Almost on cue, after a few days of saying nice things about Alvin Toffler, the NY Times pointed out the demise of futurists and futurism, asking “Where Are the Futurists?” To quote the opening: “Futurists once had a future. Now, not so much — and that’s a shame.” Well, at least he was nice about it. We should brace ourselves for more, as some big-name futurists age, as their passing will likely stimulate similar pieces (kind of macabre, isn’t it?).
In my younger days, I would have been compelled to compose a scathing retort. How dare they? Now with twenty-plus years of experience, I more incline to tsk-tsk the lazy journalism and let those pieces fade into the same obsolescence they are forecasting for us. In fairness, one can indeed put together a “half-empty” view of the future of futurists. I won’t go through that case here, but I recognize this is no time for us to be over-confident. Taking the “half-full” view, I actually think overall coverage of futurists is getting more positive. In our capstone class in the Houston Foresight program, we have long done a week on media coverage of futurists and foresight. There were some brutal hatchet jobs in there. [Anyone remember the “nipple twist?”] In general the negative outweighed the positive. It was a little depressing. But we pushed through to identify the recurrent themes (where are the flying cars), and would critique the pieces and find that most of them were pretty poorly done.
Nonetheless it always kind of bothered me that this negative drivel was out there. A few years ago, some students and I began tracking mentions of Futurists in the Media. While we haven’t finished with the stats, I’ve been struck by how the vast majority of coverage of futurists these days is positive or at least neutral. There are very few attack pieces. That doesn’t mean we should rest easy, as what is being covered is overwhelmingly at the “pop futurist” level. “Serious” foresight work is getting very little attention in the media. That makes sense, of course, but I think we should take a good hard look at this and think about how we might do a better job of telling our story as futurists. The worst of the attacks may be behind us, the coverage is turning positive – albeit “pop”—but I think we have an opportunity to shape a more compelling story about our work in the future. Andy Hines