Skip to content
Home » Products » Podcast » Season 9 » S09 E04 – Adam Greenfield

S09 E04 – Adam Greenfield

Laura and Doug speak with the author of Radical Technologies: The design of everyday life, Adam Greenfield. A Verso author, Adam has a new book coming out called Lifehouse: Taking Care of Ourselves in A World on Fire. Support the Tao of WAO at


Adam’s Favourite Book

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.


Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:22] Welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society, and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Doug Belshaw.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:31] And I’m Laura Hilliger. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded. You can support this podcast and other we are open projects and products at

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:44] So this season so far has been a bit of a ramble chat between Laura and I. But today I’m really excited to say that we’re joined by Adam Greenfield, who is not only an author, endurance athlete, cat lover, academic, former psyops specialist and information architect, but also was head of design for Nokia back in the day. Um, Adam wrote one of my favourite books, which I quoted people occasionally called Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, and it was published by verso, who is one of my favourite publishers and no lesser authority than Brian Eno called it an essential book. Adam’s got another book coming out in July 2024, which is called Lifehouse Taking Care of Ourselves in a World on Fire. Um, so welcome, Adam. We’re really delighted to have you on the podcast.

Adam Greenfield: [00:01:29] Thanks. It’s lovely to be here. I’m very flattered.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:33] Um, we’ve got lots of things which we could talk to you about, but, um, I’ve never published a book through a publisher before. Um, and I’m fascinated that the title of your book seems to have changed over the last six months to a year. Um, the previous one was what? Beyond hope, collective power and mutual care and the long emergency. And I wondered whether you could talk us through how that came, how that change came about, like how that goes about happening between you and your publisher.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:02] But but before before you do that, I realise that every other guest that we’ve ever had on this podcast, the first question that we always ask is, what is your favourite book? Which is which is really hard to ask an author. Uh, but what is your favourite book? You can name one of your own as well.

Adam Greenfield: [00:02:23] I would never do that. Oh my God, anybody who does that out a gulag with that person, that’s terrible. Somebody know somebody? I would I would have less than no patience with somebody who had the brass neck to say, my favourite book is one of my own. That’s intolerable. Um, my favourite book is the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao Te Ching. Um, which came out, I’m going to say, in 1991 or so.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:56] Okay.

Adam Greenfield: [00:02:58] Um, Stephen Mitchell has had many careers. Um. He is. Uh, he was a Zen student under Zen Master Seung Sahn for a long time in the Jogye Order, which is Korean Zen in the States. And he brought his Zen practice to his translation of the Tao Te Jing. And, um, if you’re familiar with with Korean Zen at all, it’s very earthy. It’s very it doesn’t have this sort of austere quality that we associate with with Zen because, you know, so much of our notion of Zen comes from Japan. Korean Zen is, you know, filled with like, fart jokes. I mean, it’s it is a much more humane, um, and, and just grounded, I feel, approach to the same body of thought and practice and that shines through in his translation. It’s an absolutely beautiful. Guide to good living on planet Earth in a human body. Um, it is luminously wise. It is gorgeously phrased, uh, and appropriately so, to the modern idiom and, you know, the contemporary, um, take on things. So, yeah, there you go. There’s some, That’s my favourite book. All right.

Laura Hilliger: [00:04:18] I will add it to the book club and also to my buy this book list, because I haven’t read that translation.

Adam Greenfield: [00:04:25] Yeah. It’s really it’s really good. Um, okay. So to answer Doug’s question, um, so just yesterday, I’m going to sound all erudite and shit because I’ve got this quote ready to hand, but I promise you, I literally just read it yesterday. Um, this is from from Franco Moretti who said, uh, half sign, half ad, uh, a book’s title is, um. Uh, you know, not going to blow the rest of the title. I’m going to blow the rest of the quote. Yeah. It turns out that that a title is, um, contested terrain, right? It has to serve simultaneously as, uh, a, um. Very simply as as a sort of suggestion as to what’s in the book, but it also has to sell the book. It also has to market, you know, and merchandise. Um, what the book is about. And so it has to function on these two levels and those levels in the contemporary marketplace for, for writing and thinking are in a fair amount of tension with one another. So I set out to write this book, and I. I’m sort of a sucker for, um. For things that that have elegant structures and and things which are sort of carefully thought out so as to develop in advance an argument. And so I thought it would be really cool if this book, which is. Centrally about the challenge of how can we cogently respond on an individual and collective level to the circumstances of climate system collapse that we find ourselves in. Um, and in doing so, get beyond the hope that I think is killing us. Um, and I’ll explain all of that in a bit, but I thought, you know, okay, well, if we call it beyond hope, collective power and mutual care in the long emergency, that gives me a structure right there.

