12.16.21
Lee Moreau + David S. Kong | Audio

The Futures Archive S1E9: The Mask


What's in your microbiome? What do you want more of, and what do you want to keep out? On this episode of The Futures Archive Lee Moreau and David Sun Kong discuss the mask, microbes, and the importance of designing with the microbiome not against it.

With additional insights from Dr. John David Ike, Nancy Tomes, Katherine and Sabrina Paseman, and Claudia Pasquero.

Lee asked David to descibe community biology labs, like the one he runs at MIT:
As the field of synthetic biology started to take off, you started to see people outside of academia asking: Who else gets to participate in this endeavor? And so folks started organizing laboratories like biology labs outside of the academic context. This really started to take off around 2009, where formalized laboratories got set up that were citizen led spaces. A lot of the work that we've been working on in the Media Lab has really been trying to engage thoughtfully in that and doing it in an ethical way as well, which is another really big part of the conversation.

Lee Moreau is President of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation consultancy based in Boston, and a Lecturer in MIT’s D Minor program.

David Sun Kong is a Synthetic Biologist, community organizer, musician, and photographer and the director of the MIT Media Lab's Community Biotechnology Initiative.

Dr. John David Ike is a research fellow through the National Clinician Scholars Program housed within the Institute for Health Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan and a Clinical Lecturer in the Division of Hospital Medicine at the University of Michigan.

Nancy Tomes is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at Stony Brook University and the author of many books including The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life.

Katherine and Sabrina Paseman are the co-founders of Fix the Mask.

Claudia Pasquero is an architect, curator, author and educator. She is founder and co-director of ecoLogicStudio in London, Lecturer and director of the Urban Morphogenesis Lab at the Bartlett UCL, Professor of Landscape Architecture and founder of the Synthetic Landscape Lab at Innsbruck University, and senior staff at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.


Subscribe to The Futures Archive on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. And you can browse the show archive.

Kathleen Fu created the illustrations for each episode.

A big thanks to this season’s sponsor, Automattic.

And to our education partner, Adobe. For lesson plans created for each epsiode, visit Adobe's Education Exchange.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to The Futures Archive, a show about human centered design, where this season we'll take an object, look for the human at the center, and keep asking questions. I'm Lee Moreau...

David Kong
...and I'm David Kong.

Lee Moreau
On each episode we're going to start with an object. Today, that object is the mask. We'll look at the history of that object from our perspective as designers who've done work in human centered design. Not just how the object looks and feels, but also the relationship between that thing and the people it was designed for,

David Kong
and with other humans too.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic. Later on, we'll hear from a member of Automatics Design Council, Pablo Honey. The Futures Archives' education partner this season is Adobe.

Lee Moreau
Hello, David, how are you?

David Kong
Lee, I am fantastic. I'm super excited to be here with you.

Lee Moreau
0Thank you so much for joining us today. This podcast is about human-centered design, and this particular episode is going to go much deeper than we've ever gone with where is the human in human centered design, and so I'm really excited that you're here to join us in this conversation.

David Kong
Well, it is an honor to be here and, yeah, excited to dive in.

Lee Moreau
So you've spoken to my class a few times at MIT and we've collaborated on a couple of projects, but I really wanted you to be in this conversation today because at the beginning of the pandemic, you were sort of my Fauci on Instagram, right— on Instagram, you kept posting. I was like, Do we wear masks? Do we not wear masks? But it was like, I just felt like the real stuff was coming from you through all of those post and the interviews that you were doing. So I felt like there was a really important time where I was leaning, you didn't know it at the time, but I was really leaning on you.

David Kong
That is really, really cool to hear. I'm glad that you were one of the few people that was actually listening to my rantings at 2:00 in the morning in February.

Lee Moreau
So for listeners, it'd be great if you could kind of share a little bit about your work and about your role at the Media Lab.

