Brief History of the Future Book Review

Pages: 11 (3036 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

¶ … History of the Future

Strathern, O. (2007). A Brief History of the Future. New York: Carroll and Graf.

At best, futurists are predictors of trends; at worst, speculative commentators. For instance, if we revisit some of the World's Fair exhibitions of the last three decades, we typically find that we have not advanced as far as predicted in some areas (e.g. transportation) and much further in others (e.g. communications). By 2010, for instance, most scholars would have predicted an operating Moon base, and perhaps even one on Mars. Futurists in the 1950s thought we would have mastered solar technology and that "sun houses" would be the common form of above ground housing. Picture phones were in line for the mid-1960s, and yet still have not made it completely, unless you could video conferencing and Facebook (see: paleofuture.com).

Instead of being a history of the future, per se, Oona Strathern, a journalist who specializes in current socio-economic trends, has given us a brief history of futurism -- of those authors who have penned works that, in her opinion, have changed the course of history simply because of their publication. Of course, it is easier to plow through thousands of ideas from past futurists and find only those that either make sense or have come to pass; but the real value of futurism is that it expands the intellectual breadth of the possible. One can hold apocalyptic or utopian view of the future, one can add more or less government, one can change belief systems or posit what might have happened if a war or battle had been different. But what one finds, based on Strathern, is that all through history, the very core and nature of the individual does not change; the same wants, needs, and aspirations; and although the minor details of the innovations and possibilities do change, the crux and soul of humanity's needs remain similar. According to the author, "futurists are also often considered to be in a unique position to create and control the future… if you can really predict something you are, in effect, helping to create it" (9).

Chapter 1- Sex, Drugs, and Heads that Roll

Since civilization began the idea of an oracle, or a futurist, has been part of the human psyche. Humans are unique not only in their ability to conceptualize the future, but to be able to ask penetrating questions about their role -- and change the course of events based on stimuli. Much of this idea of prediction, again depending on the society, took on socio-cultural or religious roles. Because the human mind is susceptible to the use of mind altering and expansion drugs and behaviors, futurists (oracles) often became synonymous with erotic, during induced, stupors in which even they were relatively unaware of their aphorisms. This certainly changed as society modernized witness Erasmus, Da Vinci, and Nostradamus; predictions about science, art, and life based on their own view of scientific reality of the time.

Talking Points

Humans have an innate need to attempt the understanding of the future; much of the Ancient philosophical treatises focused on how to plug into the universe in order to be more adept at understanding.

Many Medieval and Renaissance scientific works were also focused on the what if -- some even influenced modern scientists like Charles Darwin.

There is often a fine line between what one might consider scientific speculation and future prediction -- DaVinci and Michelangelo both predicted aircraft, but it was not for another four centuries that the technology, or belief, became available to construct something that worked.

The future can be changed if enough individuals buy into the new paradigm; thus turning thought into eventual reality.

Chapter 2 -- Fancy's Seven Leagued Boots

The 19th century saw a number of social ideas come to the forefront that would completely change society over the next century; the social order would be overthrown, hereditary rulers ousted, manufacturing revolutionized, and science and discovery taken to ends no one could have imagined. Couple this with a war that transformed the entire paradigm of armed conflict, several major revolutions, and the rise of a new great power and we find that almost every aspect of the world in 1801 was radically different by 1921.

Talking Points

Jules Verne was one of the first speculative fiction writers who saw the potential for electricity, communication, and modern engineering. His methodology in data collection was quite similar to modern day market researchers spotting trends and then extrapolating from there.

The changes brought by the industrial revolution created massive technological improvements, but also created a clear segmentation and social ills. As rapid as the changes in manufacturing changed the nature of business, so too did the gulf between rich and poor change societal views.

There was a real contradiction in the minds of many intellectuals during the 19th century; building off Utopian ideals from the past, combined with realities of the present, they could not help but imagine a more egalitarian future.

This egalitarianism would change society at its very core; lineage would no longer be of primary concern, nor would gender. The approach would be turned towards eager and rapid capitalistic change and economic development and invention.

Chapter 3 -- in Next Week to Morrow

The future was not always bright for all intellectuals in the early part of the century. George Orwell and H.G. Wells, for instance, saw the dangers of totalitarian societies combined with technological improvements as having the potential for a dangerous, dystopian world in which the few controlled the many. The both predicted the rise of the fascist states, and agreed with numerous other thinkers that it would not be possible to hold society together under democracy indefinitely. Instead, they postulated, either human greed and avarice would take over all reason and a set elite govern, or humans would get over their petty jealousies and learn to globalize and cooperate. This may sound well ahead of its time, but both thinkers saw the use of global economic interests as protection against cultural and political warfare -- why war with a country that you have mutual dependence upon?

Talking points

The increased militarization of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries alarmed many futurists. They felt that if humans could not harness their innate aggression, the species would be doomed.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s, stories of Stalinist atrocities in the 1940s, and the eventual detonation of a nuclear device by the United States seemed to plunge the world into an era of gloom. For the first time in history, humans were capable of destroying the entire planet.

Similarly, while no one could predict what the rise of the advertising culture would do to the thought of globalism; predictions about natural resource depletion and warnings about ecological disaster were not uncommon.

Chapter 4 -- Here Live Lions

World War II was a massive philosophical and social change in the fabric of mankind. Never had so many been killed in such ways, and certainly, never had the way these people were killed been publicized. Indeed, only now, in the early 21st century, is some of the archival footage finally being declassified. For it was thought, and perhaps rightly so, that if the horrors of war were brought into the living rooms of regular people, the world would erupt in a demand for pacifism. This was, of course, the era before television, so citizens all over had to rely on newsreels, which could be edited and doctored to suit the needs of the populace.

Talking Points

The aftermath of World War II frightened most of the world's population; as it pushed the United States into a dominate role of power, the world became divided over supporting democracy or socialism. This combined with the nuclear threat, caused resurgence in looking back at Medieval and Renaissance predictions.

Among these, Nostradamus was the most popular, along with Bible Code enthusiasts, Hebrew Torah code interpreters, and all manner of Ancient prophecies and predictions; most so general that they could easily be interpreted to mirror current events.

Science fiction and speculative fiction as a more popular genre took over as a futuristic predictor. In the guise of entertainment, writers could engage such social issues as race, prejudice, sexuality, and most especially, use the images of invasion to prepare the populace for nuclear warfare. Because of the popularity of this genre, not only were more movies made, but television series, novels, comics, and even mainstream authors turned to speculative fiction to say something about the future.

Chapter 5 -- Surprise Free Futures

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s the Western world tried desperately to increase its overall science and mathematical acumen. Sputnik was the first man-made satellite to be successfully launched, and from 1957 onward the world was not only engaged in a nuclear standoff between two great powers, but a race into space, and eventually, a manned mission to the Moon. The combination of the Cold… [END OF PREVIEW]

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