Adam Greenfield: [00:06:27] I can kind of flip that title on its side and start by saying, well, what do I mean by the long emergency? How is mutual care supposed to respond to the conditions of the long emergency? Um, what implications does that have for our development of collective power? And then finally, why does that take us beyond hope? And that’s that’s the book I wrote. Um, right. So the title, you know, as we say here in the British Isles, it does what it says on the tin, like it’s a pretty straightforward account of the contents of the book, and it gives you a guide to what to expect. And it sort of sets up and frames the book’s major concerns and major arguments. Um, and it was fine for the longest time. And then I actually delivered the manuscript. And I began to realise was that that was fine, because nobody at verso really thought that the book had much hope, or was was going to be of appeal to people. And then when they read the manuscript, you know, very flatteringly all of a sudden they got their hooks in it, they got interested, they’re like, oh, now we get what this book is about. Um, it seems like it’s arriving at the right moment. We do think that this is going to appeal to people. We think that it’s probably going to sell better than we thought it would. Um, they did it. The great honour of making it what’s called a lead title. Which means that they devote much greater resources in terms of marketing and, and, um, promotion.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:05] I mean, it goes out to all of the Verso club subscribers. Um, you know, uh, to subscribe monthly.

Adam Greenfield: [00:08:11] That’s a very interesting question, to which I do not know the answer, because I think.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:15] Yeah, it probably does.

Adam Greenfield: [00:08:16] It may it may well do. Um, I think the verso club is set up, uh, in series or themes, so I’m not clear on that. But it, it does mean that, that, you know, it’s not it doesn’t mean that it’s going to get a tote bag, but basically it means that it’s one of the 3 or 4 titles they’re really going to put a push behind this year. And that’s fantastic. Uh, and I’m super, super grateful for that. But what it also means is that then they start giving you advice from their perspective. And the very first thing that went was the title itself. They’re like, well, you can’t call it beyond Hope. And I’m like, well, what do you mean by that? It’s literally centrally about, um, hope is something that I think that, you know, the more we invest in hope, the less energy we have to actually prepare for the moment that we find ourselves in. We need to get beyond all of these species of hope. That is what the book is about. And they’re like, no, no, no, no. That’s far too depressing. Nobody will buy a book called beyond Hope. So you have to you have to come up with another another title. And the final proposition in the book. The book sort of is structured in a way so that it builds to something, it builds to something very concrete and very humble and very, um, it’s it’s not sprawling. It’s this very simple idea about resilience and resource hubs that are based in each local community that we, um, develop not merely, um, physical resources, but also social resources around.

Adam Greenfield: [00:09:52] And I call them life houses. And they’re like, well, we think this is a very appealing idea. Why don’t you call the book life House? And I thought, okay, well. Honestly, I. They have another book. Um. That’s about policing. And I think the title is something like, uh. Uh, it’s against policing or beyond policing or something like this. And, you know, you read 250 pages of the book and it’s just a, you know, a bunch of case studies and stuff. And then in the last 20 pages of the book, you get to what it is, you know, what your actual proposition is. Um, and I found that just very frustrating. I bought the book because of the title. Um, and I thought, well. You know, if we call it Lifehouse, the Lifehouse stuff is is 15 pages towards the end of the book, people can be pissed off. Right. I wouldn’t, you know, I mean, they’re going to buy a book called Lifehouse. And then they’re going to read all this stuff about the Black Panthers and about, you know, occupy Sandy after Superstorm Sandy in New York. And they’re going to read about Spanish municipalism and and Öcalan in Rojava. And what does this have to do with Lifehouse? Uh, nevertheless, you know, they prevail upon me that they thought Lifehouse was just a very affirmative, optimistic title and that people would naturally be curious to find out more about that. And then.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:19] Yeah, I guess it’s a noun, isn’t it? Like Lifehouse is a noun, a world on fire is a noun and collective power, mutual care, the long emergency beyond hope, like they’re potentially things you have to explain. It’s not something like, oh, I know what that is. I’m going to take it off the the shelf. I know what you mean about the 15 pages. At the end, someone was I haven’t read the book, but someone was talking to me about another verso book called How to Blow Up a Pipeline, saying it doesn’t tell me how to blow up a pipeline, like, that’s what I bought the book for.

Adam Greenfield: [00:11:49] That’s right. You know, I think that there’s a kind of an implicit social contract between the, you know, the writer and the reader of a book, and you don’t want to mislead people. So I’m deeply sympathetic to that. I also get that certainly this idea of, you know, the long emergency, uh, you know, mutual care is another that’s not that’s not a thing. Right? That’s not an expression. That’s an expression I made up. Um, so the more of these things that you have in the title. The more that you have to account for and explain. And I have faith in people that it seeing things like that makes me curious. I’m like, well, well, what does she mean by this? What do they mean by that? Uh, and then you pick up the book and you leaf through it, or you flip it over and you read the back cover copy and you’re like, okay, well, this is what they mean by that. Um, the marketing people. Bless them. Suggest that those are like roadblocks in the contemporary market. And they they I will say this. They have very little faith in the attention span or the. I guess. Uh sticktoitiveness of somebody who, you know, they may walk into, into Houseman’s even, you know, my favourite socialist bookshop in London and they’ll scan the shelves. And if if the thing doesn’t, you know, if it raises too many questions, they just pass it by. That is their feeling. Hmm’hmm.

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:28] I have a different lived experience personally.

Adam Greenfield: [00:13:32] As do I. Uh, and so these were vexing conversations, as you can imagine. Mhm. Um, you know, I got a.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:40] Book, Laura’s got a novel, um, called Maybe Zombies. Um, which now maybe is too ambiguous Laura.

