Futurists have tended to focus on trends in technology and less on pandemics and health care. That will now change.
The future looks very different today than it did before Jan. 31, the day President Trump closed travel with China in reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak. As the world struggles through this crisis, one thing that will follow is a massive reset in how businesses and governments plan and forecast. For those without a role on the front lines of the immediate battle, thinking about the future starts now.
For lessons on the utility of forecasts and forecasters, we turn to “After Shock,” a tome timed to the 50th anniversary of “Future Shock,” Alvin Toffler’s 1970 megahit. Edited by the media entrepreneur John Schroeter, “After Shock” is a collection of 116 essays promising the “extraordinary insights of the world’s foremost thought leaders,” from the inventor Ray Kurzweil to the Stanford University futurist Paul Saffo and Fast Company magazine’s editor-in-chief, Stephanie Mehta. The book is less of a retrospective on what Toffler got right or wrong and more a collection of predictions for the next 50 years.
Every book about the future is unavoidably a Rorschach test of the anxieties and events of the present. That’s why so many predictions fail; they miss the markers of what is truly new. Forecasters extrapolate, in effect, based on yesterday’s technologies, or on what they think should happen to address today’s troubles. Thus “After Shock” has a lot to say about pre-Jan. 31 problems, from climate change and energy to transportation, and an array of digital and social issues that have occupied the popular media in recent years. Barely a half-dozen of those 116 contributors have anything to say about health care or pandemics. In the wake of Covid-19, let’s focus on that handful.
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