I'm taking a break from talking about my thesis experience to talk about 3D Product Development 2, affectionately known as 3DPD2. This class begins speculatively with a futuring assignment that ultimately gets distilled down into the core product offerings of our thesis. Today, I'll talk about the first stage of this class, where we were assigned to write two scenarios for the year 2075 - one dystopian as it relates to our thesis, and the other utopian.
Design thinking is in vogue, being used in more contexts than ever, with periodicals constantly heralding this epoch in business as the age of design, and championing job titles such as Chief Design Executive. While this certainly makes now an interesting and exciting time to be a design student, it also incorrectly suggests that design thinking is the only methodology with which to approach product design. Sometimes, though, it's just as important to identify where society ought to be in the future as it is to identify where it is now. For those cases, futuring is a useful tool and design methodology.
Futuring, as mentioned earlier and applied in the co-futuring workshops conducted in the fall semester, involves creating scenarios for future societies, and designing for these scenarios. Futuring relies on the power of storytelling, and uses the tactility of physical product models to sow seeds of thought and contemplation in people who handle those objects. There's a sense of reality when you're holding a product that supposedly exists in the world of the future that makes you seriously consider whether or not that's a world that you want to live in. For the class 3D Product Development 2 at Products of Design, we're expected to use this approach to develop new perspectives on our thesis and our thesis product development, which, up until this point, has relied on design thinking and user-centered design.
For the class, we were asked to develop two scenarios, both of which take place in the year 2075, both somehow related to our thesis. For my stories, I decided to try to challenge notions of what disability entails. In the utopian scenario, science has progressed to a point where disability is thought of as something as temporary as a cold. Just as we don't give a person who sneezes on the subway a second glance [other than to make sure that we didn't just get sneezed on], so too are people in wheelchairs not pitied or gawked at in this future world. In depicting disability in this nature, I'm taking the World Health Organization's definition of disability as affecting different people in different contexts for different periods of time to its logical conclusion. More important that the technology featured or hinted at in the story was the attitude towards disability - the acceptance of it. Of course, it is easier to be glib about a disability if you know that it is temporary and not life-changing, but being able to think about disability, specifically someone else's disability, in terms that are neutral and don't deny the humanity of the person with the disability is what I was concerned with.
Without further ado, my utopian disability scenario in 2075:
Her mom had always told her that mountain biking was dangerous. “You’ll fall off your bike and break your neck and die!”, she’d always warned. “Well,” Helfand, thought to herself as she lay there in a copse, just past the small hill, the jump off of which whose landing she totally mangled, “I’ll never hear the end of it”. She felt the moisture of the soil, still damp from the morning dew and slightly burning because of the dew’s acidity, on her cheek and the smell of slightly stale and sulfurous dirt in her nostrils. She was lying face down, partially because her legs wouldn’t obey her commands to move, and realizing that the odd, asynchronous sensation of thinking, feeling that her legs were bent and together when they were in actuality straight and apart, meant that she was probably paralyzed. Again.
Knowing herself and her slight hypochondria, Helfand didn’t waste time after landing using Jobs, her AI to contact the paramedics to perform thorough diagnostics on her body. It was probably redundant on many levels to even contact the paramedics in the first place, or to perform the diagnostics - Jobs would’ve known that she was out mountain biking, and he would’ve also known to monitor her biometrics and telemetry more minutely than usual. He probably knew how she would land even seconds before she took the jump, and had probably already started contacting emergency medical services as she took off; the ambulance probably mobilized at the apex of her jump; and wasn’t that distant sound now the sound of footsteps running towards her from uphill? Jobs would’ve also given her emergency medical advice if her situation was really dire, and would have begun to perform emergency procedures through the embedded tech in her clothing. Helfand still wanted to know though, and if the jump hadn’t killed her, then certainly curiosity wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous.
Jobs told her dispassionately, in an almost bored way, that she had fractured her T2/T3 vertebrae and completely severed her spinal cord, that she shouldn’t really move around, though with the ETA of the medical team being the 3 minutes that it was and with the nanobots in her bloodstream already digesting the shattered bone and rebuilding the ripped myelin sheath around her spinal cord, she really couldn’t do much to damage her body further in that time. Her prognosis was good, 1 day bedrest, 2 days with chair-provided mobility to stabilize her cord and to introduce the stem cell cultures that would eventually regrow it, 2 days in an exoskeleton to stretch out her lower limbs, which would be sore and weak from lack of use for 3 days. Her nanobots would take care of all of her autonomic functioning, and had enough processing power to track her bladder and bowels, and let her know when it was time to use the restroom. After her 5 days, she’d be off, out and about, walking and talking.
“Well then,” Helfand thought, “maybe Mom won’t find out about this after all”.
A week later, Helfand walked out of the hospital, a smile on her face. The doctors and staff were incredibly nice to her, and made her stay and follow-up appointments extremely pleasant. Despite the fact that spinal cord injuries, historically somewhat a rare type of injury, were rarer now than ever thanks to autonomous vehicles and an overall lack of motor vehicle accidents, the procedure for dealing with even the most severe cases of spinal cord injury, including internal decapitation, were so routine that her doctors were more fascinated than worried.
Helfand usually didn’t like to sit still for as long as her recovery mandated her to, but she used the opportunity to catch up on movies that she hadn’t seen. Moving around with a chair was interesting, mostly because of the new vantage point. A few people had curious looks and asked her politely about her injury, having seen her in the chair, a rare sight, but most people didn’t even seem to notice. Her friends joked around with her about her height, saying that she was practically the same size sitting in the chair as she was standing, no one really worried at all, already planning the next adventure. The exoskeleton was a bit more uncomfortable, coming as they did in the form of tights when it was summer outside - Helfand always enjoyed the breeze on her skin, and that sensation was part of the reason that she adored mountain biking so much. Now that she was fully recovered, it was just about time to go back to that mountain and try that jump again. Helfand hated leaving a trail unconquered.