Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"Next Big Thing" absurdities

Today, a number of corporations and agencies, including British Telecom, IBM, the FBI and even Hallmark, have futurists on staff. (Wired magazine)
"Trend-spotting has, in essence, become just another trend. Consequently, the most successful trend forecasters are repositioning themselves as something more than mere arbiters of taste.[...] For this reason, they no longer answer to the name 'coolhunter'. Some even bristle at the term 'trend forecaster.' Instead, they prefer 'planner', 'researcher' or futurist'. [...] In a way, this desperate need among advertisers to "divine" our intimate truths has indelibly linked consumerism to culture. Now, there's hardly time to discover and explore a new experience or a new approach to living without also considering the new line of products, technologies or services that has been tailored to that discovery. Life is being captured, repackaged and sold back to us as quickly as we live it."(Los Angeles Times)
Often I'll complain about how the bubble-economies we set-up only take into account quarter-to-quarter concerns, at the expense of the environment and social justice. However, even the most mundane decisions of persons and organizations carry underlying assumptions about the long-term which go unexamined. There is always an underlying belief in the future. Before the Enlightenment, the predominant idea about time was that things should and would largely stay the same. ('My father was a wainwright, therefore I am one.' etc.) In the unsustainable society that we live in, the only thing we can state about the future with certainty is that it won't look anything like now.
Being shaped and influenced by the future is almost the definition of modernism; And modernism is the business of the future.
Organizations (corporations, governments) aren't creative enough to ably imagine the changes which will lead to the future. This is because an organization will only allow itself to imagine the future in a very selective manner.
Suppose I was called upon to consult Wal-Mart on their long term options, and I told them that there really wasn't a future in mass merchandizing because in the future there would be one object that fulfilled the owner's every need, and they'd only need to buy it once. Do you think Wal-Mart would ask me to come back for a second visit?
(Uhm.. I think this may sound like the mutterings of a streetperson... so I'll stop writing for now.)

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