kottke.org posts about future
Psychology professor Daryl Bem ran some common psychology experiments backwards and detected statistically significant results that could indicate that people somehow can, uh, see into the future.
In one experiment, students were shown a list of words and then asked to recall words from it, after which they were told to type words that were randomly selected from the same list. Spookily, the students were better at recalling words that they would later type.
In another study, Bem adapted research on "priming" -- the effect of a subliminally presented word on a person's response to an image. For instance, if someone is momentarily flashed the word "ugly", it will take them longer to decide that a picture of a kitten is pleasant than if "beautiful" had been flashed. Running the experiment back-to-front, Bem found that the priming effect seemed to work backwards in time as well as forwards.
Douglas Coupland's list of 45 tips for the next 10 years is excellent; even the stuff that seems wrong makes you think. Some of my favorite bits:
In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness.
You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual. You've become a notch in the Internet's belt. Don't try to delude yourself that you're a romantic lone individual. To the new order, you're just a node. There is no escape.
It will become harder to view your life as "a story". The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.
You'll spend a lot of time shopping online from your jail cell. Over-criminalization of the populace, paired with the triumph of shopping as a dominant cultural activity, will create a world where the two poles of society are shopping and jail.
Much of this list seems Cowen-esque, particularly this for some reason: "musical appreciation will shed all age barriers".
The list includes this dandy by the awesomely named Dr. Dionysys Larder:
Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.
(via long now)
A video clip of what fashion designers in the 1930s predicted that people would be wearing in the year 2000. While the predictions for the women only accurately depict Lady GaGa's wardrobe, the designers of the past were slightly closer to the mark when it came to men's fashion:
"He'll be fitted with a radio, telephone, and containers for coins, keys, and candy for cuties."
By which they must have meant credit cards.
Update: FASHION magazine responded to this video. It turns out that it was eerily accurate, with designs like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs parading futuristic wares that are perfectly current.
A list of predictions about the unthinkable future by Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno, made in 1993. This one by Eno isn't half bad:
A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)
William Gibson doesn't have to write about the future anymore because he believes the present is so much more unlikely.
If one had gone to talk to a publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It's too complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all and presenting that as an imaginary future, they'd not only show you the door, they'd probably call security.
87 bad predictions about the future. Irving Fisher, economics professor at Yale University, in 1929:
Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.
And Variety, passing judgement on rock 'n roll in 1955:
It will be gone by June.
But we all know expert predictions are crap, yeah?
Good review of Philip Tetlock's new book about expert predicitons, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? "Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices." Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen calls Tetlock's book "one of the (few) must-read social science books of 2005".
Zach Klein: "Then, just now, I remembered that I live in the future." (Related but unrelated, now that we're living in the future, what do we expect to happen in the actual future? This is actually a serious question...society has a collective vision of the future and now that we're there -- ubiquitous huge flat panel tvs, real-time recording/documenting of everything, Segways, personally targetted advertising, etc. -- what's our new collective vision of the future like?)
Time magazine asks Moby, Malcolm Gladwell, Tim O'Reilly, Clay Shirky, David Brooks, Mark Dery, and Esther Dyson about their views on the future: religion, culture, politics, etc. Gladwell: "If I had to name a single thing that has transformed our life, I would say the rise of JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. They have allowed us all to construct new geographical identities for ourselves."
As technology plunges ever forward (or as we perceive it doing so), it's not often that we stop to take a look back at how people thought the future was going to unfold before them. Peter Edidin of the NY Times recently did so, reviewing prognostications about radio, films, and television. It's fun to read the ones where people thought the new technology was going to complete overtake and eliminate an older technology (which does happen, but not as often as people expect). Bruce Bliven on radio in 1922:
There will be only one orchestra left on earth, giving nightly worldwide concerts; when all universities will be combined into one super-institution, conducting courses by radio for students in Zanzibar, Kamchatka and Oskaloose; when, instead of newspapers, trained orators will dictate the news of the world day and night, and the bedtime story will be told every evening from Paris to the sleepy children of a weary world...
D. W. Griffith, the great filmmaker of the early era, had this to say of film in 1915:
The time will come, and in less than 10 years, when the children in the public schools will be taught practically everything by moving pictures. Certainly they will never be obliged to read history again. Imagine a public library of the near future, for instance. There will be long rows of boxes of pillars, properly classified and indexed, of course. At each box a push button and before each box a seat. Suppose you wish to "read up" on a certain episode in Napoleon's life. Instead of consulting all the authorities, wading laboriously through a host of books, and ending bewildered, without a clear idea of exactly what did happen and confused at every point by conflicting opinions about what did happen, you will merely seat yourself at a properly adjusted window, in a scientifically prepared room, press the button, and actually see what happened.
But it's also fun to see when people got it right, more or less. In 1936, J.C. Furnas had this to say of television:
It is my hope, and I see no reason why it should not be realized, to be able to go to an ordinary movie theater when some great national event is taking place across the country and see on the screen the sharp image of the action reproduced - at the same instant it occurs. This waiting for the newsreels to come out is a bit tiresome for the 20th century. Some time later I hope to be able to take my inaugurals, prize fights and football games at home. I expect to do it satisfactorily and cheaply. Only under those conditions can a television get into my house.
Under that set of criteria, it probably took awhile for a TV set to enter the Furnas household, but by the time NBC started broadcasting sporting events in the mid-1940s, they probably had one.
Joshua Ellis on the "Grim Meathook Future" of much of the world: "nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it's depressing and not fun and doesn't have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack". (via bbj)
Perhaps this is impossible or unfair, but can we have a discussion about where technology and user experience on the web are headed without using any of the following words or concepts:
Ajax, web services, weblogs, Google, del.icio.us, Flickr, folksonomy, tags, hacks, podcasting, wikis, bottom-up, RSS, citizen journalism, mobile, TiVo, the Long Tail, and convergence.
That all seems like the present and past, not the future, no? "Web 2.0" arrived a year or two ago at least and we're still talking about it like it's just around the corner. What else is out there? Anything? (Note: This is not an attempt to bring the current "is it really Web 2.0?" discussion (I could care less) here. I'm genuinely interesting in what's out there, if anything.)
A few months ago, Parade Magazine ran an article by Norman Mailer in which he answered the question: if you could do one thing to change America for the better, what would it be? His answer: ban television commericials because the constant interruptions by TV ads were interfereing with our children's ability to concentrate and thus to read and succeed in school and in the world.
I'm not sure Mailer chose the best problem to focus on here (if the "constant interruption" thing is even an issue...look at how long kids stay glued to the television), but I believe he's on the right track in focusing on education. In choosing an answer to this question that would make the most impact, it seems prudent to focus on answers that satisfy two requirements:
1. Get 'em early. Kids are the most malleable members of a society and much significant change starts with the younger generations. Anything that impacts education will likely have a large eventual effect.
2. Choose a course of action with significant emergent behavior and a positive feedback cycle...basically a cascade effect. Find the best place to punch a tiny hole in the dam so the whole thing eventually bursts.
Nothing I have come up with so far satisfies those criteria and you're collectively supposed to be much smarter than I am, so I'm asking you: if you could do one thing to change America for the better, what would it be (and why)?