‘Future States’ surprise ending

14th April 2020

John Wyver writes: Over the past fortnight or so I have posted on several occasions about the Future States online conference from the Centre for Design History, University of Brighton, which I have been following and appreciating. I had been flattered to be asked, along with Professor Barbara Green, to contribute some closing remarks as a way of kick-starting the plenary session over the next four days. And indeed placeholders for our contributions featured on the conference website from the start, as above.

I am not a periodical studies scholar, but the organisers invited me, so I understood, to offer remarks about the potentials and problems, the strengths and limitations of online conferences in general, and the specific nearly carbon neutral conference (NCNC) format with which Future States was working. ‘I leave it, of course,’ read the invitation e-mail to Barbara Green and myself, ‘entirely up to yourselves to decide the nature of your Closing remarks. I imagined that… you, John, might talk more about the NCNC medium – but you can both surprise me, and that will be delightful!’

Focussed on responding thoughtfully to this, I watched the conference presentations and read through the Q&A sessions, and overall I was engaged and very impressed. Yesterday I made and submitted the very modest presentation that sits below, ’10 Things I Think I Think About Future States‘. Then this morning, before the plenary opened, I was thanked by the organiser for my ‘insightful, challenging’ remarks, which it was recognised will ‘spark lively debate in the forum’. But there was a caveat. My ending was ‘a bit downbeat’. Would I agree to the presentation being edited to close with ‘What more could I want?’, so removing the final recap and last slide, and thereby ending on ‘a rising note’?

I explained that my ending, while perhaps a touch downbeat, featured ‘a note of intentional bathos – and without it the piece fails to reflect my caution appropriately.’ I asked for the presentation to be included as submitted. This, sadly, was not good enough, since the organisers were especially concerned that the remarks would become part of the archived online record. I was again asked to allow the edit to be made, or for me to ‘tweak’ the ending. The suggested cut, it was suggested, ‘is subtle, and in no way distorts your argument.’

Except that, of course, I felt that this was exactly what it would do. So I once again asked for it to be included as submitted, although I recognised that it was the prerogative of the conference not to publish the remarks. Which is what the organisers have now decided, explaining that

We were not happy to post the Remarks in their current form: they seem to us too subjective, and too downbeat, for the Closing remarks platform. Crucially, the remarks will remain permanently online, so will carry, potentially, more weight than closing remarks in a conventional conference.

I explained that I would post them here instead, and they have offered to include a link to them on the Plenary page. Anyway, here’s the very rough-and-ready offering that I put forward.


  1. John Wyver says:

    A footnote – once it became clear earlier today that the ‘Future States’ organisers were not going to publish my remarks as submitted, and I said that I would post them here, they replied,

    ‘If you prefer to post the current Remarks on your own blog, we will be happy to post a prominent link below Barbara’s presentation.’

    It’s nearly 9pm on Tuesday and there’s no such link, yet.

  2. Erin Sullivan says:

    Really enjoying listening to your remarks right now, John. Very interesting how permanence/anticipation of the archive shapes what we do online. This has been an issue for me in my distance learning teaching… I usually deal with it by deleting my recordings at the end of term! That said, I’ve heard many conference plenaries that were much more downbeat. Bravo to you for posting, and bravo to @fstates_conf for mounting this NCNC and helping us start to understand the benefits and challenges of online conferencing.

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