Van Gogh’s Starry Night projected on the walls of a large warehouse. Immersive Van Gogh, Minneapolis. Photo: Eben Kowler

Immersion: Overhyped, Underhyped, Justhyped?

Coronavirus, climate change, democracy in peril. If the real world is overwhelming, are experiences where you can simply escape it all right on trend?

The concept of Overhyped, Underhyped, Justhyped? is that I will describe a trend, and then you vote on whether it is Overhyped, Underhyped, or Justhyped. Periodically, I’ll check in on the trend and share the voting results.

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December 10, 2021 Overhyped Underhyped Justhyped Immersion Trends Metaverse

Digital collage of a family in a victory garden with agricultural robots added to the background, and sketch of a mixed-used urban farm, and a vertical farm on the facade of a building with a drone. Digital Collage: Eben Kowler

Local Food in 2035: A final project

It’s here, the end of the Fall 2021 semester. In this post, I’m sharing my final project for Futures Research.

The concept for this project is that I was hired” by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to help them explore the Future of Local Food in 2035. As a class, we were challenged to go beyond your typical slide deck and present our findings in a more engaging format. I created a micro website exploring two scenarios — Big Brands Green Up and Integrated Abundance.

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December 4, 2021 Food Scenario Foresight

Macro photograph of human skin Photo: Montavius Howard, Pixabay

The Parable of the Sower: Science Fiction or Science Fact?

Octavia Butler is an inspiration to many. The Octavia Butler Legacy Network has promoted research and scholarship into her work for over ten years. In Octavia’s Brood, 20 contemporary writers use Butler as a springboard to speculate on the futures of radical social change. In 2017’s niche-hit Emergent Strategy, you can barely go five pages without adrienne maree brown name checking Butler.

I’m just late to the party.

I first heard of Butler’s iconic novel Parable of the Sower in the first years of the Trump era. People were making comparisons to the current age, citing the similarity between the president in the book and our real-life president. I left the book unread. It felt too raw to expose myself to fiction that too closely resembled real life (bleak!). But now that we (maybe briefly) are in the Biden era, I wanted to know: were the comparisons apt, or apropos nada?

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October 29, 2021 Science Fiction or Science Fact Octavia Butler Collapse

Radar installation at sunset with mountains in the distance Image: Pxfuel

My Scanning Toolkit

By taking a wide angle lens look at the present, the goal of scanning is to find points of information in the present that can be connected to form images of possible futures.

After a few classes worth of scanning, I’ve found a few tools that help with the process.

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October 9, 2021 Foresight Process

School reseeding into a vortex of books Illustration: Eben Kowler, Photo: Pixabay

Unbundling Public School: Possibilities & Pitfalls

I was surprised to read this stat from the 2021 House of Representatives State Fair Poll:

  • Should a school voucher system be established whereby the state issues parents a voucher equal to the state’s cost of educating a child for a year, and parents can then choose the school their child attends, whether public or private?

    • Yes — 46.2% (2,367)
    • No — 40% (2,049)
    • Undecided/No opinion — 13.8% (709)

I remember this issue being hot, hot, hot when I was in middle school. Maybe it is on the horizon again because, in 2019, Minnesota ranked 50th when it came to racial disparities in high school graduation rates. Whether you are yes, no, or undecided, I hope you agree that business-as-usual isn’t working.

What might the future of education vouchers in Minnesota look like?

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September 14, 2021 Learning School

Flock of sheep grazing in a green pasture. Photo by ArtHouse Studio from Pexels

Is The Tragedy of the Commons False? Questioning a Systems Archetype

A couple of weeks ago I saved an article for later: The tragedy of the commons is a false and dangerous myth.” ( I am a sucker for most headlines that question widespread assumptions. But this one especially caught my eye.

The concept of The Tragedy of the Commons has been disseminated far and wide as a systemic explanation for why we fail to address many of the challenges we face at the intersection of ecology and economics. In my very first semester as an undergrad, Garrett Hardin’s original essay The Tragedy of the Commons” was assigned reading in my favorite class — Fish & Wildlife 1002: Ecology, Values, and Human Impact. This summer, I was in a graduate seminar where The Tragedy of the Commons came up again. I’m not alone. According to Google Scholar, nearly 48,000 people have cited Hardin’s idea in their own research.

Is the real tragedy that we were misled from the beginning?

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September 13, 2021 Systems Thinking The Tragedy of the Commons