Digital Futures: a digital hierarchy of needs?

Digital Futures Lab

The Digital Futures Lab. Photo by Josef Ruckli

The Digital Futures Lab in the SLQ Gallery explores the new ways we work, live and play in the digital world. Senior Programming Officer Kevin Wilson explains how our Signature Program team designed the exhibition to provoke and challenge ideas of place and self.

Our increasingly digital world can be bewildering to many people especially given the pace of personal and global change that is taking place.  When we set out to develop a framework for discussing our digital future we knew we had to anchor it firmly in the realm of human needs.

We could talk about a robotic future, or a future where 90% of people live in cities and what that might look like, but through what lens?  In the Digital Futures Lab we turned to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a fundamental structure of understanding what drives us as human beings in the digital age.

Hierarchy of Needs pyramid

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. By FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0,

Although Maslow proposed his psychological theory in 1943 it still remains relevant today.  His theory is generally pictured as a pyramid with the most basic needs being physiological, and then rising level by level through the needs for safety, belonging and love, esteem, and finally self-actualization and self-transcendence. 

In Maslow’s theory, the needs at the bottom need to be met before those on the next level up can be realised.

To create the Lab, we took Maslow’s needs and put a digital futures spin on them. We asked, “what impact does the digital have on our fundamental needs to be able to breathe, eat, sleep and participate in daily life?”

We explore the way data is captured and used to understand changes in our environment, how Google is mapping not just the visible landscape but also the world under the sea, how data collection is improving our farming and how the “internet of things” can make smart cities.  We also examine digital aids that are assisting people with a disability, how data is improving the performance of athletes and how new digitally-embedded clothing is becoming more than just fashion.

We look at safety from the viewpoint of data security, love and belonging from a social media and robotic aid perspective, esteem in terms of our need to work and learning as self-education.

Self-actualization was a challenge, where we saw the strongest sense of irony.  To explore the digital self we’ve created a room within a room, a sanctuary that is also a walled garden, where the only truth is contained in the views we share with our ‘friends’ on social media. Over the edge of the wall grows a creeping vine with flowers.  Touch a flower and you’ll hear a diversity of people’s hopes and fears for the future. Come on a Wednesday 3-6pm and add your voice to the vine as well.

What’s inside the inner room? Will you choose to break the code and enter?

We invite you come and explore Digital Futures Lab and to keep your human needs in mind as you venture through the space.

Kevin Wilson

Senior Programming Officer