Future Insights: Upcycling the Past


Future Insights: Upcycling the Past


A conversation with writer Andrew Wagner about decentralization, noticing what’s right in front of us, looking inwards, and revisiting the past.

In this series of short interviews, we ask the HOO KOO E KOO council of experts from various areas about their insights for the future, discuss available solutions, and learn how to avoid mistakes.


Andrew Wagner in New London, Connecticut — the small city he’s obsessed with.

0. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you living right now, who do you live with, and what you are currently working on?

My name is Andrew Wagner. I’m a writer, editor, creative director, and strategist. I build brands big and small. I love making things happen and simply making things. Whether it’s the largest skateboard ramp in Northern California, a ground-breaking, award-winning modern architecture magazine, a column about trash for the New York Times, a hyper-local/mega-global Craigslist, or an identity for one of the “World’s Best Hotels,” I specialize in bringing great ideas to life.

I currently live in New York City with my wife, Heather, and son, Captain Clement. I just finished up a project that I’m really excited about for the Digital Public Library of America called The Palace Project. And I’m continually working to bring to life what I call a “dispersed hospitality complex” under the moniker, HelloCity. Fingers crossed!

1. What are your hopes for the future?

In the mid-90s, when I graduated from college, that was the last pre-Internet era. I don’t think I had an email address until my junior year in college. When I was growing up, people could feel very isolated, compared to what we know now. I grew up in a small town in California. It felt that nobody could hear me — it was so difficult to get any of your messages or creative work out; it was just so complicated and so expensive. Nearly impossible to get noticed in any way. I think the Internet has been fantastic in how it connected people from all over the world. Suddenly, you don’t feel isolated at all — the whole world is on your screen and at your fingertips, literally. That is special to me, and I think it would be great to see that continue for the future.

However, at this point, this hope blends into my fears about the future.


Staying connected thanks to the Internet. Photo by Blue Bird on Pexels.

2. What are your fears about the future?

On the one hand, people are becoming more and more exposed to different ways of living and the endless possibilities that are out there. On the other, they still seem to cultivate the pre-Internet mindset when you would get trapped in your small world as if you could not see any further. We don’t fully utilize the Internet; we’re not taking it for what it offers.

I have this good friend, and she’s a pretty well-known artist and well-known craft person. She always tells this great story about how when she was growing up in rural Wisconsin, she was considered a kind of weirdo — making crafts all the time. She recalls that she felt like she was the only one like that in the whole world, and it weighed on her, making her existence difficult. Then along came the Internet. Suddenly she realized there were people worldwide that were very interested in the same thing she was interested in, which was life-affirming for her. People saw her work; they liked it and started inviting her to their towns to give talks and do events. That’s when she began to realize that everywhere she went, everything looked the same. Everybody’s influences now were the same.

The Internet had shrunk the world. But I think that also plays into people’s tendency towards laziness. Even though it’s a vast world, people still sort of gravitate towards the lowest common denominator. And I think the Internet makes it even easier to do that.


Avocado is a modern symbol of globalization. Photo by Monstera on Pexels.

Again to go back to when I was growing up, if you wanted to make a film, for instance, which was my first love, it took so much work to make a film, so only people who loved filming so much that they had to get it out of their system and out into the world, were only ones ever to try and make it. Now everyone can do that, which is both amazing and discouraging.

My other fear is that people will only become lazier and even more insular (which I really hope doesn’t happen). But we can definitely see that tendency already. People start to think that they know everything already and have seen or heard everything. They believe they have such great exposure to this world [through Internet], but really they haven’t seen it at all, so their existence is still very shallow.

So even though it felt very isolating in my little town, coming back to when I was growing up, people who loved music all gravitated towards each other, and they all fed off each other. It was a small group of people who had their peculiar diverse influences, and because those influences all were from this one town, the things that came out of that town, the film, the art, the music, were very particular to that town. The inspiration only came from our immediate surroundings because it was all we saw, all we knew. That was our world.

But what was so cool about that was that you would then go to another town that was 100 miles away, and out there, the output was completely different. The music sounded really different, and it was because they’re working off of what they had, and so it allowed for the aforementioned incredible diversity. Because people didn’t know any better, they were just working with what was right in front of their faces. I think that’s another fear of mine — that people will forget about what’s right in front of them.


Noticing what’s right in front of us and taking care of it. Photo by Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash.

The Internet keeps people from stepping outside their door and paying attention to what is happening next to them, which is essential. If we’d have more people noticing what’s right in front of them, we’d be able to conquer a lot of the challenges that are right in front of us collectively, such as climate change or inequalities.

