Futurology: more sense, less bollocks

I’m not a fan of futurology. There’s something about the genre that demands a breathless writing style and over-confident future-bollocks. However, I’ve just been looking at a book that isn’t nearly as bad as the typical example. It’s by Patrick Dixon.

[amazon_image id=”1781254974″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Future of Almost Everything: The global changes that will affect every business and all our lives[/amazon_image]

The breathlessness is there – after all, it fits all of (almost) everything affecting everybody into 350 pages. It has lots of words CAPITALIZED and loads of headings and bullet points. The chapters are titled according to the acronym: Fast; Urban; Tribal; Universal; Radical; Ethical – geddit? Having harumphed, there is also some perfectly sensible trend extrapolation. Even so, there is an early demonstration of the fickleness of the future when it arrives. In a long list early in the book of “highly predictable” long term trends comes “rapid growth in global trade”. Well, maybe, but that’s not looking so good at the moment.

Apart from the stylistic tics – which are obviously popular given how well such books sell – my main problem with futurology is the absence of broader social scientific analysis. Take as an example the section in on big data. It makes some obvious-to-reasonable points about the benefits of personalisation, and the costs to privacy or in increased cyber-crime. But there is no discussion about, say, who owns the data and benefits from the likely gains in exploiting it; or whether it will cause insurance markets to collapse (because they require a pooling of risk which will be subverted by the personalisation of risk premia); or what legal framework will be required to assign big data property rights and rein in the massive corporate invasions or privacy, or indeed the eating up of mobile data allowances by ads and cookies.

Still, having grumbled, if you want a futurology read, the ratio of common sense to future-bollocks in this book is high, it gives a broad survey of current global trends such as demographic change , urbanisation and environmental pressures, and it would nicely fill a plane journey.

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  1. Pingback: Futurology: more sense, less bollocks | Homines Economici

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