David Kong
Sure, very happy to. So I direct this initiative at the Media Lab called the Community Biotechnology Initiative. And so my current work is this exploration of the life sciences and bioengineering, so synthetic biology in particular, which is a research area all about engineering the living world and biotech. But thinking about that context explicitly as it relates to equity and justice issues. So thinking about, you know, what, communities ultimately have access to these technologies, who's ultimately shaping it, who has agency, right. And then, you know, again, going back to that, the great class that you've been teaching at MIT— design across scales, you know, how do we design for the living world with ideally values in a worldviews that ultimately connect with agency and participation, so it's super diverse communities all around the world. So my work ends up being part like inventing and building tools, but a huge part of it is actually constructing what, again you and I are familiar with this larger term called super minds in a way, so thinking about all of the people and all of the organizations and institutions that comprise the life sciences and how do we structure them in ways that maximize justice and equity? And so that involves things like, you know, organizing big events to help the larger network, what are called community biology labs to meet and convene so people all around the world building grassroots laboratories. And basically helping to think about how to really construct and apply organizing principles and collective intelligence practices to really constructing this big global movement.

Lee Moreau
For somebody who's not that familiar with this space, like what is community biotechnology? You kind of see it as if it's obvious, like, Oh yeah, community biology labs, no problem, but this is kind of a new thing, no?

David Kong
Yeah. So, so you know, in that course of kind of the early 2000s, as the field of synthetic biology started to take off, you started to see basically other people that were outside of academia asking: Well, who else gets to participate in this endeavor? And so folks started organizing laboratories like biology labs, but doing it outside of the academic context. And so this kind of field of quote unquote do-it-yourself biology really started to take off around twenty eight thousand nine, where really formalized laboratories started getting set up that were outside of traditional industry academic institutions and really citizen led spaces. And so now the ability for, you know, quote unquote almost anybody around the world to participate in the life sciences has really increased dramatically over the past, you know, 10 plus years. And a lot of the work that we've been working on in the Media Lab has really been trying to engage thoughtfully in that and also really doing it in an ethical way as well, which is another really big part of the conversation.

Lee Moreau
Now I want to talk a little bit more about the topic at hand today, and that's human centered design, but specifically, we're going to talk about the mask. As my personal Fauci and my coach in all things COVID related, I know that you wear a mask, but I'm curious, what is your go-to mask?

David Kong
I actually, one that I like a lot is the Air Queen. So I don't want to be like a product endorser right now. But one of my colleagues that I really, really want to shout out and acknowledge is Jill Crittenden. So Jill Crittenden, she is based in the McGovern Institute, I believe, at MIT. Jill has done some of the most large scale experimentation, actually with masks and materials to try to figure out which ones actually provide the best filtration of particles and so on. And so the Air Queen is as a Korean manufacturer, they make these, but they're really quite nice. They've got, you know, kind of electrostatic barrier that you find in surgical masks, that's one of the big reasons why those masks work quite well. And yeah, and it's got a pretty nice fit. It essentially simulates the characteristics of like an N95 masks, but it's, you know, it's comfortable, it's, you know, pretty, pretty nice to wear.

Lee Moreau
OK, that's helpful. You know, typically I'm wearing a black fabric washable mask, and part of that is that it accessorize as well with my fashion, right? So, you know, and that's big, become part of that. So when we first started, it was like, I'll put anything on my face I can get, that's going to keep me safe. But now it's like, I also want to kind of have it look good and like, go with my shoes.

David Kong
Oh yeah, of course.

Lee Moreau
So the way we're going to start this is we're going to hear from some experts in the field of masks. We'll hear from some designers, some historians, some engineers who can talk about the history of the mask and kind of give us a sense of where this comes from. And this is what we've heard so far.

John David Ike
It isn't until really the 1600s through the 17th century that we start to see the medical mask be used by physicians to treat patients.

Lee Moreau
Dr. John David Ike is a research fellow and instructor at the University of Michigan. He's talking about how medical masks start going back to the plague in the Black Death, right. And we've all seen kind of pictures of this people wearing these sort of like long black cloaks and these like masks that come out like a beak, right.

John David Ike
It has these nostrils on the side of it, and these nostrils were, kind of served a purpose that really tied into the prevailing thought of where disease came from at the time, which is something called miasma theory. And this concept that the reason that people got sick is they inhaled something or they consumed something in the air that was rotting or contained disease. And so the idea that the mask was trying to solve was that: Hey, if I take this big structure and I fill it with these herbs and spices that in breathing in the air through these side nostril pieces that we would somehow purify the air and cleanse it.