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:47] Yeah, I feel like I should change the title for sure.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:49] Yeah, yeah.

Adam Greenfield: [00:13:50] I mean, it sort of makes me sad, right? That that we. Even in these sectors of the market for knowledge that you would think could tolerate a little bit of ambiguity and would trust, you know, a verso readership of all readerships you would imagine would be one that is prepared to kind of unpack something, investigate something, go with something for a little bit. And I think it is a consequence of the fact that they believe that the title may very well go beyond a verse or readership. You know, there’s.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:31] Good, which is good. It’s let’s let’s get into lifehouses then. Um, yeah. Given that it is the all important 15 pages at the last at the end of the book. Um, Laura, you’ve read this as well. So this is not just so, um, this is really interesting to me. And I sent to my parents as well. My parents are, you know, God fearing, um, churchgoing kind of people who, you know, realise that there’s a dwindling membership of of other congregations other than their own. Um, I live in a place called Morpeth in the northeast of England, which is a market town with big, impressive churches that no one goes to. Um, so yeah, that’s just kind of a setup for you. Maybe explaining what a lifehouse is in the, in a, in a brief way, and maybe we can kind of go in and out of like the nuance of that. Since you originally wrote that post last April, I think it was April 2023.

Adam Greenfield: [00:15:24] That’s right. Yeah, it’s coming on a year now. So it’s really interesting that you start from the church because as I developed the idea in the book that is not foundational or essential to the conception of a life house, the blog post that you’re referring to went out in the verso blog last year. Uh, just after last Easter. And Easter is not incidental. I mean, my my original post was was triggered by an article I read in the Guardian by a guy named Simon Jenkins, one of their columnists, who I virtually never agree with. I find him, you know, almost like a weather vane that points in the opposite direction. I find him very challenging, but he had written an unusual post that I thought really, really captured something. He said, look, it’s Easter time. Uh, we look around the landscape, particularly of England, but, but of, of the UK more generally. And we see that there are some 50,000 church buildings that are under-utilized or unutilised or abandoned, that in a time when the profession of Christian faith is at a low ebb, there are these wonderful, solid buildings that are at the psychic and very often the physical heart of their communities. They are natural points of reference if something. Bad befalls a village. The you know the old village church is is almost immediately the place that you think of to seek refuge. It’s sort of intuitive. It’s what we would call a Schelling point. It’s a node of unconscious coordination. And he says, well, you know, even though. The Christian calendar, the specifically Christian cycle of of uh observation, um is no longer that relevant to people.

Adam Greenfield: [00:17:25] We still need ritual in our lives. There are still rhythms to our lives. There are still communal events to mark life, passages to mark. Um, there are all kinds of things that we need space for that we don’t seem to have any more, uh, access to, uh, non-commercial space. And, you know, really, couldn’t we repurpose these church buildings? For socially productive ends? Couldn’t we use them to shelter more of the people who have gone unhoused? Couldn’t we use them for for, uh, after school activities or for for job clubs or for, you know, so many of the social functions that knit a community together and have been so sorely abraded in this time of austerity. And I thought, yeah, he’s he’s not wrong. Um, but there’s something even bigger than that that, that, you know, through no fault of his own, he’s missing. And he’s missing it because he probably hasn’t been obsessing about it the way I have. But, um, I am deeply concerned that. In a word, a real inflection point with climate stuff. That this this idea of global heating and the volatile atmosphere and the storms and the wildfires and the, you know, the flooding. That all of this that’s been so theoretical for so long, um, is now really coming to to vest in people’s lives in a very real way and that we increasingly have need of shelter and of refuge, physical shelter and refuge. And I thought, okay, well, what if we take these 50,000 fairly robust.

Adam Greenfield: [00:19:18] Buildings in the centre and the emotional heart of of every community here. And what if we turn them into places where we can shelter, not merely from the everyday disaster that is ordinary life, but from all of the storms and fires to come? What would that look like? What would that require of them as structures, and what would that require of the communities around them to make them useful, vibrant, functioning places where people can go and restore themselves and shelter from everything that threatens them and find one another there. And so that was the blog post. And it hit a chord. I mean, you know, I’m really grateful you sent it to your parents. Um, I have been writing online, you know, practically since there was an online to write on. And my stuff tends not. You know, I write for a small and fairly self-contained audience. The things I write tend not to go viral. They tend not to break big that verso post. When? Way beyond, you know what I expected it to? And I think beyond what the verso people expected it to go to as well. Within days I was hearing from, you know, the like the bishop that manages physical plant for the C of E, I mean, you know, the guy who’s in charge of of those 50,000 church buildings, uh, under the Church of England. Um, I heard from the woman who runs, uh, for the Unitarian church, you know, their their physical program and their social program as well.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:55] What do they want to did, they did they just want to chat? Did they actually have some plans and like what what what’s become of that, if anything.

