During my last year as president of the World Future Society, I had a very interesting experience concerning people’s feelings about the future. I had been asked to talk about the future of communications technology to a group of senior corporate vice presidents, largely U.S. based. After delivering what I thought was a rather effective (and well received) analysis on the growth of “white noise” in modern society and response strategies, we came to the Q&A discussion, which turned out to be 20 minutes or more.
Although a few questions did relate to the content of my presentation, the majority of audience inquiries keyed off of the speaker introduction, which mentioned that I was retiring in a few months to an island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle. The myriad of questions all had an “end times” feel to them, including how I was preparing for catastrophic weather, resource shortfalls, civil unrest, and so on.
What was striking about all these questions normally associated with evangelical Christians (especially from upper-middle-class citizens of a relatively secular orientation) was their highly personal nature—e.g., “How can I, my family, or even my community mitigate the risks of future catastrophes?” This is in contrast with a more classical orientation toward the larger scale—e.g. “How can humanity (or even our nation) mitigate coming risks?”
Many commentators have lamented the decline in a broader social sense among younger generations worldwide, such as the Millennials, but this audience was mid-career or older. They seemed to be very focused on bringing the future issue down to a very personal level. I wondered, is this a broader trend that others have noticed? For example, are there many who are beginning to feel that small-scale responses are more likely to be effective than broader policy change in dealing with challenges such as climate change, economic instability, or public safety?
One interpretation might be an increasing lack of conviction that more traditional vehicles of public problem solving—such as legislatures, elected officials of all stripes, or even the Third Estate—currently inspire broad confidence in their ability to find solutions and effectively implement them on behalf of the general public. But this wondering aloud approach is not very effective either, without a larger level of dialogue—both on the accuracy of the above observation and on potential responses.
Accordingly, I am issuing a challenge to readers of AAI Foresight Signals to help us shape this discussion, in terms of both its relevance and its potential direction. So I ask you: “Is concern about the future growing while confidence in our ability to affect its course declines?”
Please share your thoughts on this question, and other questions about which you, too, are now wondering out loud. Log in here and use the comment box below, or send your reflections to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy C. Mack is managing principal of AAI Foresight.