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Shady business to sell futures contracts


Always future predictions They proliferated at the end of the year, but in 2021 something different is joining the usual speculation about tools and lifestyles: existential introspection. Amid the variables of Covid-19, rising nationalism, a global economic meltdown and the climate crisis, evolving emergencies are heightening the sense that almost everything is about to be fixed – from food to exoticism and marriage to games and old age to music. And with uncertainty as endemic as the zeitgeist, the future is as fashionable as ever, promising to exacerbate the uncertainty.

The “future” itself has become an all-encompassing catchphrase. Slack billed itself as the future of work and launched its own Future Forum. Everyone from Facebook (now Meta) to Atari to Seoul announced the imminent future of our reality. Universities are forming ‘future committees’. Governments are committed to a sustainable future. This “future” is not a specific moment in time but an act of promotion. Its evocation can be such a powerful indicator of progress and optimism that it can polish questionable or sober ideas and initiatives and motivate people even in the face of the most bleak realities. German historian Reinhart Kosellick wrote that “what the future offers is compensation for the misery of the present.” But if we become convinced of these visions too easily, the rosy futures being sold to us threaten to prolong the misery. Getting rid of this futuristic fad requires understanding how we got here, who benefits from it, and how to distinguish between serious futures and schlock.

human view far beyond their present in most of human history, whether they have been expressed as prayers for rain or for deliverance. But using prediction strategizing The future is an idea with only a short past – widespread adoption in the West dates back only to the nineteenth century. in her book Looking Ahead: Prediction and Uncertainty in Modern America. Jamie Pietruska shows how, amid scientific developments in the late nineteenth century and rising secularism, “forecasting has become a ubiquitous scientific, economic, and cultural practice,” manifested in such things as weather forecasting, fortune writing, and prophecies about how business will grow or shrink. These transformations coincided with the rise of modernity, the onslaught of social and technological changes that continue to plunge advanced societies into modernity, progress and creative ruin. As Marxist philosopher Marshall Berman wrote, “To be modern means to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, strength, joy, growth, and transformation in ourselves and the world—and, at the same time, threatens to destroy all that we are. We have, all that we know, all that we are.” . This was written in 1982 and was describing the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it applies more appropriately to a future that Berman will not see, the present moment. Constant turmoil can be exciting, confusing, and frightening all at once. Raises the desire to understand and control chaos. The answer to future shock is to predict the future.

But not everyone experiences or imagines “the future” in the same way. The linear march toward a future full of progress is also a historical and cultural construct, and it has benefited wealthy white men who believed the future would be theirs. If the future is conceived as a resource, it will be robbed and exploited primarily through one kind of vision. Inequality and injustice limit access to the future just as they do to land or capital. For example, as sociologist Alondra Nelson has observed, “Blackness is constructed as always in opposition to technology-driven records of progress.” Take the dream that a future world may be without racism, a view that simultaneously ignores the ills of racism while excluding the needs and culture of blacks. Other marginalized groups also find themselves bearing the brunt of a dystopian future while not being included in the utopian future. Consider what it means when future technologies aim to simply erase disability or age, without considering what older or disabled people wish for, or what they can have access to. Strength affects the kinds of changes that emerge and who benefits from them.

While the ability to plan for the future is often a luxury, it is also central to capitalism, on which banks depend on matters such as investment returns, expected profits, and the coordination of supply and demand. (To a large extent, current supply chain problems are a failure to anticipate the future.) Since the turn of the twentieth century, there have been ever-expanding ways to take advantage of the future, as more and more areas of social life have become the terrain of speculative economic opportunity. Companies like WGSN anticipate fabrics, silhouettes, and fashion moods; Think tanks like the Institute for the Future advise foundations and nonprofits about the future of healthcare or governance, and forecasters of cultural trends like The Future Laboratory explain the consequences of virtual reality for Generation Z for their Fortune 500 clients. Not to mention (white, male) business giants like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg, who are moving the markets with their misleading and self-serving ads.

As someone who has been studying professional futurologists for years, the barrier to entry seems lower every day. With the future so first in mind, it seems like all it takes to be taken seriously as a futurist is to claim to be one. On the other hand, democratizing the future means more votes, more fantasies, more possibilities – more ability to plan for more of us. But there is also a price to pay when something as important as the future becomes subject to the whims of an interest economy where hype makes headlines and misinformation crowds out the truth. This means that we take the foolish ideas of prominent people more seriously than we should. (Nuking Mars, anyone?) This means that impractical technologies (like a foldable washing robot) and unpublished studies (like this one on Covid transmissibility) are treated as if they were sound and verified. This means that worries about the future can distract us from engaging in the present. It also means that those whose platform gives them the authority to speak and listen to the future are rarely asked to question their own assumptions and motives. Take the stark predictions about self-driving cars, which were supposed to be ubiquitous by 2020, yet still hampered by regulatory, infrastructure and technological problems. When cultural change becomes productive, cheap versions abound, threatening to detract from our future as well.

abundance of The predictions may make it seem like there is more certainty around the world. And of course, rapid changes coming from all angles deserve our attention, work and care. But forecasting is known to be fickle, and there is little accountability for misleading predictions. (Many trained futures will tell you that they don’t make predictions, preferring terms like forecast, insight, or alternative futures, but that distinction is too overwhelming for most people to understand.) What is certain is that selling futures is a business that fuels uncertainty — and the lack of Certainty is his true product. Too many futures, from too many places, with too many agendas does not invalidate the forecasting project but increases the confusion, making forecasting all the more necessary. The future will remain fashionable for as long as times feel turbulent – as long as there is money to be made and attention to be gained from guiding those who feel, and always will, be behind the curve.

That is why it is important for everyone to realize when to use the future as snake oil to convince us of the inevitability of what is really just another marketing plan. Asking who would benefit from a particular future vision is a good start; So is the pursuit of money. Interpreting and creating future forecasts is also a good reason for everyone to learn basic futuristic techniques such as scenarios, environmental scanning, and backwards forecasting. It is also important to support organizations looking to reshape what the future means, including Future Teaching that introduces futuristic curricula to schools and Afrotectopia that advances the future of radical blacks. We may not be able to prevent the future from being trendy, but we can make it more on our terms. Our vigilance toward the future being sold to us in the present is essential to ensuring a better future for the next generation, which Neil Postman called “the living messages we send to a time we will never see.”

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