The world around us is evolving rapidly, but we haven’t changed that much, and we still need to focus on improving ourselves as individuals. In many ways, the Internet has allowed people to stop focusing on themselves because it makes it too easy to shift our focus to what’s coming up online all the time.

I’ve always thought that you can’t ask everybody to try and change the world and to care about all that complicated problems. Many people are struggling to put food on their tables or have a roof over their heads. To ask them to care about these vast issues is absurd. There are actually many more people struggling to put food on their tables or keep a roof over their heads than there aren’t. However, what you can ask of everybody is to have an opinion and carry themselves in a particular manner. The classic example is recycling. You can’t ask people to really care that much about plastics in the ocean, but what you can demand is to put their stupid plastic bag or bottle in the proper bin every time. Simply encouraging people to make those little differences every single day.

But you can’t ask that if people are constantly distracted from what’s in front of them. Without the Internet, all you had to do was focus on yourself and look inward, trying to make yourself better. Now people are focusing way too much on everything extra. While that’s great if you have already looked into yourself, I don’t think you can really make any fundamental changes to the external world if you haven’t done them to this inside you. It All Begins with the internal.

It makes me think of a rule that I made for myself — to always explore inwards before I explore outwards. It’s similar to what you’re saying.


Always explore inwards before you explore outwards. Photo by Oluremi Adebayo on Pexels.

3. What are you most excited about 10 years from now?

Again, when I was growing up, the only future you could see for yourself would be going to any huge city in your country. Starting your life there would have been the only way to do anything “important” and gain exposure to the right influentials. All these big cities really became such gravitational pull.

In retrospect, I’m thinking now that it’s such a shame. I might have learned this lesson in my 20s when I played a lot of music and got to tour with some bands. We would go to these weird towns that I had never heard of before. Those were always the best places, and the people were the most incredible — they were just excited that you had come by their town.

Again, this fantastic tool, the Internet, enables us to work from anywhere, which contributes to people moving out from these big cities we once all came to. I’m really excited about this idea of people making things happen in their small towns or small towns. I’d love to see a repopulation of these abandoned and forgotten places. What I think is exciting is that it will also lend itself to people again having different influences, voices, and opinions about things, not just black and white.


Growing local communities. First photo by Gary Butterfield; Second photo by Sigmund on Unsplash.

This return to regionalism and people caring about the regions they’re from can also contribute to the shared endeavor of slowing down climate change.

Yes, and it goes back to the idea of people looking out their window and, instead of choosing distraction, deciding to start paying attention and thinking how they can affect positively what’s in front of them. Instead of leaving these places like in the past, we could finally see people choosing to push them forward. I think this movement is already noticeable. And I think we’ll see it growing.

I think that the challenge that’s in front of us right now is that many people are rootless. As much as people would like to say, Instagram is where my family is, and YouTube is where my community is, they lack something in a pretty significant intense way. Again, I think those communities are great, but I still believe in the physicality of things, and to me, the physicality has always been the most exciting. I love what you’re doing at HOO KOO E KOO — sure, you’re all working remotely from all over the world, but every now and then, you get to meet in one place, and it sounds to me like the most exciting part.

You mentioned your observation of rootlessness before. It was interesting for me so I would like to come back shortly to it. From the writer’s perspective, I suppose you’re collecting a lot of stories from people subconsciously. I wonder if you’ve noticed that this rootlessness affects people’s stories, how they go through their lives, personalities, or mental state.

I might be painting with a broad stroke here, but I would say, unfortunately, a lot of what’s happened is things are very shallow and on the surface now. I think that has a lot to do with how we communicate; we usually only see the image, the end product of the story. And that’s what people react to. Fewer and fewer people have patience for the in-depth things. I think our patience is being eroded, yet patience and our focus are exactly needed at this moment in time. I may sound like a grumpy old man, but that’s okay. I think there was a lot more depth in things in the past because there had to be. I just hope that again, that depth will return. Because I think everything that’s happening, what we talked about, is fascinating, but if it occurs without that depth and that foundation, then I think we’re getting ourselves into a lot of trouble.


Fewer and fewer people have patience for the in-depth things. Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash.

4. What trends do you think will form our future?

I think what we see, obviously like at warp speed, is this idea of independence and people carving their own paths. And I think that has to be done very carefully, and people have to be respectful of history and the past and learn from it.

