Tomorrow Could Be Beginning of the End for Under-Pressure Futurologists

Cape Times (South Africa), December 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tomorrow Could Be Beginning of the End for Under-Pressure Futurologists


BYLINE: Ian Burrell The Independent

LONDON: This is the time of the year when the media's futurologists emerge to tell us how we'll be behaving over the next 12 months. Most of them work for the big advertising agencies and their prophecies are sold to clients as high-grade intelligence that can give competitive edge in shifting product. Much of this insight - some of it data-driven, some based on a trend-spotter's instincts - relates to the public's use of media.

Havas, the global advertising group, has just sent me its 14 trends for next year. But before I consider these predictions, I want to look back at some of the previous work of its author, Marian Salzman.

Four years ago, I took a train ride with the Connecticut-based soothsayer, during which journey she tried to decipher the shape of 2010 and beyond. At the time, she was talking about the future and I couldn't be sure how effectively she was reading the tea leaves.

I knew she had held down jobs at big ad agencies with titles that would not have flattered Merlin: "worldwide director of the Department of the Future" at TBWA and "president of the Intelligence Factory" at Young & Rubicam, for example.

She had coined expressions such as "wigger" (white suburbanite appropriating black culture) and "metrosexual" (modern urban male in touch with his feminine side). Well, that was invented by Brit journalist Mark Simpson in 1994 but Salzman pushed it out there in 2002.

As she looked into her global ball at the end of 2009, it wasn't clear to me how much of a science this futurology really was. Looking back now, she had mixed success.

"I think we all have to be a little afraid of Google. It has become what Bill Gates used to be, this Big Brother figure," she told me. It seems a prescient observation after this year's revelations by Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency snooping and the privacy concerns around Gmail. But then Google was already such a vast target in 2009, Salzman couldn't miss.

The statement: "I don't see the Kindle replacing newspapers" was accurate - although I'd have loved to have told her that Amazon/Kindle boss Jeff Bezos would be buying The Washington Post on the cheap.

Her "local is the new global" comment could also now be seen as insightful, given we're set for a revolution in local TV channels, but the idea that "broadcast is going to be the most irrelevant thing as we know it" proved way off the mark. …

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