Lee Moreau
This notion of my miasma theory comes a little bit from a sense that we have to keep certain things out of our body. That odors and and air quality has some sense of— good air is good for you, and bad air is bad for you, and that's associated with smells and other particles and things like that. And it's already at this point where intuitively we're starting to design sort of with the environment outside, but also with our microbiome and a kind of awareness that we have to keep the stuff that's out from getting in. And that was really maybe the the first experience historically of thinking about the world in this way. But what was your first experience of thinking about designing with the microbiome?

David Kong
Shall we say a little bit about what the microbiome is for this audience?

Lee Moreau
That might be really useful context, yeah.

David Kong
OK. So just very, very briefly, microbes, we're talking about bacteria, we're talking about archeae, we're talking about all these little tiny little organisms are essentially everywhere, right? We're talking, you know, all over our bodies in particular. So when we talk about the human microbiome or the human microbiota, we're talking about the hundreds of trillions of organisms that are on our skin, in our mouth, in our gut. So we're basically these super organisms that are human plus microorganisms. And then when we look at the living world, the built context, again, you know, basically every surface that you can think about that is part of the living world, certainly in the natural world but even in the built environment, you know, subways, you know, inside our homes, et cetera, microbes are present. And so when we talk about the microbiome, technically, that's referring to the genetic material that's that's present in these microorganisms. So you know, you look in the human genome, we've got, you know, billions of base pairs of DNA. But the microbiome and the human microbiome, there's even more genetic material. I don't want to quote a number because I forget exactly what it is right now, but I'm much more than even the billions of base pairs that are present in the human genome are present in the microbes that are inhabiting the body. So a massive, massive influence on on, you know, human life, but also the living world.

Lee Moreau
And your first experience, perhaps or maybe a level of awareness with this?

David Kong
Yeah. So I would say, you know, for me, you know, I was, before I joined the Media Lab as part of this bioengineering group at Lincoln Laboratory at MIT and I led this project on designing an artificial gut. And so, so that was really kind of my first real deep foray into this area of microbiome, but specifically like physical artifacts that connected to these microbes. The idea that these microbes can influence our cognition, in particular the microbes in the gut when we talk about humans— there's these deep, deep correlations between the content of these microbes and their ability to influence, you know, neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, so mood, cognition. You know, we've known about historically in ancient culture this relationship between the gut and the brain. But it turns out through through western science and through the microbiome, we've really been able to establish clear linkages between, you know, what happens in the microbes in the gut and how we think and feel and so on. And so this first design object that we're working on is this 3-D printed artificial gut. We were trying to create an engineering environment where we could actually allow researchers to prototype different types of microbial communities. So if you can imagine that certain combinations of microbes are up regulating or down regulating the production of certain short chain fatty acids, certain types of key molecules that influence these different aspects of human behavior— well, it might be nice if we could actually up design communities of organisms that promote health or promote better cognition or whatever it might be, therapeutic benefits, et cetera. And so that was kind of the genesis of this project. Could you make sort of a lab on a chip quote unquote or a gut on a chip quote unquote, that could actually simulate the physiology of a human gut and allow researchers to prototype different types of microbial communities? So that, I think, was my first really big experience in that in that area.

Lee Moreau
I love this because, you know, this is a podcast about human centered design, and you're basically talking about designing a human as a simulation for further operation. I think that's kind of a beautiful circle that you just painted there.

David Kong
Great.

Lee Moreau
So we're going to go back and hear a little bit more about the mask, and you really can't separate the evolution of the mask from the scientific advances that are starting to take place in the middle of the 19th century.

John David Ike
We start to have the origins of germ theory be introduced, and it isn't until kind of the late 1800s that we see the mask that we commonly interpret in the medical world come to be. And they started trying to say, Well, how do we protect the patients from getting sick? We need to keep the wounds protected. And one of the ways that we could perhaps do that is to wear a cloth covering over our face to prevent any sort of bacteria or microscopic particles that we can't see, that we have good scientific evidence to suggest cause disease. If we can protect our face when we're operating on patients, then therefore we might have lower rates of infection and complication from that.

Lee Moreau
There is an awareness of of germ theory of disease and viruses and microscopic organisms,

Nancy Tomes
With the microscopes they had available by the late 19th century— there was your proof.

