The inaugural CHIFTalk promised an evening of interdisciplinary future insights, and it didn’t disappoint. Offering an ecletic mix of musings – from scholarly theorising to imaginative science-fiction, interactive live music to monologue – the inaugural CHIFTalk asked ‘What if…’

The Kleine Zaal (small hall) of the Rotterdamse Schouwburg buzzed with chatter in anticipation of the first event of the Community for Histories of the Future (CHIFT)  since it launched in January. The sci-fi evening drew a near capacity crowd – with a large majority being EUR students and staff.

Founder and Director dr. Etienne Augé of ESHCC introduced CHIFT to the audience with a hint of what was to come; ‘artists, scholars, politicians, writers and filmmakers are all part of the CHIFT community’. ‘An evening into the future’ would contrast dystopian visions with the optimistic, as presenters and performers led the audience in questioning how our relationship with technology will evolve in the years to come.

ESHCC on what’s to come

The academic contributions for the evening came from the Media and Communication department of ESHCC, with Matthijs Leendertse , dr. Mijke Slot  and dr. Daniel Trottier  taking the stage. According to Leendertse, ‘the future of learning is like a Chinese buffet’, where students will pick and choose creating a personalised selection of courses, and technology will facilitate changes in student assessment; ‘testing will move to monitoring’. By 2025, news will be produced by robots, warned Slot, with a few ‘individual gonzo journalists fighting the system’. She urged the audience to ‘start imagining’ how technology can help, rather than surpass in the field, ‘before it’s too late to edit the future’. Trottier predicted that ‘privacy and anonymity will be the commodity of the future,’ as we are witnessing the ‘disappearance of disappearance’. Leaving the audience with food for thought, he suggested our actions as ‘Little-Brother’ are largely responsible for diminishing privacy, as one ought remember that ‘Big Brother is also watching how Little Brother watches’.

Mijke Slot of ESHCC. Photo: CHIFT

But the night wasn’t only scholarly predictions. The audience listened intently as Mike Jansen , one of the few Dutch Sci-Fi authors, read his short story, “Leviathan Hunter”. Writer and director Mischa Rozema  introduced the 15 minute teaser of his upcoming dystopian 1984-esque film “Sundays”,  adding that he hoped to be back on the CHIFT stage in two years with the feature-length film. Theatre director, playwright and poet (among others) Joachim Robbrecht  read a monologue to the crowd with the aid of a smoke machine for extra effect. The future of warfare he mused, lies not with the soldiers but rather with journalists; it will be ‘storytellers on the battlefields.’

Audience collaboration in live performance

When Maarten Zaagman  took to the stage, he announced that with the help of the audience, he would demonstrate the future of musical improvisation. A trained percussionist, Zaagman took his place behind a marimba onstage, and would quickly become one of the evening’s favourites with his interactive improvisation . Prompting the crowd to take out their smartphones, he explained a serious of live votes would determine the direction of his performance. With smart-phones in hand the tech-savvy audience couldn’t help but get distracted; looking around it seemed everybody had taken the opportunity to sneak a look at their messages, oblivious to the task at hand. That was, until Zaagman offered a subtle reminder that we ‘should see the [application] page now’. Logged in and ready to go, he began to play, as the audience stared at their screens wondering what would happen next. The screen updated, the live vote had started; should he go faster or slower? A minute later, should he continue playing the marimba with two mallets or use four? And again, should he add a bowed note up or down? As the excitement built, the collaborators-cum-audience furiously refreshed their browsers; had the next vote already started? Maybe now? Now? When the option came to ‘take part yourself!’ by adding a high or low note, the hall erupted in chimes. As the music faded, the online application read ‘thank-you’, and the crowd broke into applause.

Maarten Zaagman’s interactive improvisation. Photo: CHIFT 

But it didn’t end there. After all, what futuristic sci-fi evening would be complete without a discussion about humans on Mars? Artemis Westenburg President of Explore Mars Inc . urged the crowd to take note of the ‘6th of October 2033’. “I can guarantee you we are going to make that date” she said, adding “if we as a society want it, it will happen in 20 years.”

CHIFTalk’s diverse perspectives appreciated

The evening wasn’t just for fans of sci-fi, with many students attending out of curiosity. “I’m not that interested in sci-fi, I came because I was intrigued,” student Nabila Hisbaron (20) said. “When talking about the future, it’s really relevant for everyone. The speakers and performers all came from different fields, and the creative perspectives made it easier to connect and relate to the topics at hand. We have always had control to some extent over our future, but now with new technologies and the likes of social media, we have new collaborative powers – the whole concept is changing.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the event appeared a hit with the audience, with visitors already looking forward to the next edition. “I really enjoyed it,” student Sem Oerlemans (22) said of the evening. “It was interesting to see the mix of science fiction (storytelling) and actual work that is being done for the future. I had expected science fiction to be more of a focus, but that doesn’t mean I was disappointed. The speakers had different opinions on ‘the future’, and as a result we got to see many different perspectives. Overall, great evening, I’m looking forward to the next one, and if possible I’d love to get involved, although I’m not yet sure how.”HK