Chasing a Shared Purpose

In our reality, it is easy to get lost in the moment, surrounded by stimuli that require our immediate attention. But do we ever take the time to think about where we are going? Or even better yet, where do we want to go?

To begin the pursuit of answers to these questions, we must first understand the reality that surrounds us and how it affects us. In a sea of ​​information, we must accept the challenge of overcoming our reality gap.

However, understanding the context is not enough if we fail to analyze our own reality from a closer perspective. It is indispensable to know ourselves. Challenging our identity, to discriminate the essential of the disposable.

Finally, we must find a way to build this future. Taking individuals as main inspiration, empathic design will allow us to question the pillars of our society. By redesigning what we assume unchangeable, we can create a future that allows us to chase a true shared purpose.

Subtopics

The following texts delve into the main ideas of each of the subtopics of this edition.

Reality Gap

Reality Gap
True reality diagnosis: what we are really up against
We are living in an exceptional time in history, we have an abundance of information and yet, we can’t say we have gained greater knowledge of our reality. In a world full of data and information, how much of it gets transformed into actual knowledge? How do we rebuild truth in an overload of information, of infinite sources and with no controlling authority? Furthermore, in many cases, the real issue is not about the lack of knowledge, but of its even distribution. In the age of information, truth has become an increasingly slippery concept.
MISCONCEPTIONS ON A MACRO LEVEL: Are we living in a better or a worse world than what we believe?
In the age of Big Data, contrary to what one might expect, exploring our reality is no easy task. Some could even argue that it has just become more difficult throughout time. Are the global living conditions getting worse, or better? It is easy to believe things are getting worse. You just have to look at the news. War, disease, poverty, inequality, injustice. Yet, the absolute number of war deaths has been declining since 19461 and in 2015 child mortality was down to 4.3%, at its lowest point since the 1800’s2. Similar statistics can be found for many other important indicators. Things are not as simple as they seem. We are full of misconceptions surrounding the world we live in. Maybe the best question is: how do we understand our reality on a macro level? Is our knowledge based on data or in misleading beliefs?
Researching and finding hopeful statistics and signs of global progress should not give us reasons to become complacent. We still have lots of work to do, but it is impossible to change our reality if we do remain ignorant. How can we improve the world around us if we do not know what needs improving? Moreover, often it is not about developing a new solution to a problem, but of finding and adapting one that already exists. Academics like Hans and Ola Rosling3 with projects such as Gapminder4 are trying to change the public’s perception of our world. What can we do as individuals to develop a fact-based worldview and help others do the same?
IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA: How to overcome our self-inflicted isolation?
Social media has become a completely new way to discover what is happening in our community and beyond on a day to day basis. However, is it really bringing different people together? Are we building an open space for discussion? In recent years, concepts like “social media echo chamber” or “social confirmation bias” have gained recognition as a current phenomenon linked to our use of the Internet. And this is only more worrying given that, even though people aged between 18-24 have been using the Internet as their primary source for news for several years, they are now specifying “social media” as their main source5.
Words like “fake news”6 and “post-truth”7 seem to be keywords in almost every summary of 2016 and will probably keep gaining relevance during 2017. The anonymity fostered by the Internet allows a free pass for those who create or consciously spread a fake report. In the midst of a climate of distrust in the system, this is even more troubling when organizations and even states have the ability to influence people in such a deceptive way. What is the true impact of social media in our current reality? Regardless of the answer, it is not inherently a problem of social media but of our way of using it.
Impartiality has never been a strength of the human nature and these new tools have only given us better ways to surround ourselves with our own perspectives and isolate from those who differ, driving us farther away from an integral view of what is happening around us. How can we take advantage of the power of social media to foster integration instead of isolation? How are we going to deal with these issues moving forward?
EXPLOITING THE POWER OF INFORMATION: What can we do to use the tools available to us to their maximum potential?
“If we are to face up to global challenges, from tackling climate change, poverty and disease to standing up for gender equality, better education for all and human rights, we need to share information, facilitate dialogue and act.” - Michael Moller8
All these challenges are not meant to discourage us from the great possibilities new communication technologies give us. The Internet remains one of the most powerful tools available to us. More than 46% of the world population were active users during 20169. There is still a long way to go before everyone has access to the Internet, but a lot can be done with what has already been achieved. Initiatives like the Geneva apps10 are trying to collect a huge amount of data available to give leaders and changemakers the necessary knowledge to change our reality. But how can regular citizens gain access and benefit from this kind of tools?
Getting the right information and knowledge to the right place, at the right time could literally save lives. Access to accurate medical information or live reports of natural disasters or armed conflicts could give opportunities to the most vulnerable among us, which were unthinkable before the Internet. But as any powerful tool, it is a double-edged sword. Online, a doctor’s advice can look the same as one from your next-door neighbor, without the white coat to distinguish them. How can we obtain high levels of accuracy and safety without limiting freedom of speech and plurality of voices?
In the solution to these problems lies the key to understanding the world we live in, free of misconceptions. It will be impossible to change our reality if we don’t overcome this Reality Gap we have locked ourselves in.
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Challenging Identity