Lee Moreau
Nancy Tomes is an American historian, author and distinguished professor at Stony Brook University. She writes about the intersection of disease and understanding.

Nancy Tomes
I was blown away by the creativity that many different kinds of Americans displayed of taking this idea that there are invisible germs everywhere that are menacing you and turning them into devices that could protect or allegedly protect the household or your body.

Lee Moreau
So Nancy's basically rewinding the clock maybe 150 years to go back to a time where we were starting to create all these inventions to solve problems of these barriers, to keep things out or prevent them from coming in, at least. So patents for the toilet and the kind of s-trap that helps facilitate that, we have window screens so we can keep bugs out because you know you don't want bugs in your food, and disease. You know, there is a kind of awareness and a real investment into hygienic things, things that would kind of make the world your world feel more hygienic.

David Kong
It's interesting, right? I mean, I think a lot of the clips that you've been playing, you know, in the medical context, there are, I think, a lot clearer reasons why you really should be wearing masks. What I would love to see when we think about design objects and you know what masks could be used for is— how do we get the kind of medical benefit that's being described in some of these clips, but combine it with features that can enable, you know, in a way just like better, you know, human experiences, right? Like we right now, one of the biggest issues that I have with masks, it's like just the fact that you cannot project and speak vocally as easily.

Lee Moreau
You're facing that in the classroom, right, every day.

David Kong
Exactly every single day, every single day you're sitting in class and it's like people want to talk and communicate, and it's just really difficult to do that. And it's funny. You know, I'm I'm a huge sports fan, so I'm watching these like, you know, these basketball games, whatever. And it's like, you've got these, these coaches that are like, they got their mask on. And then all of a sudden they pull the mask down to like, shout and yell at the referee or their players or whatever. And it's like: Dude the whole point of the mask is to prevent you from like shouting, because that's when the projectiles, and that's where all of the virus particles, if you were infected, come out. So it's like people are not using the mask in the medical context where they should be used. And this, to me, is a design problem, right? It's like, how can we better design masks that actually can enable us to have the medical protection and efficacy that we need there while enabling us to speak at normal volumes, right? There are so many of these design features that I think, you know, both right now, but looking into the future that we can make some really, you know, critical innovations I think that can get the both the benefit of the medical context that we're in, but combine it with all of the features of kind of just regular human engagement that um we really need.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automatic, which is building a new web and any workplace all around the world.

Pablo Honey
So I'm Pablo. People know me as Pablo Honey. I live in Brooklyn, New York, but I'm originally from Galicia, Spain, I'm one of the two members of the Design Council.

Lee Moreau
The Design Council of leads design at Automattic.

Pablo Honey
Designing at Automattic is a bit different from other places. We operate in 80 countries. We work with 99 languages, so that makes it a little more challenging to make sure we connect with everyone, and we also are inclusive of everyone's background, opinion and perspective on the work we're doing. So in that perspective, just the global setting is a little bit different.

Lee Moreau
Design at Automattic has room for new voices.

Pablo Honey
What we look for when we want to hire designers, which we are, it can be boiled down to: great talent and good human beings, no matter where you are with a mission driven approach to your work.

Lee Moreau
Designing a better web. Join us at Automattic dot come slash design. That's auto-m-a double t-i-c dot com slash design.

Lee Moreau
We were talking earlier about like having a mask that kind of works with are either fashion sense or our way of life, do we feel safe wearing it, how safe do we feel — so I want to explore that a little bit with one of our experts as well.

Katherine Paseman
I think one thing Sabrina and I have been really careful to do is, this isn't a product that we've branded as a lifestyle product.

Lee Moreau
Katherine and Sabrina Paseman are the co-founders of Fix the Mask. They're the makers of this sort of mask brace that goes around a typical surgical mask and gives a tighter and a what they have defined as a safer fit. They're trying to use science to really understand what is the optimal mask that can keep people as safe as possible that can do the maximum filtration and things like that.

Katherine Paseman
Most people care more about how they look than how well they're being protected. And then there's another group of people who don't care at all about how they look, they would rather not get COVID. But I think now people are starting to fall in the middle where they want some sort of balance between something that looks good for them, but also gives them high quality protection.

