These four lists help define futures approaches to a range of topics. The third list (C) of 12 items was written for journalists writing about future topics, by Jamais Cascio. He revised his original content in part based on the responses in the second list (the revised listing is below). The fourth list (D) of 10 items was written by Bruce Sterling as a response to the original list by Cascio (who challenged others to respond). These postings were in June 2006. The have a lot of overlap but differ sufficiently that both versions are included.
I thought they these comments provide a good introduction to the field of futures studies. I reproduced the lists here and give links to the original posting. In printed format this is about 4 pages. My own 11 item listing of what makes a good futurist is listed (A) ( http://cals.arizona.edu/futures/ref/goodfuturist.html), and a 15 item comparison of futures vs conventional thinking by Joe Coates (B) round out the 4 sections below.
There are summaries of what futurists think, definitions of a futurist, and checklists of futures techniques or approaches available on the web. These four take a different approach and give the characteristics of futures work, regardless of who is doing it or for what purpose.
There are different perspectives on what constitutes a good futurist. In part, the answer depends on whether you want an overview or a detailed study, whether the person is a full time futurist or their job is mostly doing non-futures work, and what resources and tools they have available. My perspective on the characteristics of a good general futurist are:
FUTURIST'S THINKING (compare to conventional business thinking, below)
By Jamais Cascio. Format below published at http://www.openthefuture.com/twelvethings.html in 2006. Originally published (in somewhat modified form) June 14, 2006.
Preamble: J. Bradford DeLong and Susan Rasky, at the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, compiled lists of what economists need to know about journalists, and what journalists need to know about economists, in order to result in useful and accurate economic reporting. This is a remarkably good idea, one with direct application in a number of disciplines that are important for society but prone to obfuscation and confusion in the press. Such lists could be valuable to journalists who are, by and large, generalists talking about fields that they probably didn't study, under time and financial pressure from editors and publishers who almost certainly know even less.
When talking with a futurist, then, don't just ask what could happen. The right question is always "...and what happens then?" by Jamais Cascio -- for more information, write to cascio at openthefuture dot com (Copyright 2006 Jamais Cascio)
Written in response to the Jamis Cascio’s original listing of 12 things (see above) journalists should consider in writing about the future. Parenthetic comments are also by Bruce Sterling. This is in response to a challenge from Cascio on what would anyone change in his listing. Sterling notes “I'd change a whole lot. I could spend all week changing this. But I've just got to stop somewhere.” Posted in same place as Cascio’s original http://openthefuture.com/2006/06/twelve_things_journalists_need.html
1. The future belongs to the open-minded. If you want to find out why a new development is important, don't just ask the people who brought it about; their agenda is to emphasize the benefits and ignore the drawbacks. Don't just ask their competitors (social opponents); their agenda is the opposite. Always ask the hackers (academics, regulators), the people who love to take things apart and figure out how they work, love to figure out better ways of using a system, love to look for how to make new things fit together in unexpected ways.
2. Not everyone is surprised by surprises. Be on the lookout for the people who saw (and published) early indicators of surprises before they happened. Just like an "overnight success" worked for years to get there, the vast majority of wildcards and "bolt from the blue" changes have been on someone's foresight radar for quite awhile. When something happens that "nobody expected," look for the people who actually did expect it -- they didn't "predict the future," because that's impossible, but they will be able to tell you many useful and cogent things about why and how it took place.
3. The future is usually the present, only more so. The details will vary, but most of the time, the underlying behaviors and practices will remain consistent. Most people (in the US, at least) watch TV, drive a car, and go to work -- even if the TV is high definition satellite, the car is a hybrid, and work is web programming.
4. There will always be avant-gardes and backwaters. Important changes can't happen quickly and universally. Any important social change will create at least some reactionary counterforce.
5. There are always options. We may not like the choices we (seem to have now, but new situations create new choices.) The future is not written in stone. Don't let a futurist get away with solemn pronouncements of doom without pressing for ways to avoid disaster, or get away with enthusiastic claims of nirvana without asking (what people would do next after utopia arrives.)
6. "Technology" is anything invented since you turned 13. What seems weird and confusing will become familiar and obvious, especially to people who grow up with it. (The most important technologies are the huge, old, taken-for-granted technologies already massively integrated into everyday life.) The real utility of a new technology won't emerge for a few years after it's introduced, once people get used to its existence, and it stops being thought of as a "new technology." Those real uses will often surprise -- and sometimes upset -- the creators of the technology.
7. Even when it's fast, change feels slow. It's tempting to assume that, because a possible change would make the world a decade from now very different from the world today, that the people ten years hence will feel "shocked" or "overwhelmed." In reality, the people living in our future are living in their own present. That is, they weren't thrust from today to the future in one leap, they lived through the increments and dead-ends and passing surprises. Their present will feel normal to them, just as our present feels normal to us. Be skeptical of claims of imminent future shock.
8. Gadgets are not futurism. Don't be hypnotized by blinking lights and shiny displays just because they make such good copy. (Ask the full set of journalistic questions of a gizmo: who, what, when, where, how, why? Why would people would want such a thing? Which people, which demographic? What do they plan to do with it? What's the killer application? Where's the revenue stream? What's the track record of the people introducing this innovation? Does it do anything genuinely novel?)
9. Most trends die out. (No tree grows to the sky.) Just because some trend is (sexy) today doesn't mean it will stay sexy in a few years. Be cautious about pronouncements that a given fashion or gadget is here to stay. There's every chance that it will be overtaken by something new all too soon -- and this includes trends and technologies that have had some staying power.
10. "The future is a process, not a destination." -- Bruce Sterling. The future is not the end of the story -- people won't reach the "future" and declare victory. Ten years from now has its own ten years out, and so on; people of tomorrow will be looking at their own tomorrows. The picture of the future offered by foresight consultants, scenario planners, and futurists of all stripes should never be a snapshot, but a frame from a movie, with connections to the present and pathways to the days and years to come.
Please try to avoid the following annoying cliches of journalistic futurism: dinosaurs and mammals, sport scores and stock quotes, astrology-style predictions of the inevitable, utopias, oblivions, part of the steamroller or part of the road, etc etc – by Bruce Sterling. See more on Bruce Sterling at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Sterling).
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