Books Wednesday, August 11, 2004. Post by apsmith
Time’s arrow points ever forward, the past irrevocably gone, the
future only a guess. We temporal beings spend many of our present
moments in thought about the future – predicting, planning, worrying.
But few plans survive contact with reality. Is time
spent thinking about the future time wasted? Should we just
live for the present and let the future take care of itself?
Edward Cornish of the World Future Society makes a forceful case
for future-oriented thinking, or “futuring”, in this interesting
book. More than predicting the future, his argument is that by thinking
about it and planning for it, we gain power to change the future and
make our dreams real.
The book covers a broad swath: prediction techniques and
idea mapping, classification of trends and ‘supertrends’, the
recent increase in the rate of change, and people’s desires
for stability. Cornish suggests areas where the techniques of
the book may be helpful in the personal realm, as well as on the
large scale. Perhaps the most inspiring chapter is historical -
a discussion of the significant changes of the 20th century.
The past 100 years saw vastly more technological progress than
any before. But the supreme optimism and belief in progress
at the beginning of the century was transformed through wars,
nuclear terror, and environmental degradation into strong
doubts about progress, and the prevalence of much more pessimistic views
about the future. Cornish makes a strong case that success, both
individually and as a society, depends on having a positive
vision of the future and striving to make it happen.
The book does not try to make its own predictions; rather, it
shows how they are made and can be used. Some of Cornish’s specific
examples seem not as well thought out as one might expect – for example,
he lumps energy resources and the environment together in a degradation
“supertrend”, when they really need to be treated quite distinctly.
A long bibliography section gives brief summaries of well over a hundred
books on the subject, only a few of which I had heard of before. An updated
list and much more can be found on the World Future Society website at
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