Lee Moreau
I know there are lots of designers that are working on this problem right now, including the this team that fix the mask, and they're trying to balance the esthetics with the efficacy. And they also talk about color as well. Just from a basic perspective of like, I remember when we first— at the beginning of the pandemic, everything was kind of like white and blue surgical hygiene. And then we've kind of seen a lot of transformation. Let's hear a bit more from Sabrina of Fix the Mask.

Sabrina Paseman
The color choice that we chose for our product was very intentional. We chose a light color because we wanted to emphasize cleanliness and reiterate, you know, the cleanliness of like doctors coats and such like that.

Lee Moreau
So leaning into the science, leaning into efficacy and medicine, they're trying to signal, right, they're trying to say, like, this thing works. It is actually not a fashion accessory. It's something that's effective.

David Kong
The idea that quote unquote works is like something that is white or blue or like has a certain kind of color and design aesthetic also, in a way, is this very western mindset, and it connects with sterility. And I bring this up in the context of going back to my earlier remarks around community biotechnology and Community Bio. We have colleagues that are all around the world trying to do the life sciences, right? And I had some colleagues in Africa, and I want to shout out Thomas Mboa and the Mboa lab, they're like looking at these white lab coats that come from the West, and they're like: Why the heck do we have to have these, these lab coats that are just these like sterile, terrible looking, like white objects? And, you know, Thomas and his colleagues in Cameroon are like— We need to decolonized like this this notion that, you know, sterility and cleanliness has to be associated with, like just pure white object. Right? And so in the Mboa lab in Cameroon are lab coats are like these super vibrant colors that they connect with their cultural context and like, you know, with their with their local community and culture. And it's like, yeah, like why are lab coats this kind of white sterile thing? Like, why can't they be vibrant and have all these colors and this other aesthetic? So I think it's really interesting how we've kind of through through what you've been sharing with these clips. So we've sort of associate it, at least in the West, this idea that, like cleanliness and sterility means a white or a light pale blue object when it's like: Why does that have to be the case, right? We could actually design things that do not look like that and have that same protection.

Lee Moreau
I think we just trace 500 years of inertia moving us into that direction, which, you know, which informs, you know, cultural perceptions and the directions that designers take— is that the only way to do it? No, that's and I think this kind of change that you're talking about is fantastic. So, so aesthetic considerations and the things that we, you know, we think about design, we think about: Does it look good? Does it work? Who is designed for? These are all kind of things that we bring into design conversations and design processes. And I think in this conversation, we've talked both about the things that are outside that we wear like masks and so forth. But we're also talking about the design of the inside. You know, some of your work is about what do we put into our bodies as a way to create change in a very similar way that you'd create a new product or a new offering you'd put in a store. Can you talk about a little bit of that in the context of human centered design?

David Kong
Yeah, really interesting. So your audience may or may not be aware, but there's this really interesting kind of emerging field called microbial therapeutics. And so part of the question from a design perspective is like, could you design a set- a community of organisms that if you introduce them into the gut that they might have some type of a of a benefit to that, that human. You might have like a community of 100 different organisms and who is there and how do those interact with each other, and then what happens when we put them inside a human, right?

Lee Moreau
It's sort of like the dinner party of microbes basically in your gut, right?

David Kong
Totally, totally. What's the cocktail party look like, right? And so that is one aspect of it. There's another area that connecting back to our earlier conversation or the earlier idea around synthetic biology, a huge part of what synthetic biology is, is actually engineering microbes, so that they actually can do something different than what they normally are doing in nature, right. So the other context with the cocktail party is taking microbes that already have some function in nature, but you're putting them together in an interesting way. For the engineered microbes— this is like synthesizing DNA molecules that may not have existed before in nature, encoding instructions into those DNA molecules that you been then put into a microbe that gives it a new superpower that could be, you know, produce metabolite x or glow in the dark or, you know, whatever your superpower might be. And so you could introduce engineered microbes that are also producing molecules that might have a positive impact on the body. So that set of design that's happening both from an engineering perspective and also from a community design perspective, is part of the cutting edge of what's happening right now in this field of what are called microbial therapeutics or cellular therapeutics is another way to call it. And the other the other thing I'll just mention here kind of in closing this thread, like we already do this a lot in the context of prebiotics and probiotics, which again, some of your listeners may take. Prebiotics are basically kind of foods that encourage the growth of certain types of microbes, and probiotics are actually microbes themselves. Now, both prebiotics and probiotics tend to be transient, like there's things that you take in that kind of just flow through the body. Whereas what we're talking about right now with these these kind of microbial therapeutics, these are intended to kind of go into your body and stay there, right. So that's a a whole process called engraftment, which again, is very, very, you know, technically challenging and is very much at the forefront of this field.

