Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Thursday April 29, 2004. Among the free magazines at Steeple People thrift shop was Scientific American for July 1997. Cover blurb for one story: "Stupid computer tricks. How virtual reality, speech recognition and other good ideas can hurt business." The article turned out to include several Just Around the Corner innovations -- most of which are still Just Around the Corner.

Just Around the Corner is a crowded place. The flying cars which were to be in every garage right after WW II ended; the videophones which in the middle 1960s were confidently predicted to soon completely replace voice-only phones. Various plans to simplify the US tax code. The permanent liberal victory, the permanent conservative victory, several varieties each of Marxist and libertarian victories....

On LiveJournal, Pamela Dean had expressed disapproval of a law recently passed in Virginia.

I commented that I thought the liberal/conservative cycle had passed one of its conservative peaks.

Also on LiveJournal: Arthur Hlavity

pointed to Charlie Stross's article on the future and writing sf (written for the plotka.con program book).

Some time ago, I read a collection of Shakespearean criticism from various periods. I soon decided that these pieces told me more about the times in which they were written than about Shakespeare's work.

(When I mentioned this to Pamela Dean, she did not seem totally surprised. I suspect she had encountered this idea in graduate school, if not earlier.)

Similarly, what people predict says more about their own time than about the future. Rather, about what they _think_ is true about their own time. During the 1950s, English sf writers usually assumed that England would continue to be a great power on Earth, and would of course also be one in space. (Note: Yes, I'm using "England" correctly; some of these writers might have mentioned other parts of the United Kingdom, but I don't recall them doing so.) And in the late 1990s, both Russian and American writers usually took it for granted that the Soviet Union would be a superpower for decades to come.

The US Forest Service issues predictions of forest resources decades into the future. They come with a disclaimer: It's assumed there will be no demographic, technological, or economic surprises. And, of course, they give high, low, and middle predictions.

I've developed some rules of thumb for anticipating the future: 1) Don't count on any trend to continue. 2) The lower a country's male life expectancy is, the less stable it's likely to be. Don't count on any country where male life expectancy is under 120 to last.
3) The leading countries, companies, technologies of today won't be leaders 50 years from now, and might not be 10 years from now. 4) Social habits considered normal/harmless today might not have that status a few decades from now.

And one large rule for writing future-setting fiction: Be very, very vague about the next few decades.

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