Rescuing all our Futures: The Future of Futures Studies was edited by Zia Sardar and published in 1999. It makes a strong case that futures studies – in particular US-based — had become locked into a “single, myopic vision” of the future based on technology and globalization that largely neglects the non-Western world. The future is seen as “colonized” by this vision, that is, it crowds out alternative visions of the future. The notion of colonizing the future suggests that the dominant vision constrains the imagination of what else could be possible. Indeed, it was noted that some non-Western countries were simply adopting this vision – not being aware of alternatives.
It was quite fascinating to read how this idea came through in different ways throughout the collection of 18 essays — by mostly non-US folks critical of mostly US futures studies. Indeed, the argument comes through even stronger in a subsequent book by Sardar published a few years later: Why Do People Hate America.
I think this argument was – and perhaps still is – a useful one to consider. I do feel like it casts the net too broadly and suggests that all US futurists are alike, and either oblivious or actively complicit in promoting this future. It’s not true of most of my US colleagues, who are fervent proponents of alternative futures. I suppose, however, I’m mostly hanging around professional futurists or those who want to be. And most of us/them do not believe this path is a good one. There are some “pop” futurists out there on the circuit proclaiming one future, probably more implicit than explicit. And perhaps the Singularity folks could be seen as putting out one version of the future, although it is different from the mono-vision suggested in “Rescuing.” But I don’t want to suggest that all pop futurists or all Singulartarians believe the same thing. “Rescuing” put the East vs. West argument on the table – I hope that we’re done with it by now ( I fear, however, that there is still an undercurrent)
I was more fascinated by the fact that this single, myopic vision identified back in 1999 is indeed still in play. Slaughter’s Biggest Wake Up Call, among others have noted this in more recent time. For our teaching and training at the Houston Foresight program, we typically use a baseline scenario – defined as a continuity future based on current trends, plans, and projections staying on track. My most generic version of that is called the Long Boom, taken from Peter Schwartz’s book published in 1999. It is sometimes forgotten that the Long Boom was one of four scenarios published in Wired Magazine, but it became the “popular” one, which was then featured separately in a subsequent issue and then became a book. The others are long forgotten.
One could argue that the Long Boom continues to represent the baseline scenario (or least the perception of it as an “official future”), even as evidence to the contrary mounts. But identifying the baseline does mean that we support, agree with it, or like it – it is simply what we see as the dominant current future – as the contributors found back in 1999. Indeed, much of our work today looks for ways to disrupt or move off this baseline. — Andy Hines