Forecasts in Hindsight: The Managing Editor of THE FUTURIST Reflects on Issues That Mattered in the Past-And That Still Matter Today

By Wagner, Cynthia G. | The Futurist, May-June 2009 | Go to article overview
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Forecasts in Hindsight: The Managing Editor of THE FUTURIST Reflects on Issues That Mattered in the Past-And That Still Matter Today


Wagner, Cynthia G., The Futurist


Every now and then, we at THE FUTURIST are asked to look back at previous forecasts to see how we did. Many magazines have turned back the clock briefly to recall what topics interested the readers (or at least the editors) 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago.

So a curious thing happened when I picked up the May-June 1989 issue of THE FUTURIST to see what we were forecasting then. I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu.

In the Future View editorial "Tomorrow? Who Cares?" economics professor Thomas Oberhofer wrote of the consequences of short-term focused and greed-driven financial maneuvering by businesses and individuals alike. He attributed this phenomenon to impatience.

"When we are impatient with the little things, it is hard to be patient with the big things," he wrote. "We see this in many areas of contemporary society. Financial markets in the 1980s have been driven by merger activity and corporate raiding as a means of capturing value. This is in lieu of the old-fashioned way of investing in productive capacity and building a business. Consumers have plunged into debt to enjoy a fling today, often with limited concern for the longer-term consequences of their actions. And the American people have tolerated the creation of massive federal indebtedness and the international erosion of their financial power in the world economy."

Oberhofer advised economic policies that created incentives for patience and disincentives for immediate gratification, though he noted that implementing and enforcing such policies would require a change in the cultural mind-set.

Looking around the international financial landscape just now, I think I can safely say that cultural mind-sets are very difficult to change: Impatience persists, exacerbated by accelerating change in all directions and by a proliferation of distractions.

Several other topics we covered 20 years ago ring familiar today, too, including the cover story, "Cars That Know Where They're Going" by Robert L. French, a consultant on vehicular navigation systems. Indeed, as he foresaw, the use of GPS in cars today is widespread.

"Once a sufficient fraction of all cars are equipped with navigation systems," French predicted," even unequipped drivers will benefit because traffic will be spread uniformly over the road network." Unfortunately, this forecast has not quite met with success, though perhaps today's traffic congestion is not as bad as it could have been without drivers' ability to better manage their personal routes.

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