A great example is what’s happening in the financial world now, with blockchain and w people trying to overturn the banks and currencies — it’s exciting and fantastic. But what we’re seeing is people acting the same way that the banks did in the past. They’re just doing it in a different format, but they’re still acting like assholes — taking advantage of people, not being truthful, honest, and transparent. I think you have to go full bore.

If you’re going to make a change, you have to make a change on every level. Who cares about the evolution of the format, a surface level, if it’s still being used to keep people down by those who are incredibly wealthy — no real change has happened.

I hope that people will start to be excited about the potential for change with more than just the formats that we’re using and the changing distribution models. If we’re going to still be just a bunch of chirps who don’t care about people and have no empathy, then I don’t have much hope.

So the change from the top to the roots.


Change from the top to the roots. Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash.

5. Fast forward 30 years. What will be the key changes for humanity?

This is such a big one; having a kid, sometimes I get really freaked out. What will the world be, especially with climate change?

Sometimes I’m wondering, in the past 50 years, how many billions of people have we added to the Earth? It’s kind of frightening to think about it. It’s rapid change and rapid growth. It’s part of the reason why I go back to this genuine interest in these places that have been forgotten. Because I think for humanity to flourish, there will have to be a return to these forgotten places.

We can’t just keep over-running the same sites or go into new ones, ruining all the wildlife and the natural environment.

Personally, I’m of the mindset that we need to stay away from those places.


We can’t just keep over-running the same sites or go into new ones, ruining all the wildlife and the natural environment. Photos by Lucas George Wendt, Tristan Frank, and Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash.

Of course, I understand the allure of them. But I think, as humans, the best thing we could do is stay away from them every few weeks. I’m really intrigued by places that people think are terrible. My friends often ask me, “Why would you go there? That place sucks. It’s just a bunch of crap there, all falling down”. And I reply, “Yeah, but see, we did that all. It’s our responsibility now to go back and make corrections to these places that we’ve already trashed and destroyed; they’re not dead”.

As humans, I think it is our responsibility to go back and, sort of, recycle, rather than throw out and dump. I think that will become more important as the Planet becomes more populated because we’ll want to spread out. It’s the opportunity to create a new way of living. These places are very affordable, so they stand contrary to metropolises, which are so expensive that you have to do everything in your power to keep your head above water, so you end up having to work for these big companies that will pay big paychecks. Thus, rather than pushing against the system that has created a lot of these inequalities, you get drawn into it. And so, the system perpetuates itself.

It will be essential to the future in 30 years to go back and reclaim these places. And again, not claiming new places because there are no new places. All this talk about space; I’m like, “What, you’re gonna go out there and just fuck up space?. Let’s leave space, and let’s focus on what’s here in front of us and figure out how to correct the damage that we’ve already done.”

I think it will be a lot about all that correction of the damage we’ve all done in the next 30 years. At least, it’s got to be if we’re going to be here, and my son will have grandkids.

Deserted Place

Reclaiming abandoned places. Photos by Nadia Jamnik and Jean Wimmerlin on Unsplash, Céline Chamiot-Poncet on Pexels.

I came up with a title that doesn’t often happen during the conversation, but I really like the thought of Upcycling the Past.

I think we can’t afford to just try to ignore the damage that’s been done, it just is very intimidating, so people choose to ignore it, but I think we won’t have the ability to ignore it in 30 years or 10 years even.

It also comes back to your hopes — seeing what’s in front of you instead of constantly looking somewhere far. And I think it relates to climate change which is a far-paced problem, but it is also happening in front of you. Still, because people can’t really focus on what we can do here, and they don’t seem to be able to imagine the natural consequences, they are in this void in between. Concluding, the least we could do is just take a step back and focus on what’s in front of us. And start acting from there.

Of course. There’re a lot of little things that we can do every day that people often forget about. For example, instead of getting everything on Amazon and having it shipped to you, go for a walk to a nearby store and support your small local economy. It’ll be better both for you and the Planet. If everybody were doing these little things, a significant change would arise.

So again, we’ve got this excellent tool — the Internet, but we definitely need to get more thoughtful about it. And the way we get more intelligent about it is through self-examination. And only from there able to utilize the tools that you have access to in a thoughtful way. I hope we can regain that sort of deep consciousness.


Photo by Norbert Kundrak on Unsplash.

Thank you for reading!

Interviewer: Justyna Cyrankiewicz, Creative Content Curator and Writer.
Proofreader: Joe Foxton, New Business.

With love, HOO KOO E KOO 💛