Challenging Identity
Human inventory: our true resources.
For us to be able to explore the possibilities of working together in a shared project that exceeds the differences among us, we need to understand and question the motivations that make us do the things we do and think the way we think. When we talk about the concept of identity we can relate it with a lot of different ideas such as language, gender, history, nationality, home, career, football team, among many others. We think of identity as the unique way in which each person absorbs and understands the culture that surrounds them, their experiences, their readings, their friendships. What role does our own self-concept play in our decision making? And in the way we think of each other?
Nowadays, the incredibly fast development of information technology and transportation allows the mass movement of personalities, both physically and virtually. Migration allows the exchange and collision between people with completely different understandings of the same reality. Social networks and the rest of mass communication technologies allow the same level of perspective collision, at an even much higher rate. The visibility of different perceptions on the same phenomenon is now more possible than ever before. How do we react to this clash between such different perspectives? Is there any aspect of ourselves that might be more vulnerable to the shock than other? What do we do when we meet a new way of thinking?
THE OVERLAP: We are built layer by layer
We can understand our life as a never-ending decision making process. Some decisions are more contemplated than others, but each is triggered by a unique pattern of thought that differentiates us from the rest. The great amount of different factors that take part in this process, build our own way of making decisions, thus our own identity.
Sixteen year old Amaiya Zafar, wants to participate in the boxing olympics using her hijab. Her motivations to do so instead of simply abiding to the existing rules even if these are flawed, makes us question what are the aspects that take part in each of our decisions. If we look for the cause that makes us act a certain way, we will possibly find many causes that overlap rather than pinpoint a specific factor. What role does our religion play in the way we react to the events that happen around us? Does it influence our decision making? And if we think about our nationality, can we make the same questions? What about our sports team?
There are people who live most of their lives in the same place, surrounded by the same culture. Others live in many different places throughout their lifetime. In any case, the concept of nationality seems to be easily challenged in today’s reality. People moving across the globe, traditions mixing, languages merging, completely different cultures being interconnected through the internet. What are the aspects that take part in the building of our nationality? Is there some kind of hierarchy that structures each of these aspects? How do all of them influence the way in which we understand the world?
There are approximately 7000 different languages in the world today, 83% of them are spoken by only 0.2% of the world’s population. Estimations suggest that, on average, a language dies every two weeks1. If you were the last member of your church or religious affiliation, what would you feel? It is absolutely necessary that we understand what drives us to get involved in our reality, and understand as well what are the factors that we give more importance to in making us a unique person in the world.
Since 2014, Facebook offers about 54 different options regarding gender identity. How considered is the choice of one form of identity over the other? It is possible that from the thousands of different aspects that might influence the way we see the world, some were not even thought about consciously by most of us. How much time did you spend considering why you choose red over yellow, or football over tennis, or medicine over literature? Are some choices more important than others? Do they influence to the same extent when we realize what makes us uncomfortable in our lives?
USING OUR COMPLEXITY: Enjoy the puzzle
It is possible to reduce a person or group to only one of all the aspects of their identity to predict behaviour, make social math simpler, interpret each other’s actions. What candidate will group A vote for, what product will group B buy. What consequences might simplifying complex identities have? Why is it necessary? In the same manner, other practices might be used by people to handle their relationships in the different spheres of their lives, perhaps because they make it easier. The need of knowing each other’s nationality, the urgency of asking for a newborn’s gender as soon as they arrive to the delivery room or even the typical small-talk question: “So, what do you do for a living?”. Could some of these manners be obsolete today? Is it possible to define some kind of traditionalism in social practices that we might need to overcome? There is a tendency to look for definition after definition trying to provide a frame in which to structure and somehow organize society. Nevertheless, thinking through spectrums rather than binaries might be a better fit. We can stop thinking about our complexity as a riddle needed to be solved but rather as an endless source of solutions.
In the end, we can think of each person as a unique puzzle of titanic proportions, made up by thousands of different pieces. Now, it is worth asking ourselves: Are all of them completely necessary? Do we know each and every piece that shapes the way we live in the world? We can find and challenge the concepts that somehow barricade our way to a better future, by recognizing the complexity and intricate patterns of our motivations. Is it possible to create tools that can help us thrive towards a shared purpose based on self discovery?
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Empathic Design

