Why we are obsessed with forecasting and futurism

tags: academia, futurism

Devon Powers is associate professor of advertising at Temple University and author of On Trend: The Business of Forecasting the Future."

In the future, more people will be staying home. Environmental disaster, political tumult and economic precarity will fuel Americans’ sense of reclusion and retreat. Cooking, nesting, home delivery services and quality time will ascend. We’ll curl up with loved ones and technologies in our bunkers, watching the world through windows and screens.

A prediction for 2020 or even 2030? No. The prediction was made in 1987 about 1990 by Faith Popcorn, a marketing consultant who runs the futurist consultancy BrainReserve. For Popcorn, the trend of “cocooning” — a retreat from public chaos into private security and predictability — defined the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.


By the middle of the 20th century, the study of the future became more systematic as social scientists developed futurological methods. At the Rand Corp. during the 1960s, strategists such as Herman Kahn and Theodore Gordon established long-range planning techniques for use in the military. Several important initiatives also emerged from the Ford Foundation, with scholars like Daniel Bell and Bertrand de Jouvenel conjecturing about the future of politics and democracy.

Corporations also played a role in futurology’s rise. In 1967, Royal Dutch Shell began to experiment with scenario planning, or the technique of using storytelling to speculate about the future. Called the Year 2000 study, Shell’s earliest scenarios suggested that the company should not assume growth in demand for oil and needed to plan for discontinuity. By the early 1970s, scenario planning became a common tactic at Shell, helping the company to better account for political and social developments that might impact its bottom line, like wars, scarcity and environmentalism.


Read entire article at Washington Post

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