Lee Moreau
So where we want to go now is to think the scale of the biome is increasing, right, so we're talking about little things that we're not talking about the human body. What if we extend that to the built environment? I know there's a lot of research being done in sewers and Cambridge to try to determine like how's the COVID outbreak going based on the sewage that we can track and test. But the scale can get bigger, right?

David Kong
Oh my gosh, yes. So here again, you know, want to shout out Mariana Matus and her work with this incredible company called Bio Bot. Mariana was a Ph.D. student as part of the Eric Alm groups, so for those of you interested, please look into the work of Eric Alm— he also directed the MIT Microbiome Center. And Eric's group, along with Mariana as part of her PhD thesis, developed some of the first sensors that would ultimately go into sewer systems that can basically a monitor the content of not just microbes, but other kinds of of entities, including the now, as we've seen with COVID, um viruses as well. Anything that you can basically sequence. And so Mariana's company, Bio Bot is now deploying these these monitoring systems throughout municipalities all around the world. And this has been one of the single, I think most important kind of interventions and infa-, pieces of infrastructure that's been massively helpful when we talk about disease surveillance. So, you know, I think there's this whole kind of big world of like uh design world in a way of like, how do you make visible the invisible, right? You know, just thinking about some of the themes of of your of your podcast here, just thinking about kind of human, the centered design and in a way, the relationship with nature, right. There's a huge amount that we don't really understand about the larger systems and the ways in which these microparticles and these these microscopic organisms are actually part of healthy ecosystems. There's the human microbiome, but there's microbes in almost again, every kind of living ecosystem you can think about. And I'm thinking about right now, like, let's talk about the forests or rainforests or soil, right? Massive amounts of microbes there that are producing all kinds of interesting compounds that all sorts of different organisms need, both for decomposition, but then also for for life, right? We really need to be thinking a lot about systems, right. We really need to be thinking not just about like kind of individual organisms and their place in, you know, designing just for the human, right, going back to that notion. Something that we've been exploring a lot in my lab and thinking a lot about are things like, you know, what does nature centered design look like, right? What is an ecosystem or system centered design?

Claudia Pasquero
This pandemic underlies the relevance of what ecology can do, because it's a result of disrupted ecology.

Lee Moreau
Claudia Pasquero is the director of ecoLogic Studio, an architectural and Urban Design Studio cofounded in London.

Claudia Pasquero
In reality, the metabolism of the planet is changed, and the question is not how we bring it back, but how we modified it for that establishing positive dynamic. From our point of view, the future of architecture looks like an integration between the biological and the artifcial and architectural and landscape would be far less segregated.

Lee Moreau
So very similar to what you were talking about before David, this ecoLogic Studio is really designing with the microbiome not against it.

David Kong
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, I think that's my my hope for the future for sure is this idea of just, you know, greater harmony, right? Like, I think, you know, the natural world, it is us, right? Like this whole notion that like we are somehow separate and different from it or that we have to design for or against it— it may not even be the right framework at all, right? You know, I've been teaching this class at MIT this semester called Ancient Future Technology, where we've been thinking a lot about, you know, how do we bring values and worldviews and perspectives that come from you know communities that have been able to live in harmony with the natural world for centuries, right? What about a worldview where natural systems are not separate from us, right? In the West, we have this incredible west- you know, kind of reductionist mindset. Now, reductionism has produced incredible feats of discovery in science and technology, our ability to take a very complex system and break it down into little components and characterize those components— amazing. Really incredible. Remarkable. But what about the system, right? And what about the idea that, you know, we are inseparable from the system? And so I think there's there's a tremendous amount of wisdom from from other other communities and other cultures that, you know, we in the West, I think, should really think very deeply about, and that may honestly be critical for our future survival, the future survival of humans, at least on planet Earth.

