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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Predict That In Twenty Years Futurological Predictions Will Still Inevitably Begin "I Predict That In Twenty Years"

Look, Ma, I'm a futurologist! Let's ask this scientician...

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Added, to put some meat on the bones of this very easy bit of snark: The near irresistability to the common or garden variety futurologist of the "twenty-year prophecy horizon" is more than just a ritual intonation demanded by adherents of the genre (though there is a little of that involved, no doubt) but is also supremely pragmatic. "Twenty Years From Now" is located, as it were, on a "sweet spot": on the one hand, just far enough in the future to evade accountability for failure (when the prophecy straightforwardly does not come to pass, or when, coming to pass, it fails to Change Everything, or indeed much of anything, in the context of the technodevelopmental complexities in which the costs, risks, and benefits to the diversity of stakeholders in the richness of their lived situations are actually impacted by technoscientific change), and, on the other hand, just proximate enough still to seem worthy of attention and wishful identification, even by many who are likely to be dead in twenty years' time, all things equal.

It isn't too hard to imagine a snarky futurological interlocutor riposting that "I predict that in twenty years facile anti-futurologists will still be pointing to the failure of such twenty-year predictions to dismiss futurology despite the fact that futurology is much more than that." I would imagine a futurologesque figure like Jamais Cascio or Paul Raven might say something interesting along such lines. I think they would still have to come to grips with the actual undeniable reality of the phenomenon in question even while claiming there is something "more" to futurology than this.

But I must say I would also like to know why futurologists who disdain much of what goes on futurologically still identify -- even if ambivalently or critically -- with the futurological term? And why are so many of their preoccupations so drearily predictably futurological still -- AI, nano-genies, bio-enhancement, geo-engineering, blah blah blah?

If you are a "green futurologist," say, why not just be an environmental scientist? Or, if you cannot be an environmental scientist because you lack or cannot be bothered to actually get the training required for that, why pretend that your futurology makes you more "sciency" than any other environmental journalist or activist? Why not just be an activist, after all? If you think your trend spotting makes you a commentator on history, events, social forms -- why not become a historian, political scientist, economist, sociologist, anthropologist? Want to hold forth on health questions? Even if you aren't a physician you can get training in healthcare policy and become a journalist or expert for real. Even if you want to focus on technological development questions, there actually are academic disciplines devoted to science and technology studies (STS), history or philosophy of technology, environmental justice critique which take up these complexities in rigorous ways.

I mean, I get it that you might find my own accusation that futurological discourses amount to deceptive corporate-military marketing hyperbole and pseudo-scientific self-promotional fraud (and in certain extreme cases priestly guru-wannabe Robot Cultism) personally uncongenial, but I never get a real sense of what futurology brings to the table that actual already existing disciplines concerned with its scattered preoccupations lack. Again, if futurology is just a fandom for the sf subgenre of scenario-spinning, where scenarios are kinda sorta like sf settings without the addition of characterization, plots, integrated themes, stylistic innovations, and so on, well, it's hard for me to see the draw but let a bazillion flowers bloom! And, also, too, stop calling that science or policy-making then, embrace the fandom and let your freak flag fly at the con. Even here, there are lots of enormously interesting literary and cultural critics who will be competing with you on this terrain, along with a fantastic proliferating explosion of online fandom, so it's not clear to me if futurology on such terms would make much noise. Anyway, if there is still "futurology" happening in twenty years, I suspect it still won't have come clean on any of this, because I think the disinterest in and disavowal of such facts is probably an enabling condition of the ongoing existence of this pseudo-discipline. That this bit of false consciousness incubated so much phony twenty years from now prophecy drag show falsity in turn is really not so surprising as all that when all is said and done.


jimf said...

> I Predict That In Twenty Years Futurological Predictions
> Will Still Inevitably Begin "I Predict That In Twenty Years"

Except for flat-screen TVs! Forty years later, we actually
have 'em -- and cheap too, by golly!

Notice the accurate prediction of a contemporary social phenomenon by
_Star Trek_ in 1969 ( ) --
the use of something that looks very much like a laptop to spy on
a romantic encounter between two people (with evil intent).


Chad Lott said...

Jason Silva (ex-Current TV host, now freelance Future Guy) has been making the rounds lately doing a kind of MTV/Kony 2012 version of Kurzweil's schtick.

One of the things he and others like him have been using over and over is Kurzweil's accuracy record on predicting the future.

There's something interesting about the relationship between this questionable track record and sort of opposite, doomsday future scenarios (like say, Howard Kunstler).