History of the Future Strathern  Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

This became an age in which visionary thinkers said, "see, we told you so," and were able to garner additional support from not only the activist type, but the regular citizen.

Talking Points

Malthusian dynamics (overpopulation and resource allocation) became a focus of futurists. Marshall McLuhan, for one, combined futuristic predictions with analysis of global media and advertising trends.

Noam Chomsky was revolutionizing the idea of linguistics as a way to view our innate cultural mechanisms.

Science fiction writers like Clarke, Asimov, and Lem pushed the boundaries of science as far as possible -- insisting that the reader ask very difficult questions about what it truly means to be human, what it truly means to have conservatorship of a planet, and whether or not we have the wisdom to maintain life on earth as we know it.

Chapter 6 -- Fast Forward

Arthur C. Clarke made an interesting remark about interaction with alien technology. He noted that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This rather defines a group of advanced futurists in the 1960s through the 1980s who, like Clarke, saw the future as one in which humans would move away from Mother Earth and begin to explore and populate, the galaxy around them. We have already seen some of the reasons for this -- overpopulation and a statistical likelihood of destroying our own planet's resources; but the push towards exploring the universe intensified after the successful moon landings. Alvin Toffler looked at the structural and societal changes that the last part of the 20th century engendered, finding that the speed and quantum leaps of change were now occurring so rapidly, it was difficult to stay informed -- also causing technological and academic fields to become a bit myopic.

Talking points

Arthur Clarke popularized the notion of space travel in his writings, as well as the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- although for many it was philosophically baffling.

Publications like Limits to Growth called attention to the rising and very real problem of scarcity of resources.

Drucker predicted outsourcing and decentralization in his Age of Discontinuity.

Alvin Toffler found the speed at which the contemporary world works to be almost mind bending -- technology and information change so rapidly that even with computers we are constantly behind. The gap, then, between technological inventions (e.g. computer chips, phones, etc.) will shorten but be economically dependent.

Chapter 7 -- Jam Tomorrow

In contrast to the frightening messages given to us by Toffler and others in the 1970s, the 1980s witnessed a new optimism in the guise of John Naisbitt's Megatrends. As a futurist, Naisbitt believed that the world now operated on the macro, rather than micro level, with identifiable sociological and technological trends. Moreover, these trends were not to be feared, but rather embraced so that as society grows and changes, individuals can also grow and change. This change has always occurred as technology changes, however, with modern media and communication technology, it is just occurring more rapidly, and we are paying more attention to it on a global scale. Futurism was not big business, with its own set of magazines, academic journals, and even graduate programs and international conferences.

Talking points

The megatrends of the late 20th century are the ways in which society is shaped by technology interacting with culture; breaking down the barriers of class and setting up new economic possibilities for human actualization.

The Third World, now awakening after a period of instability, proves to be one of the most energetic and rapidly evolving markets; particularly the giant countries of India and China; whose resource (a huge population) continues to provide the labor necessary to move these giants forward.

The credo of the modern futurist is not so much what to know, but how to know it. Like Leonardo da Vinci, facts are less important than knowing what to look for when -- the when being the operative word.

Faith Popcorn popularizes futurism, and it becomes trendy.

Chapter 8 -- the 800 Lb Gorilla

Humans have always been sexual beings -- historical cultures are awash in sex and sensuality. It is a driving force in human behavior. In fact, some anthropologists believe that face-to-face intercourse and the resulting male-female bond contributed greatly to the evolution of the family unit and the conception of a tribe rather than individuals. The importance of sex in society can never be overemphasized; it forms the basis of the entertainment, publishing, fashion, personal care products and almost every aspect of modern consumerism -- "Sex Sells," is the mantra, and futurists in the post-1980s found that the liberalization of sexual attitudes, the emancipation of women, new types of families, and a general increase in open sexual relations and proclivities changed the way society saw itself internally, and therefore projected externally.. It is because trends shape the economic structure of consumerism that this becomes even more important -- what will people be wearing as they move towards androgyny? What products will they desire? What types of entertainment will they covet?

Talking points

Futurism is tied together with consumer prediction; for trends to occur in manufacturing, the ideas must be put into development.

Fads, like much of the rest of society, are now so rapid that many go out of date before production is complete -- giving rise to the futurist prediction of the 15 minutes of fame, and that's all.

What role, then, does the 800# gorilla -- be it government, regulatory agencies, religion, or other parts of culture that are determined to not only control, but to stratify and organize -- play in this new future?

Chapter 9 - a Week in the Life of a Futurist

Examining the role of futurism, one must certainly be interdisciplinary in scope. This also means that to be successful, you need only predict what you know, or the axiom "3 Ps and a W" -- what is Possible, Predictable, Preferable, and then the Wildcard. Futurism, whether it be known as that, or in the case of financial markets, statistical prediction, is now ingrained into the modern economic worldview. Scholars are predicting what subjects will be important to students, and developing the resources and technologies for the next generation; automobile manufacturers are faced with reengineering their industry in a more fuel conscious and carbon footprint lowering world; city planners cannot rely on 1-2-year predictions for roads and improvements, rather due to the expense, they must plan decades out.

Talking Points

In a sense, Alvin Toffler was right -- Futurology is the new science of probability.

Humans are now concerned with the future more than the past, and certainly more than the present. This represents a new, and rather unique shift, in consciousness.

Futurists provide something very positive for the 21st century individual -- not only do they ask us to think about things we might want to ignore, but they ask us to continually reevaluate the manner in which we view the world.

History tells us that almost every generation has an apocalyptic tradition, or thinks the current generation is ruining society (e.g. graffiti in Ancient Rome); but the role of the futurist is to help society provide futures that can be accepted as more positive, and find directions to help the individual move in that direction.

Chapter 10 -- the Future of the Future

As noted, futurists do not always tell society what it wants to hear -- but perhaps what it needs to hear. Speculative fiction authors like Margaret Atwood find a future that allowed biology to run amok; Philip K. Dick a future in which there is a clear merging of east and west (Blade Runner) and human arrogance in programing human androids reaches the poignant philosophy of what is the responsibility of a creator. Just how far can we take things; just how far should we. Each society fears what it does not understand. If one polled the population of Chicago in 1850, for instance, would they have seen the need for the Internet or supersonic jet travel? Instead, their ability to comprehend technology would not imagine television or the medical advances of the modern world.

Talking points

It is likely not necessary for everyone in society to understand and agree with futurists; but for futurists to "whack" society on the side of the head is critical.

Futurist Kurzweil, for instance, predicts that by 2030, computers will exceed the speed and processing complexity of the human brain -- what do we do then? Do we become a society in which computers handle everything, or do we need a continual challenge and set of difficult problems in order to remain vital?

If we think of the portrayal of the human race in…

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