Lee Moreau
It strikes me that there is probably a bias that's built into all of our research institutions and academic, you know, universities and so forth around this phenomenon you're talking about this reductionist breaking things down into its constituent parts and solving for it. And I can imagine that having basically kind of been optimizing for that for the last couple of centuries and now all of these institutions are saying, well, that's the right way to solve problems. And we actually have no kind of infrastructure intellectually to look at systems. Like that's actually antithetical to the way that we've engineered higher learning. Are you kind of confronting some barriers and kind of introducing this way of thinking?

David Kong
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think just in general, the fact that we've completely abstracted ourselves away from the natural world is massively problematic, right? There's this really kind of, I think, telling, I guess, folk story or tale about like the emperor from his, you know, his kingdom who every single day gets, you know, the plate of mangoes from the from the the local environment and every single day, you know, he gets the mangoes, gets the mangoes, but he doesn't know it. But you know, his the members of his kingdom are going farther and farther out to get these mangoes because they're defrosting and so on and so on. And so he's decoupled from the idea that the natural environment is being impacted at all because he gets his mangoes every day. And then all of a sudden one day it's like: Why are there no mangoes? And it's like, Well, we've completely destroyed the forest, the mango trees are all gone now, right? And so we have this, I think, exact same disconnect right now in our larger society where we have no more connection with these objects and the natural world. And so if we have that feeling that we're-we're just this isolated either individual or society or even that human society is isolated and disconnected from the natural world, we're going to continue to drive ourselves off the cliff and make decisions that are honestly ignorant of the actual reality of our unfolding kind of ecological crisis. Our ability to reformulate that relationship, I think, is really critical for our future survival.

Lee Moreau
OK, let's change things up a bit. As you know, every episode of The Futures Archive ends with a project, a sort of a design exercise for you, the listener, to keep working on the object and the idea is that we've talked about in this week's show. You'll be able to share your ideas and see what other listeners are thinking about, too. And I'll explain where to do that in a bit. So as you heard from David earlier, your human microbiome or microbiota is defined as the combined genetic material that resides on or within the human tissues and the bio fluids inside your body. But what's really there? What we'd like you to do this week is draw a diagram or better yet, an artistic interpretation of your own personal microbiome. What do you want to add to your microbiome— food, water, Tostitos? What are you desperately want to keep out of it— germs, viruses, I don't know, maybe Tostitos? Anyway, What are the ways that you protect your microbiome? And by extension, what are the ways that you protect yourself? Please post your diagram on Instagram with the hashtag, #thefuturesarchive, that's all one word. We'll share some of our favorite responses in our Instagram Story, at Design Observer. You can read the full prompt on our Instagram and check out some of our favorite responses to last week's prompt.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with the show go to TFA dot Design Observer dot com or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you liked what you heard today, make sure to rate and review us and share it with your friends. David, it was so great to have you with us today. If-if listeners want to find more information about you or your lab, where should they go?

David Kong
Well just first to say Lee, this was super fun. So, as for me, you can find me on all the different social media things. I'm at David Sun Kong — d-a-v-i-d-s-u-n-k-o-n-g on Instagram, Twitter, et cetera. And if you're interested in the Bio Summit, you can check out biosummit dot org or at biosummit on Instagram, at globalbiosummit on Twitter. And yeah, I'm really excited to have been a part of this conversation and looking forward to seeing how the future unfolds.

Lee Moreau
Thank you so much, David. Please post your answers for this week's assignment on Instagram using the hashtag The Futures Archive, that's one word. We're really excited to see what you come up with and make sure you're following us at Design Observer on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The Futures Archives education partner is Adobe. For each episode, you can find supporting materials, including further reading, lesson plans and all kinds of activities suitable for college level learners. For more information about Adobe's educational initiatives, follow them at EDEX dot Adobe Dot com. And The Futures Archive is brought to you by Automattic. Thanks again to Dr. John David Ike, Nancy Tomes, Katherine and Sabrina Pasemen, and Claudia Pasquero for talking to The Futures Archive. You can find more about them and my co-host David Kong, in our show notes at TFA dot Design Observer dot com, as well as links to archival audio and a full transcription of the show. Our associate producer is Adina Karp. Owen Agnew edits the show. Blake Easkin of Noun and Verb Rodeo helped to develop the show. Thanks, as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


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