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Farhad Manjoo on Toffler

Here are some excerpts from Farhad Manjoo's excellent article on Toffler and the study of the future:

In Mr. Toffler’s coinage, future shock... was a real psychological malady, the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.” And “unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it,” he warned, “millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments.” ...
Yet in rereading Mr. Toffler’s book, as I did last week, it seems clear that his diagnosis has largely panned out, with local and global crises arising daily from our collective inability to deal with ever-faster change. ...
Even as the pace of technology keeps increasing, we haven’t developed many good ways, as a society, to think about long-term change.
Look at the news: Politics has become frustratingly small-minded and shortsighted. We aren’t any better at recognizing threats and opportunities that we see emerging beyond the horizon of the next election. While roads, bridges, broadband networks and other vital pieces of infrastructure are breaking down, governments, especially ours, have become derelict at rebuilding things — “a near-total failure of our political institutions to invest for the future,” as the writer Elizabeth Drew put it recently. ...
“I don’t know of many people anymore whose day-to-day pursuit is the academic study of the future,” said Amy Webb, a futurist who founded the Future Today Institute.
It didn’t have to come to this. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as the American government began to spend huge sums in the Cold War, futurists became the high priests of the coming age. Forecasting became institutionalized; research institutes like RAND, SRI and MITRE worked on long-range projections about technology, global politics and weaponry, and world leaders and businesses took their forecasts as seriously as news of the present day.
In 1972, the federal government even blessed the emerging field of futurism with a new research agency, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which reviewed proposed legislation for its long-term effects. Futurists were optimistic about lawmakers’ new interest in the long term. ...
But since the 1980s, futurism has fallen from grace. For one thing, it was taken over by marketers. ...
Futurism’s reputation for hucksterism became self-fulfilling as people who called themselves futurists made and sold predictions about products, and went on the conference circuit to push them. ... Futurism became a joke, not a science. ...
The idea that the government could do something as difficult as predict the future came to be considered a ridiculous waste of money. ...
But when Mr. Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, became speaker of the House in 1995, he quickly shut down the Office of Technology Assessment. The government no longer had any place for futurists, and every decision about the future was viewed through the unforgiving lens of partisan politics.

- Farhad Manjoo, Why We Need to Pick Up Alvin Toffler’s Torch, NYT, July 6, 2016


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