Adam Greenfield: [00:21:04] In in both cases we’ve had some interesting conversations. Um, I would say that, uh, the Unitarians are a little bit more innovative as, as possibly you might expect, um, in terms of how to really be radically inclusive and how to open up their spaces so that they’re used by more people, more of the time for more different functions. I think ultimately, um. People were just interested in kind of picking my brain, seeing what I was thinking. I don’t think that there was any, uh, specific, concrete intention beyond that. But I I’ve got to say that for somebody with my politics and, and, you know, put putting my cards on the table, you know, atheist and not particularly, um, warm to hierarchical institutions and, and receive traditions. Um, I thought it was great. I thought it was great that, you know, this piece that I wrote from the perspective of, um, you know, a communitarian anarchist, um, is finding resonance with, with, you know, people and institutions that I would never have suspected, never to be.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:23] To be fair, the chances of them getting, as you say, a communitarian anarchist, um, uh, atheist, potentially to come in and, and be a consultant for the church is close to zero.

Adam Greenfield: [00:22:36] I would I would not say that. I wouldn’t say that. But anyway. Yeah. Go on. Yeah. We’ll come back to that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:39] But, but but in our experience, when we kind of bring in new and radical ideas around cooperatives and, um, leftist politics and stuff to organisations. Yes. Okay. Sometimes they have chats with us and things, but often they take those ideas and they morph them in different ways into the organisation’s plan. So it kind of has an input into their existing planning and usually it gets watered down and that kind of thing. But yeah, maybe talk about your experience of actually being a radical consultant then.

Adam Greenfield: [00:23:09] Yeah. I think that, uh, I certainly recognise I absolutely, unquestionably recognise what you’re saying, where, you know, there’s this first flush of enthusiasm and people are like, yeah, it would be great to have conversations. And you understand pretty quickly that they don’t really mean conversations. What they mean is, uh, unidirectional transfer of ideas and they’ll kind of pluck from those, you know, the ones that they find most resonant and interesting and then water them down and sand the rough edges off them. So they work with their organisation. Um, and that’s not what I’m interested in. Uh, but I’ve had some really, uh, you know, in the spirit of openness. And I don’t think I’m being naive about this because I think my naiveté was worn away a long time ago. Um, it’s worth my while to have these conversations, because I certainly don’t have access to 50,000 buildings. Um. It’s. A rare occasion. It’s a rare opportunity. Uh, if even a little bit of this thinking percolates into the operation of a network like that. Um, I’m more than usually willing to have the thing watered down, because I think whatever of this thinking and practice gets into people’s lives, uh, is a good thing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:39] Well, it’s it’s, um. I did some work on ambiguity. Which laws? Probably sick of me talking about, but Lifehouse is a productively ambiguous word, like it’s it’s ambiguous enough that people can take and do some stuff with, but it’s specific enough that you can refer to Lifehouse, i.e. the book or the idea or whatever, and people kind of know what you’re talking about. So it actually gives a name to, oh shit, what are we going to do with these church buildings? Because no one’s coming to them. Um, oh, we can turn them to lifehouses becomes an idea that’s just lying around now that they can pick up and do something with. Yeah.

Adam Greenfield: [00:25:14] Yeah, that’s right. It’s a blank signifier. It really is. I mean, you know, people are going to project onto it whatever they want, whatever they will. But you’re right, it is just concrete enough that it there’s a directionality to it. I and I try. I had the benefit of some of the discourse that emerged after that, that verso blog post, you know, between that blog post coming out and me doing the final delivery of the manuscript, there was some space and time and I got to see what people did make of that post in the wild. And so I’m at pains in the book to point out that it’s, you know, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with churches. Um, you know, it could be that, uh, you know, in, in a time where people are having fewer children, um, and school buildings are becoming underutilised. You know, it could be that abandoned middle school on the avenue, um, that’s been, you know, uh, chained up for the last five years. Uh, and, and, you know, I talk about things like, uh, at some point gathering, steeling yourself, gathering the nerve to to take the bolt cutters and cut the chain link and, you know, get into these spaces because their value for the community outweighs the risk of, um, you know, whatever penalties associated with, with, uh, breaking and entering or squatting in them. And I think these things tend to create their own moral justification that I think if you’re if you’re using that space to create a refuge for people, um, I think it becomes very, very hard, uh, although clearly not impossible, uh, to displace them.

Adam Greenfield: [00:26:54] Uh, it the, the moral momentum, uh, is with the people who’ve chosen to use that space, uh, for socially productive reasons rather than as a store of value, investment value in the future or something like that. Uh, but I want to kind of circle around if I can, um, to the thing which really originally inspired me, uh, to come up with this notion of the Lifehouse, which was a stationary bicycle, an exercise bicycle. And, uh, after Superstorm Sandy hit New York City, uh, the power was out for weeks. Uh, you know, the electricity went down, uh, and it wasn’t, you know, the infrastructure. Um, sort of folded in on itself. And there were places that didn’t have reliable electric power for quite a long time. And so in order to charge people’s phones, some squatters at a squat on Avenue C called C squat, um, put a, an exercise bicycle in front of the squat, and they wired it up to, uh, an electric charger bank. So an an a battery so that, you know, somebody could sit on the bike and pedal the bike, charge the battery, and then people could come by and charge their mobile phones. There was a bank of of chargers right there. And what happens in a circumstance like this is that, yeah, you have the material need then that’s that’s sort of, if you will, the killer app.

