The Red-Dot Specunation: Incubating Smart Nation Fictions and Speculations

August 5th, 2016 to August 7th, 2016

“Singapore strives to be a Smart Nation, one where people are empowered by technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives” (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 2016).

Smart Nation plan is Singapore's national effort to co-create a future of better living for all through tech-enabled solutions. In this 3-day workshop, we take the Smart Nation’s techno-optimistic promises of "empowerment, participation and anticipation", suggesting a kind of activated citizenry through a democratising state-implemented technological platform, as entry points to understand and unpack its implementation in Singapore. We will explore and question the narratives and promises surrounding the nascent Smart Nation Plan through a speculative design workshop. Speculative design is a way of design thinking that opens possibilities for imagining potential futures - no matter how absurd or radical. The workshop will be divided into two parts, taking place in selected locations in Singapore.

On Friday, participants will be in, taking part in hands-on fermentation activities and the making of a Do It Yourself (DIY) fermentation incubator (a low-cost electronic device used for procurement of fermented foods/beverages such as yogurt, kefir, or kombucha). The DIY making of five functional incubator prototypes will be guided by instructor Piyum Fernando (PhD student in Media Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University). Alongside Piyum’s hands-on workshop, we'll discuss issues around DIY food production; current food sustainability trends and efforts in Singapore; and related promises of the Smart Nation Plan. Tools, components, utensils and ingredients for a basic fermentation tutorial and incubator making will be provided; however, don't hesitate to bring your own stuff – foods, drinks, gadgets, ideas and anything else fermentation-related is very welcomed.

The next two days will be organized in soft/WALL/studs (a studio, project space and library) in Geylang. soft/WALL/studs serves a site for participants to temporalize, map and make sense of everyday contingencies and how they both engage and open up lively yet unlikely scenarios and speculative designs for a "Smart Geylang". Geylang provides certain historical and social specificities as the area most known for night-time activities/industries, vice, manufacturing and industry, food, and high concentrations of migrant labour. This component of the workshop will also be entwined with s/W/s’ reading group “Proletarian Nights”.

Saturday starts with an introductory reading session on critical and speculative design methods, presented by bioenthusiast Cindy Lin (University of Michigan) and food design enthusiast Markéta Dolejšová (NUS). We'll explore several critical/speculative design sensibilities and methods, and make a short field trip within the s/W/s building and the Geylang neighbourhood, to guide us in answering some important questions such as: How might we begin to conceive the Smart Nation plan's promises - citizenry access, state-citizen horizontality and data forecasts - in relation to the historical and sociopolitical context of Geylang? How do the people of Geylang perceive present Smart Nation promises? How may we - as designers - grapple with these optimistic technological commitments and promises in our own work in Singapore? What do we define by "smart" in the context of Smart Nation pland what parameters of intelligence are we working with there?

The fieldtrip will be guided by Cai Yinzhou from Geylang Adventures, who will be sharing about the ecosystem in Geylang from the perspective of a long time resident. He will further address some important issues such as: How has recent policy changes influenced changes on the ground? What does the future look like from the perspectives of the stakeholders?

On Sunday, we'll flesh out our ideas and probe them through a hands-on prototyping session. The design prototypes can be tangible (hardware/software/low-tech), as well as immaterial/conceptual (though some may argue that both trajectories are inseparable). No tech skills are required for any of the workshop days; all events are free-entry. We also welcome any meaningful proposals and program interruptions from participants' side.