Empathic Design
The tool to shape our future
How can we design something for someone we don’t know? From a simple product to a whole functioning city, empathic design seeks the way to achieve the ultimate design that will meet the user’s true need. But, can this concept be extrapolated from the business world to every-day life? Better education methods, innovative working environments or even more inclusive and representative government tools. This sheer concept is the door to a new way of thinking regarding design, disrupting the classical view and taking the final user as the principal source of inspiration and creativity. Hence, changing the rules of the game.
SUSTAINABILITY: Architecture, Energy Sources and More
This way of portraying design can touch every aspect of our lives or even help those most in need and make their lives simpler. Just stop designing for awards and start designing for people1, for those who really need it or even for our future population. Start designing to help the coming generations by creating sustainable architecture, applying solar energy2, devising better disposal systems. There is no limit.
HEALTH: Medical Innovation
Empathic design merged with technological innovation and bright minds can reach anywhere, even medicine. Can you imagine printing an organ from your own cells when you need it? In the US, the national donor waiting list grows by 300 people every month and the odds of even finding a correct match are low. Bioprinting organs would solve this supply and demand problem, saving millions of lives. Suddenly, bioengineers can build living sculptures with 3D printers. This technology could prove invaluable for medical schools and investigation centers by printing organs with tumors to practice on, testing how tissues respond to drugs in real time, among others.
In addition, scientists are thinking of bioprinting bionic organs, in other words, body parts that don't just restore, but extend human ability. Nowadays, bionic limbs3 exist and are changing the lives of many individuals, such as those who suffered lost limbs in accidents or wars.
However, we might ask, where is the limit? Where do we draw the line in extending human life? As medicine advances to incorporate electronics into our bodies, we should also address the ethics in all of this. Moral concerns might be raised about the weaponization of bionic devices. Moreover, if people with means started replacing their healthy organs for enhanced ones, then those without access to these enhancements would have a hard time competing. Will economic status determine who is worthy of evolving?
HUMANITARIAN: Apps, Products and More
We live in a world of constant change, fast technological advancement and uninterrupted communication. So, could we use these factors in our advantage, aiming to help people in need? Through design with an empathic purpose we can really make a change. Can you imagine radically improving someone’s life with a simple touch on your cellphone?4 Studies have shown that on average we touch our phones around 2600 times a day. Why don’t we use this daily task for the better good?
There are various Apps that can do this, helping homeless people get in touch with their families5 or having a list in your phone of what they really need6 and even aiding a blind person to read through an App7. But you don’t see many examples or they are hard to find. Are we so used to a materialistic and shallow use of technology that we have become blind to ways of exploiting its greater potential?
SYSTEMS: Politics, Education and Corporate Cultures
In addition, we can even address the core of it all and question the system, questioning how we interact with the people in power and if they can really hear our voices and represent us. We should question our democratic system.8
Although technology has been blamed for spreading fake news and creating social disruption, well-designed technology could have the power to close the gap between politicians and civilians. Over the past decade less than 0.01% of Silicon Valley’s investments on technology design has been directed to improve democracy and political systems. So, why don’t we leave Pokemon Go for a second and try to code to solve real life problems? Luckily, some have already done this by creating a collaborative platform for citizens to upload suggestions that could help the administration, but we have great room for improvement.9 Should we use empathic design for what people need or what they actually desire? Is there a way to try and achieve both?
However, technology is just one gateway to rethink the system, we should find different ways to criticize and upgrade the society that we live in. Political, legal, educational and justice systems… these are all complex structures that are rarely examined and hardly ever changed. Ask yourself, why do we spend so much money in keeping a person in jail, when we could reinvest it upfront to prevent this from happening in the first place?10 We would put our resources to a much better use by developing educational programs or a platform to collaboratively ideate solutions to give opportunities, instead of spending millions of dollars to keep people locked up.
Empathic design could even reach great corporations, helping rethink how they relate to their workers, Google is a great example of this. Reassessing current bureaucracy in companies and trying to update the model, thinking how it can reach a more collaborative and motivational work environment.11
Finally…
Viewing design through empathy, through the eyes of real people, we will finally shape our own future.
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*The opinions and ideas presented in these texts were written as triggers to facilitate writing the essay needed to apply to the SABF. They must not be taken as an undeniable truth. In case of disagreeing with some of the ideas, applicants are encouraged to express it in their texts.