Adam Greenfield: [00:28:27] That’s what drives people to the site. You know, people from, from blocks around would hear, oh, you know, I, you can go charge your phone at C-squat. And so they would come and maybe they would take a turn on the bike. But while they were standing at this table charging their phones, they would talk to the other people around them. And they would exchange information about what was going on and other resources that were available in the community. Bless you. And, um, even beyond material resources, uh, the psychic and the affective qualities that are involved in knowing that other people are in the same boat as you and and just the expression of organic solidarity that emerges from that and the feeling that you’re not alone. And that there are other people who are, you know, suffering similarly. And and you can exchange really, you know, the mutual aid that’s at the heart of this proposition. Um, and so it’s that single. The stationary bike. That really suggested to me that in a time of crisis, you know, yeah, you can you can have these technical or material ways of protecting and sheltering people, but nothing is as important as the other people that are there. Nothing is as important as the the experience to express, uh, care for one another and concern for one another and to exchange knowledge and information. But ultimately, um, something deeper than that, which is a sense of of struggling against a common circumstance.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:13] And one of our friends, Jess Klein. Um, who where abouts is she based? Rockaway. Rockaway? Mhm.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:21] Rockaway Beach.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:23] She did a lot of stuff in terms of meeting people where they were at during the response to hurricane Sandy as well. Um, two things. So that was the first thing. The second thing was you put a post on a thread on on Mastodon recently about some of the stuff that didn’t make the final cut for the book. And, um, one of it was kind of related to something you talked about earlier about going beyond hope. And you use this phrase, um, doomerism like well-intentioned people using this phrase doomerism. And it kind of struck me when you were talking there about the need for solidarity and how we often meet people’s material needs. But actually, it’s this need for solidarity, knowing you’re in the same boat as people, which is this collective hope, rather than the individual hope that people potentially need, and how being accused of doomerism with relation to climate change is kind of the wrong way of phrasing it. Like you’re not a doomer what you’re doing is you’re re reconceptualizing what’s going on, so that people understand that we need to pull together, rather than each individually deal with the climate crisis ourself, either psychologically or materially.

Adam Greenfield: [00:31:36] Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s exactly right. Like, I got to tell you, nothing abrades me more than, um, the notion. That somebody’s trying to account for the depth of the trouble that we’re, in fact, in together is a doomer, right? These are these are separate things. And there are I mean, there are there are people who just love to, uh, indulge themselves. I think very self-indulgently in, in, um, you know, it’s too late. There’s nothing we can do, uh, you know, and and not only is that almost isomorphic with the line that’s being peddled by the extractive industries, you know, because they just want licence to go on with what they’re doing. Of course, they would love it if people said, yes, it’s too late. There’s nothing we can do. Um, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we’re in a lot of trouble. We’re in deeper trouble than we understand. The trouble is not simply related to even the climate crisis. Um, there are compound, cascading, interweaving, uh, dynamics that we’ve scarcely begun to attend to. And all of which are going to make the next decades very, very challenging to get through. Not not merely as individuals, as as societies. I don’t think that is doom. I think that is a fundamental. I mean, for starters, that’s where where, um. You know, good consent practices begin. If you are going to the doctor and you know, you you want, uh, you want an accurate diagnosis, you want informed consent, so you can consent to what that doctor’s proposed course of treatment is. You want to know all of the details. You want to know, you know, give me. Just the straight up truth. Give me the facts. If I’ve got some horrible progressive disease, I want to know that if I’ve got multiple disease conditions, each of which makes treating the other very difficult, I want to know that this is where informed consent starts.

Adam Greenfield: [00:33:53] So on that model, you know, I think that that it really is incumbent upon us to be if you feel like you understand. Where we are. Um, the absolute ground of ethical response to that is, is understanding that in detail. Uh, but it also, I don’t get this idea where just because we’re in a lot of trouble means that we have to give up. Um, as individuals or communities. I don’t think it implies that there’s nothing we can do. What I am explicitly saying. Is that industrial society. Since the the origins of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve already burned enough carbon. We’ve already burned enough fossil fuels, liberated enough carbon into the atmosphere that even if you waved a magic wand right now. Even if if the entire economy somehow magically became carbon free right now, there’s still enough of this stuff in the atmosphere that we’re going to be dealing with the consequences quite probably for for the next several decades, possibly the next several centuries. That’s no matter what we do now. So that’s not doom. That’s simply an accounting of the situation that we’re in. And then, you know, from there we can begin to make reasoned decisions about how do we collaborate to protect more of what we cherish from the things that are starting to happen? How do we create circumstances in which dignity and justice, you know, are somehow allowed to prevail through this period of extreme difficulty? How do we create the circumstances in which people thrive under enormous pressure? And I think that that in order to answer those questions, you have to start with a painstakingly accurate accounting for our situation. I don’t think that’s doom.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:53] For sure. And I think there’s analogues to everything from Brexit to, you know, make America great. So instead of actually explaining like, well, a declining world power and actually we need to move away from our traditional manufacturing base as we already have done, towards service economy stuff. And actually, there’s going to be a bit of a hit on the economy and this and that. You get the right wing press saying, well, you know, you just need to talk up England a lot and make sure that the UK is at the table and, and whatever. And it’s a kind of plucky wartime spirit as opposed to actually confronting what’s going on head on. Um, I don’t think that’s just a British thing. I think that’s, um, around the.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:34] World as well. No, I mean, that’s actually what I was what I was going to say is that, I mean, there’s doom dooma, if you want to call it doomerism being aware of the situation there, there’s also denialism, which is very real in our society and absolute 100% avoidance. Um, so there are people who do believe in climate change and are not necessarily like, oh, we can’t do anything about it, but they just don’t they just don’t engage with it. They just avoid it completely. And these are all fear based mechanisms, defence mechanisms, because the trouble that we’re in is so massive. It’s it’s it’s really hard to look at in the face because when you look at it and you see, um, where, where we are, um, you know, coming beyond hope or even getting to hope is, is really hard for some people.

