely new logic with one set of ideas, or one policy prescription. But this one, just the very idea of everybody getting an income by virtue of being alive, is quite shocking. Quite arresting for people”.
We understand how making makes us feel better. Not simply to see ourselves as consumers but to see ourselves as producers of good stuff. Things that make a good social impact. And are environmentally conscious. This is a building that was run in the early 18th century off one power source and produced 300 million yards of silk thread, a day, off a water source. And now it’s run off a power station. So it’s to open up that conversation about what is the future of that?
You come to a cross roads very quickly when you leave that system and you realise either I’m going to remain wholly immersed in this for the rest of my life, or I’ve got to go in the opposite direction. There is no third way. In fact it’s not a cross roads, it’s a T-junction, sorry! You have to take one turning or the other.
The bus turning circle just off Tooting High Street is not a place that would usually inspire carnival, creativity and dancing in the street. Usually it is home to buses, often idling their engines right next to the homes of the people who live overlooking it. On the other side, opposite the houses, is a huge Primark, with a huge, long, rather dull wall. As I say, not a place that would usually inspire great creativity, but that was until members of Transition Town Tooting started to look at it through their ‘Transition glasses’.
When I read Julian Dobson’s book ‘How to Save Our Town Centres’, I was struck by the thought that the city centres around us reflect a system that’s run out of ideas, and run out of imagination. So the first thing I asked him was “does that resonate with you, and if so, what do you put that down to?”
To do that I need to have sometimes quite a number of volunteers of people, of friends, of people from my team. Funny thing is, what people do remember the most at the end of that is not necessarily the image, even if we’re proud of the installation itself, but about the fact that we all shared something. The experience of it. That’s why I never really see any failure in anything because even if it doesn’t work, it helps create a link between people. It always builds something in communities that is not visible if you take the shortcut.