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Audio tours from the future

Kosovo, a few decades in the future. The never-ending diplomatic limbo drives the capital, Pristina, further into the hands of organized crime. The mafia invests in renovating the city’s iconic public library, now abandoned and unused, and turns it into Europe’s leading cosmetic surgery clinic. Tourism flourishes, but the real money comes under the table, from identity changes for wanted criminals.

Around the same time, the Zuckerberg family is gathering at the King David hotel in Jerusalem. Like many of the ultra-rich, they are leaving the climate-beaten Earth for the luxuries of the orbital colony. But grandpa Mark has been reconnecting with his Judaism towards the end of his life, and the family wishes to witness the holy city one last time before blasting off to space for good.

These are just two out of dozens of political science fiction scenarios, written and recorded as audio tours by participants of the Speculative Tourism project, since 2017.

Speculative Tourism invites local authors to imagine the futures of their cities and record them as GPS-enabled audio tours. The international project operates at the crossroads of science fiction, historical tourism, Augmented Reality and local action. The Speculative Tourism concept and project methodology have been developed by Mushon Zer-Aviv and Shalev Moran as an invitation to imagine the possible. The idea is to enable the creation of new narratives, unleash socio-political imagination and enable participants to reimagine familiar or historical places. Speculative Tourism can be used as an artistic or creative touristic tool as much as a creative element in policy making. Its goal is:

To free the political imagination, while shedding light on local identities and reacquainting ourselves with our lived environments; we use fiction and speculation to reveal different ways of taking responsibility for our habitats and our future.¹

Speculative Tourism is also Mushon and Shalev’s response, as digital designers, to current trends in Augmented Reality technologies. The tours are created collaboratively in workshop formats. One part of the methodologies used to design the speculative tours is a 2 by 2 scenario-planning exercise inspired by Peter Frase’s 2016 book Four Futures. In his book, Frase describes extreme, yet possible scenarios for a society after what he believes will be the inescapable collapse of capitalism. In Frase’s case, these axes describe shifts towards either a more equal or hierarchical society, and towards more scarce or more abundant material conditions. In the case of Speculative Tourism, defining the axes is a part of the speculative process.

To begin the exercise, questions about the future are designed to match the aim of the tour which is to be created. This usually begins with a collection of broad matters of concern about the future. When enough are collected, those that have two distinct qualities are identified:

  1. We are truly uncertain of what the future holds for this issue.
  2. We can roughly place the possible answers on an axis between two extremes.

These “Axes of Uncertainty”, as Mushon and Shalev call them, are then crossed to form a matrix.

Most workshops have a number of participants and require working and writing together. Participants draw up an axis of uncertainty and then go around to the other participants to share their axis and find a juxtaposition that seems interesting and perhaps surprising. This step helps identify writing partners who might think of very different questions, which in turn can lead to a more fruitful dialogue and more robust speculations. The workshop participants go on to imagine how a future society might work under the parameters of each of the four quadrants, starting in broad strokes and with big ideas about that future.

The beautiful thing about the Four Futures method is that there will always be a quadrant or two that surprises us, that our judgment does not automatically categorize as utopian or dystopian.²

One quadrant is then chosen to be fleshed out in the course of the workshop, using additional methods such as back casting and other creative thinking exercises including storytelling methods, world building and other methodologies drawn from Mushon and Shalev’s design and teaching work. The results of the workshops include audio tours, maps and other outputs that offer touristic guidance through the futures created. Since 2017 Mushon and Shalev have created five collections of speculative tourism tours, the latest in Pristina in 2022. The tours can be downloaded via the Speculative Tourism website.

Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Dor Kedmi
Photo by Shalev Moran
Photo by Shalev Moran
Photo by Shalev Moran
Photo by Shalev Moran
Photo by Shalev Moran
Photo by Shalev Moran

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