Adam Greenfield: [00:37:31] Okay, Laura, I think that’s absolutely right. And I think the fear, I mean, some of the people I find the most challenging to deal with are not the absolute denialists. Um, it’s what I think of as climate liberals. And there are a lot of people that I run into on Mastodon particularly, who share, you know, a genuine they they share a concern for the climate. They share a fundamental orientation. You know, they accept that this is a real thing, but then they’ll post about, oh, you know, uh, the percentage of EVs that are sold keeps climbing. And isn’t this wonderful news? And I’m like, you know, I. I think that that is a way of pulling the wool over your own eyes. I think that that is a different expression of fear. Like, I don’t think that the fact that, you know, 41% of cars that are going to be sold ten years from now are electric instead of 38% is is scaled to the complexity and the severity of the situation we’re in. I understand it’s very human to to look for, you know, islands in the storm and to look for anchors and places that we can kind of passed off of. Um, and, and keep going. I get that the way that my psyche is. And Doug has certainly seen this. I’m really my my one of my main interests recently is given cognitive diversity and neurological diversity. What roles are each one of us sort of faded to play out in in society and large conversations. My role, it seems, is I hope this doesn’t sound pompous. Um. What my life has taught me is that the particular way that I’m wired, my particular neurological or cognitive style, I’m I’ve got a really strong reality principle, you know, and I can’t let.

Adam Greenfield: [00:39:39] Bullshit be spoken in in my my vicinity. Right. So if I’m in a group of people and one of them starts talking about how great it is that that, you know, EV sales are up or that heat pumps are, you know, catching on or that, you know, the government is offering a £500 subsidy for, for reinstallation or whatever, and this is going to save us. Without wanting to insult them or let the wind out of their sails, or be just generally depressing. I just thought, no, that’s not going to help. That’s not it. It’s not going to save us. And there’s this passage toward the end of Lifehouse where I’m like, yeah, you know, um. Carbon credits are not going to save us, and Greta is not going to save us, and UBI is not going to save us, and cargo bikes are not going to save us. And all of the things that we very naturally tend to invest our hope in are not going to save us. The only thing that is going to make a difference is collectively confronting with clear eyes. Where we are, and deciding together to do something meaningful to mitigate the effects of that on our bodies, on our communities, on our lives, on our societies. And, you know, I don’t see a lot of movement in that direction because of the fear response that you’re, you know, you’re seeing. It is. It’s terrifying. It’s. It’s terrifying.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:21] But I feel like going back to the the conversation about the title of your book and nouns and verbs and and concepts and that kind of stuff, like because we live in such a individualised, atomised, consumerist culture where the, the way to solve something is to choose to buy this thing instead of that thing, which is kind of what you’re getting to with EVs, I guess, over, um, combustion engine cars and that kind of stuff. We put our faith in our trust and our hope in individuals like Greta, um, in objects like electric vehicles, in politicians or parties. We don’t put them in concepts or, um, approaches or um, yeah, the collectivism that we’ve been talking about so far, because it’s not marketable particularly, it’s not sexy. It’s not easy to kind of point to as a thing. Um, it’s a bit more nebulous, and I wonder if there’s any work to be done about that, either biting the bullet and turning those things into nouns as fast as possible, or educating people en masse into what it means to live in a world which you don’t just look at tangible, concrete, easily identifiable, marketable, purchasable things, but rather, you know, go back to the world of trade unions and trade unions. I can’t even say the word trade unionism and collectivism and cooperatives and ways in which we banded together to actually make a difference in the world.

Adam Greenfield: [00:42:56] Yeah. I think that, uh, that tendency will be very strongly supported by reality. I think that that as. The the truth of our circumstances really does begin to bite, and particularly in circumstances where the state has just evacuated the space of repair, as it has, you know, certainly where I live, uh, for the past 14 years of the conservative government, and I should say that I don’t have much hope of of things changing under a Labour government. Um, yeah. I think that the mutual societies and the, uh, networks of collaboration and formal and informal, um, you know, are going to fill that space. They’re going to have to there’s just not going to be anything there. So I think some of that happens organically, uh, too slowly, uh, you know, never completely, but it will happen. Um, and I think that’s sort of the good side, the turning some of this stuff into nouns, you know, about 20, 25 years ago, uh, the science fiction writer and, and, and futures thinker, uh, Bruce Sterling came up with this idea that he called Viridian Green. And the idea of viridian green thinking. Viridian green design was that, you know, he had no faith that we were going to, uh, wean ourselves away from consumerism and individualism and, and, uh, you know, maximum market choice.

