Design Veteran Edwin Schlossberg Explores Community in the Digital Age

Posted inCreative Voices

Edwin Schlossberg began his career in experience design and audience engagement in 1978, decades before it became a cornerstone of the digital age. He went on to found ESI Design, an agency that uses design and technology expertise to create imaginative public experiences. Schlossberg and his team hope that their expansive spaces give audiences the freedom to explore, discover, play, and communicate together.

Schlossberg has designed several immersive spaces, including the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, one of the world’s first interactive museums. He was the President and Principal Designer of ESI Design before merging with architecture and design firm NBBJ. He holds a Ph.D. in Science and Literature from Columbia University.

With this premiere essay, PRINT welcomes Schlossberg as a contributing observer and critic. We hope you’ll join us as he explores how our society responds to design, culture, technology, philosophy, science, and whatever else comes to mind.

Life always moves forward…

There are nearly 8 billion people on earth now.

Somewhere between 2-3 billion people are playing massive multiplayer games online right now.

That is a 1/4 of all the people on earth.

It is estimated that 1/2 of working people are working on the internet.

The speed of discovery of new digital tools— digital businesses, digitally organized schools, hospitals, cities, governments— has never been faster.

These digital tools present both the visible world and the micro/nano/deeply invisible world.

Our educational institutions cannot, and are not, keeping up with these two worlds. However, students are, and they are seeing so much without the benefit of informed discussion. In previous times, when generational change happened, there were clubs and organizations where it could be discussed and debated. Now the changes are happening many times faster, the gap between generations is larger, and the ability to understand new digital tools is so much harder than adopting the telephone or television.

The internet that we all imagined would bring us together has sadly also become a place to set us apart. On one level, the access to information provides ways to synthesize and improve our culture with understanding and evidence of new thinking. On another level, it is enabling distortion and destructive disinformation to provoke hate that challenges the fabric of government and our society.

The clubs, organizations, and institutions that used to provide context and a sense of belonging are disappearing. A growing number of isolated, vulnerable people are channeling their anger into hate groups, and more recently, political parties.

This kind of stress and challenge has occurred before with industrialization, but the number of people, the speed of change, and time of transition was not nearly as fast.

It took two decades to develop the polio vaccine, one decade to develop the treatment for AIDS, and 4 months to develop the vaccine for Covid.

Providing shared awareness for the people in villages was simple— slightly harder for towns, much harder for countries, and very difficult for the globe. With digital tools, we can see the whole earth while standing on it, but we are struggling to share views on so many issues. We are now working at the sub-visual level. How amazing is it that we can see our DNA, as well all the materials and processes of human life, in real time to be able to create a healthier and more productive world.

Most of our struggles center on absorbing of all this and creating solutions that enable us to experience the world in more constructive and collaborative ways. We must try to avoid ideas and actions that are focused on unravelling the bonds that connect us.

Life only happens going forward— going backwards is death. While it is quite a burden to be connected to everyone, we all need to try and create flight paths into the positive, collaborative world in order to benefit more people— faster and fairer, and clearly refusing the false promise of joy in lawless chaos and dictatorship.