Why worry about tomorrow? … It's a reasonable question. Consistently accurate predictions about interconnected complex systems are functionally impossible, at least at any real level of specificity. It's long been known that even people paid far too much money to make predictions about a constrained system (such as the stock market) usually do no better -- and typically worse -- than a chimpanzee flinging darts…. One of the best-selling books about foresight in recent years -- The Black Swan -- essentially argued that trying to glimpse the future was worse-than-useless, because it would get you locked onto the understandable (but actually unlikely) and make you miss the seemingly impossible (but actually inevitable). Failed predictions and futurism go hand-in-hand, to the point where the first thing that someone identifying himself/herself as a futurist is typically asked is some variant of "where's my jetpack?" The conventional image of a "futurist" is that of someone who speaks with certainty about the yet-to-come, making bold predictions of headline-generated changes... and never really being held to account when those predictions fail to be realized. (In fact, there's a weird pathology at work in the traditional media and political worlds: the only way to be taken seriously is to be repeatedly wrong, but in acceptable ways...) ... This isn't informative, and it isn't illuminating; at best, it's infotainment. Conventional futurists are the Michael Bays of the intellectual world: what they produce can be spectacular and amusing, but is ultimately hollow and depressing.Cascio is banging on some of my favorite anti-futurological drums here, but this is a bit perplexing since he is as close to a professional futurologist as you can get.
Since it is far from true that only professional or even armchair "futurists" spend time "worrying about tomorrow" I don't immediately understand the necessary connection of Cascio's opening question with his subsequent observations (all of which seem to me very correct and rather important).
Surely, almost every field of expertise involves a foresight dimension: Doesn't every discipline to the extent that it is an actual discipline contribute some measure to our foresight? -- roughly, our capacity to understand how what we are doing enables and disables other things we are doing and hence to anticipate the impacts of what we are doing on where we are going and where we want to be going. If that is true, then there are real questions about just what "futurological" expertise uniquely consists of, how "futurists" contribute to foresight in a way that might not be better covered simply by applying to the expertise of folks in the actual disciplines actually concerned with the actual stuff "futurologists" happen to be talking about from topic to topic.
I can see why self-identified "futurists" would get frustrated at being taken to task for all the predictions they get wrong, but it seems to me that the reason they get taken to task is largely the same as the reason so many would-be "futurists" are prone to making the predictions in the first place: because in the absence of the prophetic drag show it is not easy to see what futurism actually brings to the table.
If futurology is really about mastering the literary or argumentative genre of "the scenario," for instance, isn't there a danger that futurology amounts to little more than a literary salon or even a fandom devoted to a marginal science fiction subgenre, or, worse, perhaps little more than a subdivision of corporate marketing subculture?
Too often, the worst futurology comes off as little more than the extreme edge of our already hyperbolic and deceptive advertizing and promotional discourse, and at its best and most thoughtful it often comes off as a kind of dilettante philosophizing sprinkled with a little pop psychology and the sort of cultural theory everybody picks up nowadays by reading movie reviews by folks who couldn’t find anything else to do with their high-theory English and Women's Studies PhDs.
I've always found Jamais Cascio to be one of the few actually interesting futurologists, but that has largely been because he seems so darned skeptical about what he is up to, skeptical to the point of being a kind of futurological friendly opposition inside the belly of the beast. I wonder how many of my own futurological brickbats Cascio would end up sympathizing with, and how many he can sympathize with while still identifying as a futurologist in the first place?