Adam Greenfield: [00:44:31] He said instead that you kind of and this is in its own way, it’s a it’s sort of a Taoist thought, you know, go with the Tao, go with the movement of things. Um, instead of trying to correct that tendency and spending all of your life energy and all of your time pushing against something which is just, you know, it has extraordinary momentum and is sort of inexorable in our society. Move with it and design things which are desirable by the terms of the contemporary capitalist commodity market. But that incidentally, um, have, uh, environmentally or, you know, carbon, carbon negative consequences like don’t hit people over the head with it, don’t make it, um, the, uh, the only selling proposition, but have that work in the background and instead work craft, uh, put all of your effort and attention into crafting the desirability of these things. And I don’t know honestly to what extent he this was just a thought exercise for him. I mean, he did put effort into he uh, you know, thought Viridian Green workshops and spent a couple of years, I think, at Sci-arc in Southern California, uh, teaching architecture students about Viridian Green design, if I’ve got that correct, if I’m remembering that correctly on.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:00] The Wikipedia page for it now, and I didn’t realise that a book which has sat on my shelf for the last 20 years, um, World Changing A User’s Guide to the 21st century. That big chunky green.

Adam Greenfield: [00:46:11] I have that same book. Yep. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:14] Lots of people who I know have that book. Um, he wrote the introduction to that book, which I completely forgotten. And apparently he closed the Viridian movement in 2008, saying there was no need to continue its work now that bright green environmentalism had emerged.

Adam Greenfield: [00:46:29] Uh, Bruce?

Adam Greenfield: [00:46:32] Yeah, I mean, what do you say to that? You know? Uh, I mean, all all the goodwill in the world for Bruce. He’s been very generous for me. I grew up reading his stuff. Uh, and so, you know, it’s mind blowing when when somebody who you’ve grown up reading actually enters into dialogue with you as a peer. Um, so I have I have lots and lots and lots of time for Bruce. And I think that he’s, um, truly fought the good fight. But, uh, I think that’s, uh, if that had if that statement had come out of anybody else’s mouth, I would I would just call it fatuous. You know.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:14] Before we, uh, because I could. I don’t know how long we’re into the recording, actually, because it’s there’s no timer on this particular app that we’re using. Um, but I could talk to you all afternoon. I definitely want to talk about two things, if that’s okay. Before we, um, before we close our time together on this, this chat one is that you posted that you went to, um, a place called Arcosanti. If I’m, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, an experimental town in central Arizona. And I wondered, in the light of what we’ve just been talking about and responses to, um, the climate emergency and various other things, just what that place was like, um, how it kind of pointed to any potential future state for the rest of us.

Adam Greenfield: [00:48:01] Yeah. That’s great. Well, arcosanti is how I say it. So if we’re saying it wrong, then we’re saying it wrong. Um, Arcosanti Arcosanti founded 1970. Uh, about an hour and 20 minutes. Uh, north of Phoenix, Arizona. Is the. Is something really unusual? It is a community at scale. I’ll say that, um, that emerges almost completely from the idea of one human being. And that human being was a visionary architect named Paolo Soleri. And starting in the 1950s, I think Soleri came up with this idea, uh, that he called Arcology, which combined architecture and ecology and the kind of dumbed down way to put this is that an arcology is a megastructure. It’s a city, uh, a fully enclosed and self-sustained city in a single building and a single megastructure. And as I understand it, originally, uh, each of the arcologies that Soleri wanted to develop were kind of test runs for the ultimate, uh, elaboration of this idea was, which was to be a travelling space colony. Um, so if you can imagine, uh, the lines of thought that led to things like, um, like biosphere two, uh, you know, this was this was part and parcel of what he was trying to do. And he founded this community out in the desert. And it has strong cult of personality dynamics to it. And there are problems with Solari personally that will come back to, uh, deep, you know, profound, worrisome problems. Um, but he founded this community, and it was originally supposed to be, uh, a community built into a mesa that would have, uh, space for 5000, 5000 residents.

Adam Greenfield: [00:50:03] And it was supposed to. Fulfil all of the needs of their lives, uh, in a dense, three dimensional, highly energy efficient use of space. Um, this was a city without cars, without roads, without streets. Uh, sort of a city as sculpture, if you will. And it’s been, you know, out there in the desert since 1970. It’s been built completely by volunteer labour. Uh, the idea for many years. And you could still do this, but I don’t think many people do anymore. But I know that it was kind of during the whole Earth days. Um, not unusual for people to to go, you know, these five week long workshops, you were volunteer and you would learn their processes and you would append some to the city that was being built. Um, and it was this massive collective sculpture that, that people, that an entire community would live in. And I’ve always been fascinated by this. I’m fascinated with mega structures. I’m fascinated with the kind of mega structural impulse in 60s and 70s architecture. I’m fascinated with utopian communities, uh, planned communities of all sorts. So. But I don’t get to Arizona much. So when last week I was invited to Tempe, Arizona for a conference at the centre for Work and Democracy at ASU, which is run by a good friend of mine named Mike McQueary. And I realised, oh my God, I’ve got an extra day. Um, you know, Arcosanti is an hour and 20 minutes away. I can I can get out there somehow, uh, and and see this thing I’ve been reading about all my life.

