Imagining Alternative Future Economies

How do we perceive economy? What stories do we tell ourselves about it? Or is there just one overwhelmingly dominant story we have implicitly embodied and keep telling ourselves?

I participated in the Economia conference in April with a presentation and a video artwork I did in collaboration with my brother Tomi Dufva. Our topic was ”Imagining alternative future economies”. The main message we wanted to convey is that in order to challenge the thinking about economy, we need new visual languages for talking about alternative forms of economy. The current visual language, focused on growth and assets, shifts our focus away from other aspects of economy, such as transactions and people.

We started with the premise that economy is a story. It is a story with people interacting with each other and exchanging value. It is also a story with specific assumptions. If we can surface those assumptions, we can more easily compare different forms of economy.

To demonstrate the idea we created a visualisation of people, transactions and value in three different forms of economy: and ideal market, local economy and platform economy. For the ideal market the assumptions are that everyone is on equal footing, there is no friction between the transactions, there is always a buyer and if you don’t get more than you give you go bankrupt. Local economy adds to this model the assumptions that local trade is preferred and benefits the region more than global trade. Platform economy brings along a new actor, platforms, to the model. Platforms mediate the transactions and facilitate the creation of a network between actors. The bigger the network, the better. In our visualisation the value is aggregated to the platforms.

Based on these assumptions we made three visualisations of how these economies evolve. The point is not to have an accurate description of reality, but rather to demonstrate different ways of depicting economies.

We also had a lively debate on how realistic the visualisations should be and how much can one take “artistic freedom” in order to make something aesthetically intriguing. For example, should the colours and shapes symbolise something specific? The end result is a mix between an artwork and a simulation, a compromise that acknowledges that each aesthetic choice carries with it some implicit message, but that choice need not always be articulated.

With these visualisations we wanted to demonstrate the possibilities of enriching the discussion on alternative economies through visual language. The artwork is thus a start or continuation of imagining what future economies could be like, what stories we tell and how.