A livestream series based on new research by The New Design Congress

THE NEW DESIGN CONGRESS & RECLAIMFUTURES present The Para-Real: Finding the Future in Unexpected Places, a free livestream series about subcultures building livelihoods in spite of platform exploitation and fractured societies. Over 12 episodes streamed weekly, we meet filmmakers who have never met their actors, artists building their own networks of value, documentarians exploring digital identity, and members of resilient subcultures. All of these people share a commonality: they have an innate understanding of the Para-Real, and have seized upon it to better their surroundings.

1PM PDT // 4PM EDT // 9PM BST // 10PM CEST

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Episode 1
"It's Weird, Okay!? I Get It's Weird!":
Finding the Self in the Para-Real with VR Documentarian Joe Hunting

What exactly is The Para-Real, and what effect does it have on us? One answer can be found in how the Para-Real affects identity and intimacy. A Wider Screen (2019) is a remarkable short film that follows VRChat players as their experiences within the platform changes their internal and external lives. The documentary provides an intimate window into new, surreal interactions that immerses users way beyond a 2D screen. After streaming the film, director Joe Hunting reflects on the film, its themes of identity and self-discovery, and the affect of the Para-Real.

1PM PDT // 4PM EDT // 9PM BST // 10PM CEST

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What is the Para-Real?

Between the digital realm and our physical world, The Para-Real is a third space, equally material but poorly understood. The Para-Real is where class politics, economics and the outcomes of hardware and infrastructure design collide. It manifests as the desire for play that turns young Minecraft players into network server administrators, the moments where digital security meets physical safety, the creation of mutually-supportive artist-driven marketplaces or the tension inherent in Virtual Reality’s land-grab in the living room. The Para-Real is the embodiment of the observation, ‘We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.’ 

The future is not a Zoom call. The digital systems we are confined to today merge protocol with platform to prey on isolation and extract value from labour. That we grapple with this incarnation of the digital realm indicates a dominant cartel in decline. In its place is a vacuum. We must resist the immature groupthink of the 90s’ vision of what the Internet can be. The Para-Real is once again contested space.

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We are a research group developing a nuanced understanding of technology's role as a social, political and environmental accelerant. Established 01 Jan 2020, we are a fiscally sponsored project of Simply Secure, a US 501(c)3 nonprofit. 

You can support our work via OpenCollective at any amount. We will never place our work behind a paywall, but subscribers are acknowledged in our work, and gain early access to essays, recordings, live-streams and our planned software tools.