Adam Greenfield: [00:51:47] So that’s exactly what I did. Uh, I got a driver to take me out there. And, you know, they have these tours and the tours. It’s just. You know, you walk around and you see what has been built since 1970. So 50 years now. 54 years. Um. And not a single substantive addition has been made to the site since 1989. It’s it is impressive in its own way in that it was all, you know, it’s a city that was built by hand in the side of a mesa. But. You know, I spent a lot of time in Korea because my partner is from Seoul, and and, you know, any Korean apartment complex would build more in three weeks than all of the tens of thousands of volunteers that have come through Arcosanti have built since 1970. And at some point, you know, you just want to shake people by the shoulders and say, are you serious about this? Like they’re capitalised. Aside from donations, almost entirely through the sale of ceramic wind chimes and bells and rain chains that are sold through their website and sold through the gift shop on the premises. And, you know, frankly, they’re just not very attractive. You know, this is their sole stock and trade is kind of this ugly line of ceramic bells. And you’re like, you’re gonna fund the development of a city for 5000 people. Um, you know, a gift shop? No, no you’re not.

Doug Belshaw: [00:53:29] It sounds like it’s become a museum in itself. It’s kind of. Yeah.

Adam Greenfield: [00:53:33] It’s worse. It’s become a gated community for 50 people, uh, who, you know, are kind of detached from the main current of of thinking and development in these lines. It’s it’s a blind alley. Uh, and there are some beautiful things about it, don’t get me wrong. Like, I don’t know if this metaphor or this comparison is going to make sense to people who are listening, but if you know the Barbican Centre in London, which is this kind of megastructural housing development and, and cultural centre, and if you know, Kristiania in Copenhagen, which is this, uh, squatted, uh, extraterritorial colony that’s been extracted, uh, from, from the, the fabric of Kristiania since 1970 or so. Uh arcosanti feels like the Barbican. If it were Kristiania, it feels like a bottom up, hand-built megastructure housing complex, social and cultural centre. Um, it’s a very strange place, but it’s also very sad. It’s. It is. It feels. Like a lot of effort and energy and good will and good faith has been invested in something that just doesn’t work very well, or for many people at all.

Doug Belshaw: [00:55:01] Are you, um, pleased that you went, or do you feel like you’ve had your, um, your illusions kind of shattered, or is this useful? Because you can say, actually, in terms of life houses and that kind of stuff like this approach to the new world that we’re building together, like Arcosanti, is not it?

Adam Greenfield: [00:55:22] Yeah, it was hugely useful. I’m really glad I went. Um. It on a couple of levels. I mean, one was, you know, when I was talking to architect friends of mine, you know, they pointed out, well, you’re in the desert southwest, and, you know, there’s a long history of indigenous people living in mesas, you know, in the desert southwest under fairly harsh climatic conditions. They always built under an overhang, right. They would excavate their seven story, um, you know, uh, complexes under the overhang such that it would shadow them against the sun. Solaris didn’t even think to do that. He, you know, the hubris, uh, and, you know, it’s very it’s expressionist in form. It’s the expression of an individual aesthetic sensibility, even though it was built by many. Um, so the very first thing I understood in visiting Arcosanti was that, you know, I might have come up with this notion of a life house, but it can’t just be mine. It’s not my idea. I don’t own it. You have to let go of these things so that they evolve and adapt. Um, any attempt to to kind of keep it too close to home or to say, well, you know, because I came up with this word that means I get to say, what is a life house and what isn’t.

Adam Greenfield: [00:56:43] That’s foolish and counterproductive. And it was a real lesson, um, to see. Arcosanti, as in many ways Soleri’s folly. And and and yes, very much. And evolution into the world of his own limitations as a thinker. And the only way around that is, is to, is to, you know, sail your, you know, let let your, your, your, your ideas out on and sail on the waters themselves and whatever harbour they find and whoever they find in that harbour and, you know, whoever is able to take use of it. It means that you let go of some of the directionality and maybe some of the political intent. Um, and certainly when you’re talking to churches and hierarchical organisations is exactly what you’re referring to. Uh, you know, the, the specifically anarchist, specifically progressive, liberatory values that I would want to encode in this idea. Some people are going to take that and some people are going to dispense with that. And I think that to be too narcissistic or to try and set yourself up as the pope of lighthouses. Um, that’s a bad idea.

Doug Belshaw: [00:58:00] Right, right. We’ve got to call this episode The Pope of Lighthouses. Like that is it’s been noted. Not really, but, um, that is a great place for us to maybe finish this conversation. There were some things I wanted to ask you about. I. Pattern recognition, object horror. Um, some of the things you said in Radical Technologies about, um, being below the API, that kind of stuff. But maybe they can wait until, uh, next conversation. We’d love to have you back on at some point.

Adam Greenfield: [00:58:28] Yeah. I mean, after some interval that’s appropriate. I’d love to come back. I think you’re right. I think we’ve just sort of kind of cracked the case on, on some of these explorations, and I’d love to get into them still further with you. So, so Laura and Doug, thanks so much for having me.

Doug Belshaw: [00:58:43] Thank you for coming on!

Adam Greenfield: [00:58:45] Yeah. Cheers!