Industrial films of the future

Harry McCracken assembled a fine set of future visions from 20th-century industrials. They start in the 1950s and work up close to the present, just crossing over into the 21st.

For instance, this ruminating Monsanto (!) tribute to plastic homes.


Fewer workers, more old folks

More on demography: a recent study found the proportion of American workers likely to shrink, while the number of elderly they support grows.

Some interesting, and some grim, extrapolations about economic results.

Dystopia now, what next?

What can we glimpse about the future from today’s popular culture?  Case in point: literary dystopias seem to be enjoying a generational renaissance.

We can easily understand current dystopia lit as exploring contemporary anxieties.  That Goodreads infographic (be sure to scroll down) makes that argument.

But what seeds of the future can we pick out of this dark present soil?  Should we identify, for instance, a rising public concern about resource repletion, or governmental authority?  Or should we note a fear of national decline, which opens a box of rather disturbing possibilities?

Ways we think badly about the future

David Pollard describes ways we handle futures thinking badly.  It’s a useful, sobering set, specifically focused on scenarios:

[There are] five systemic human predilections that render the product of such exercises more or less useless:

  1. Believing the future is predictable: What actually happens turns out to be well outside any and all the scenario ranges that were planned for (not “better” or “worse” than the scenarios, but utterly different in unforeseen ways).
  2. Believing the future will continue and accelerate current trends: We have an irresistible tendency to predict that the future will be much like the present only much more so (the “Jetsons syndrome”).
  3. Believing change will come soon but overall will be modest: We tend of overestimate the speed of change in the short run and underestimate the full extent of change over the longer term.
  4. Believing we can prevent, mitigate and otherwise control future events: We tend to wildly overestimate the degree of control we (including our ‘leaders’) have over the changes (political, economic, social, behavioural, ecological, educational, medical, scientific, even technological) that sweep over us. No one is in control.
  5. Believing that centralization works: We tend to believe, irrationally and in the face of their record of colossal and continued failure, that centralization and unification will make things better, when it only makes them less agile, less democratic and more vulnerable. Even now the Wilber cult is calling for a “World Federation” that mirrors Cheney’s “New World Order” (and, fortunately, is just as unachievable).
#1 springs from his opening evocation of Taleb’s black swan.  #2 is a good read on the limitations of extrapolation.  #3’s aphorism is a handy one.  #4-5 are good leads into discussing practical action in response to a futures exercise.

The whole post is rich for covering a variety of other topics.  Well worth reading.  Check out the narrative exercise, for instance.

Counties in a graying demographic

What happens when a population ages, health care costs balloon, and a financial crisis continues to reverberate?  Here’s one scenario sketch about local government:

“I think you’ll see a dropping off of the programs that many counties now view as important — law enforcement, economic development, parks and recreation. Those kinds of programs will disappear. Counties will become welfare and Medicaid managers.”

Naturally there’s a political angle here:

C. Scott Vanderhoef, the Rockland County executive who was the Republican Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006…

But the scenario is plausible, given the drivers I identified.

The second future is glass

More design fiction: that Corning future-is-glass video gets expanded.

It’s a useful technique, reviewing one’s own futuring work.  You can respond to feedback (note the warm narrator, presumably to counter criticisms of being chilly), surface previously-cut materials, and aim for more discussion.

The future of skyscrapers

Futuristic art is another way of imagining what comes next.  There’s a long tradition of this, especially in science fiction.

Case in point: an architectural competition, the 2012 Skyscraper Competition by Evolvo magazine.  Each design is based on a single focus or proposition, such as mobile buildings, underwater structures, landfills aloft, or surviving tsunamis.

Trends for the future of museums

A good example of environmental scanning for prediction is TrendsWatch 2012: Museums and the Pulse of the Future. This AAM publication identifies a set of trends, based on a year’s worth of observations (shared via blog and newsletter).

  • Crowdsourcing
  • Threats to Nonprofit Status
  • Mobile, distributive experiences
  • New forms of funding
  • Creative Aging
  • Augmented reality
  • Shifts in Education

Design fiction in videogames

Design fiction can occur in all kinds of places: books, movies, ads, YouTube videos, and games.  Nicholas Weidinger considers the Deus Ex game, looking at videos (faux documentaries) created to flesh out the game’s future setting.

As design fictions, they focus on future artifacts, grounding them in everyday life. For example,

Nicholas argues that this imaginative grounding lets the game’s creators imagine a possible ideological divide – good futuring, that.

The impact of demographics

Demographics tend to be durable things, very likely to remain stable.  Relatively reliable stuff for predictions.

Example: folks in wealthy countries tend to live longer, and consume more than ever.

This compares three different social types: hunter-gatherer (HG), poor, rich.

What does this mean for the future?  Rather than the elderly transferring resources (net) to younger people, the reverse.  Which could then lead to this:

[A] younger-to-older society will need to run on a set of social expectations and arrangements that are different from any previous society in human history, and will involve social, political, and institutional changes that I think we are only dimly beginning to discern.

What does this mean for education?