The Next Big Thing?

I used to be a confirmed futurist and believed that the future would always be a better place. We’d learn from history and we’d cure disease and eradicate hunger poverty and want.As I got older my naivety gave way to perceiving infinite shades of grey and seeing the complexities of failed politics.

The recent passing of sci fi guru Arthur C Clarke reminded me of a non fiction book of his I read of his  called Profiles of the Future; an Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, a book that has been revised and updated many times over the years in which he runs through a potted history of events and discoveries that were expected vs changes and breakthroughs that came out of left field or were always presumed to be in the realms of fantasy but were eventually made fact.


For instance it has always long been assumed that man would one day travel to the moon (which has happened) and to the stars (now looking increasingly unlikely) and that sources of limitless free energy (yet to happen) would be discovered and after the second world war we would see an end to wars (nuff said).


As a society we probably all do a lot less crystal ball gazing as more of us assume that the future is likely to be more of a realised dystopia than a bright white utopia.


Here’s the late Carl Sagan having a good go at explaining the possibility of a fourth dimension, something that even the ancient Maya civilisation hinted would eventually be discovered.



We do seem overdue for a great technological discovery  or socio-political movement. I often wonder what it will be. What will the next great leap forward be or are we too preoccupied with how mind blowing the next great mobile phone model will turn out to be?


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3 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing?

  1. Hi there Em!

    I have always been the opposite. I always assumed that because all other great civilisations fell apart at some point, that ours would too. The confidential documents I get sent as background reading for projects I am asked to do often make for very scary reading and I can’t help but think that our current way of life/standard of living is not going to last much longer.

    Always nice to have such a pessimist on the premises isn’t it?

    Best to work on a few of those self-survival skills I reckon: How to light a fire without matches, how to open wine without a corkscrew, how to communicate with people without a mobile phone . . .

  2. People tend to fall into two groups: those who think the human race has never make any progress and never will and those who think progress is an inevitable and continual process. Both are wrong.

    There obviously has been progress: you only have to consider increasing life-spans and better health (at least in the West) for an example. You could find many more, both in technology and in social and political reform.

    But progress is haphazard, not regular. We do not know what may be possible in the future and because we do not know it, we can only grope for it and stumble on it more or less by accident, perhaps missing other things along the way.

    The game of forecasting the future is a complex one, too complex for our little minds. It is instructive to read what thinkers of the past expected our age to be like. They were completely wrong in most instances. We will be equally wrong if we try to forecast our own future.

    If we seem preoccupied with the next mobile phone model, that is because that is currently all we know about. If some breakthrough did occur – a longevity serum, an anti-gravity device, time-travel – then we would obviously think about that instead. 50 years ago, thinking about the next mobile phone model would not have been possible, except perhaps as the wild imaginings of a sci-fi writer. Once we have the technology, we forget how wonderful and mind-boggling it is. Familiarity breeds contempt.

    We live in a truly amazing and wonderful world but, like the spoilt brats we are, we easily become bored with what we have and endlessly demand new toys.

  3. I do get the feeling that mobile phones may be as cutting edge as its going to get for some time to come.
    All things come to an end but other ways of life take their place. There were many who thought we were ‘on the eve of destruction’ 40 years ago but we managed to delay the apocalypse in the safe knowledge that a better class of capitalist decline was just around the corner. I don’t think we should refrain from imagining new ways of life (even if its a dystopian cul de sac). If we stop imagining better ways of being then we’ve given up on ourselves with a kind of collective apathetic death wish.

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