Design for Dystopia

Amelia Marzec
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Queens College
Hunter College

Imagine a future where the American dollar is worthless. To re-build the economy, citizens must use the only resource available: decades of postconsumer waste. With no way to afford expensive international electronics, but with a deep human desire to connect, they sift through products that have been subject to planned obsolescence for the possibility of working parts. The goal is to build a new communications infrastructure that is community-controlled and far from the prying eyes of any government.

In the global economy, we have enjoyed more connectedness than ever before; but have paid a price in privacy and autonomy. Governments can and will suppress communication, as we have seen during Arab Spring and the Hong Kong protests. Centralized internet and phone systems are not able to survive natural disasters, as we’ve seen during the Tohoku Earthquake and Hurricane Sandy. If roads are closed, gas is rationed and the internet is down, it is impossible to order any supplies. It is time to remove the mystique surrounding the production of telecommunications systems. We must learn to use what is at hand to be prepared for disruptions.

Design for Dystopia traces several projects from concept to outcome: a project that allows people to send messages offline using their mobile phones, bypassing their cell phone provider; a project that re-envisions the structure of electronics manufacturing in America; and thoughts on furthering the design of a more democratic communications infrastructure, using native materials. We need to consider that the devices and methods with which we are dependent on to communicate and receive our content are also political, and we need to address what is actually necessary for basic communication.