Imagined Futures with Richard Wilhelmer

Who is Richard Wilhelmer?
I am Richard Wilhelmer. I’m Managing Director and one of the founders of Beluga. Beluga is a strategic design consultancy. What we do is combine research and classical methods of market research with innovation and consumer-centric design. We work to bridge the gap between gathering and interpreting knowledge, to create new products and strategies for corporates and foundations.

I also have a background in art and film. In art, a heavy focus on digital which means more around technology and installations. In film, I do science fiction, non-fiction and documentaries. I have also worked as a creative director for many years.

This interview is for Imagined Futures, a series where we talk about what people envision as we move towards a more ambitious future. So, Richard describe your ideal Imagined Future in 3 words?

Authenticity. Diversity. Open-Mindedness.

My science fiction films were always very dystopian. Sometimes it can be hard for me to create a utopia. Since I became a father I have become more aware of the dangers in life but I also see the opportunities. Sometimes I just get troubled with the thought, “please don’t let this or that happen”?

My hope for our society is that it will be driven by individual human beings. This may sound very obvious but I think that we tend to synchronize our opinions. The word “opinion” has become a vague term. Especially when we start to discuss this in the post-factual era we find ourselves in. Facts and opinions can be kind of mixed up with each other. People have become afraid to speak their actual opinions and therefore we could become a grey mass of people that are easy to manipulate and share the same sets of values for better and for worse. I hope that there continues to be diversity, especially in mindsets in our society. For my kids, I hope that they can have this possibility.

Individual and personal opinions are a very strong and important factor in society and their overall value are under-appreciated. People today sometimes have a tendency to go back into the Biedermeier times, an age where life didn’t happen in the open but in small communities that didn’t want to share or be open. Communities that keep their opinions as a secret and are afraid to speak out loud. This can lead to an outcome like the increase of political correctness. On the one hand, it sounds great and it is a good thing. The idea behind it is about being respectful, being aware of other people’s feelings, it’s about being open but at the same time, it can be restrictive.

If we look at the bigger picture it is a philosophical ideology and way of living that we are examining. If people do not want to have an opinion or stance which they themselves develop and think through it can cause life to begin to become a pursuit of enjoyment and not taking anything seriously. Ones purpose in life can become just being with oneself and personal pleasures. If artificial intelligence keeps taking more and more of our work then the future for humans will become more concerned with distractions and pleasure-seeking. The quest in life will be to find and seek out joyful things and all the other things in society might be centrally controlled and people will be disinterested.

Whatever future we are heading towards it is important that we have a society where we work towards understanding ourselves. Where we are able to co-exist with one another even if we have different appearances, opinions and more. Further a place, where people aren’t afraid to have open discussions about their opinions and views. Those would be important ingredients in the future.

How do you build into your day to day life as an entrepreneur, creative and filmmaker, the things in the world that you believe should exist and you want to see?

The reason why I have film and art projects next to my commercial work is because art and film is a great medium to create something that is an expression of your personal and individual opinion. For example, I have always been interested in this idea of what are societal norms or what makes something normal? I explored this topic in my last film Anomalie. In a society driven by standards, it is all about standardization because otherwise, nothing would work. I am interested in what is a social standard? and what is the “normal” for human beings? in a very complex world with an overload of inputs.

There are just so many different sources, opinions and facts. We are seeing the development of a pathological society. A society where so many people are depressed, we are seeing an increase of burnout and other very abstract consequences of the standards that society has created. Then the question becomes is this really happening or is this something we are being told? That suddenly being sad in our society is really bad. Which it is true that if you don’t feel comfortable with being sad for a while then you should do something about it but now it has become a social norm that being sad is something really bad. Which is not true for everybody because there is a very beautiful aspect of being sad, which is melancholy. Also, for example if you take the idea of laziness, it could become one of the new positive phenomena.

These kinds of topics and questions are ongoing discussions that we will need to have as a society and within ourselves. So, what I work to do through my art, work and expression is to raise these kinds of questions. To challenge and open discussions to help people in exploring, understanding and developing their own individual opinions.

If there is a time capsule in the distant future with a message from Richard, what would your message say?

It is important to look at the present to understand what might be relevant to say in the future. Today, we are all living in a system, especially with how we are educated that people feel they have to perform for an abstract and bigger idea. In the current paradigm, it is capitalism. The concept that we need to do more and to produce more whether that be for your career, company or our environment in order for everyone to be wealthy and happy. We are educated into the idea today that you go and do work that you probably really hate or might not even understand what you do for a larger ideal. In the future, our education will change because we will no longer live in a system dominated by individual wealth or materialism. If the world is not about earning money – people will have to find “work” that they do because it has a purpose and personal satisfaction for them.

My hope for people in the future is they will be encouraged to live driven by curiosity. In this future, most people don’t have to do anything in the utopian version we all live in health and wealth in a dystopian version I don’t even want to think about what it might look like. Even in a nearer future we are already seeing the world change with the rise of people wanting to better understand themselves and what they want out of life. These popular trends and ideas around finding yourself, doing retreats and finding your true identity are happening right now. They might sound a bit silly but only when compared to the current system we are in which emphasizes being high performing and hyper-analytical.

In the future external motivations will no longer distinguish you as they do now, you will have to be a person that knows their own purpose and knows what they want and can find pleasure in just being alive. For example, if you are in the countryside or in nature and you find yourself somewhere where there is nothing, for most of the people that can be a very scary and challenging setup. What would you do? This is kind of where we find ourselves as a society, moving towards focusing more on the topic of consciousness. Your own consciousness will be your biggest and most challenging partner in the future. Where we will try to understand questions like: How do you work with this consciousness if you no longer focus your effort on putting numbers into a computer or driving your car without crashing?

With these themes in mind on what I think might be relevant in the future. I think my message would be: let me experience this future life with you. From a lot of these thinkers today like Ray Kurzweil or Peter Thiel they are discussing these ideas like uploading your consciousness and going beyond the physical body. Hopefully that is something that can happen for me. I wonder though would they think it was weird that they were this version of human? Would they think it is silly the things we were concerned with? I would also tell them to look back and don’t forget where you have been and came from. That there was a time when people thought that it was a good idea to have a diesel engine, or smoke or move into big intoxicating cities. Looking back from the future I’m sure it could seem pretty crazy the world they live in and the world we live in.

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