Worth reading… on the Future
Some of the more interesting non-fiction exists in the form of collections of essays. Visions for the 21st Century edited by Sheila Moorcroft (Adamantine Press, London, 1992) is a good example with contributions from a wide range of writers – including Vaclav Havel – from different perspectives. Shaped somewhat by the editor’s self-confessed optimism, it is refreshingly mind-expanding, thoughtful and non-technological. Preparing for the Future edited David Hicks (Adamantine Press, London, 1994) is another example in the same series, aimed more specifically at ‘concerned’ educators.
The Gaia Atlas of Future Worlds (Gaia, London, 1990) by Norman Myers has a clearly ‘green’ agenda, but is well-conceived and illustrated and is still relevant five years on. Power Surge by Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen (Earth-scan, London, 1995) is a thorough, and inspiring approach to the crucial question of power sources for the future. It strongly makes the point that we already have the technology – it’s just the political commitment that’s lacking. In The World in 2020 (Harper Collins, London, 1994) financial journalist Hamish McRae sticks his neck out and makes specific predictions, but very much from a rich world, traditional economics viewpoint.
US pop-futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler – authors of the best-sellering Future Shock and The Third Wave – are at the more entertaining end of the market. They package their ideas in a lively anecdotal way, but their political leanings seem to be increasingly to the Right. War and Anti-War (Warner Books, London 1995) is as lively as ever – but you have to keep an eye on its underlying assumptions. An excellent anti-futurist book – which rips into the likes of the Tofflers – is Max Dublin’s Futurehype: The Tyranny of Prophecy (Plume Books, New York, 1992). He argues his case well, dealing scathingly, section by section, with various forms of ‘hype’. His argument only seems to wear thin (almost to the point of disappearance) when he tries to tackle ‘eco-hype’ in a much shorter section towards the end.
United Nations agency reports are not renowned for forward and imaginative thinking. But UNDP’s annual Human Development Report (OUP, Oxford and New York, 1994) is an exception. It’s full of ideas and well as facts and is actually quite readable. And the increasing importance of the UN in shaping the future is reflected in Michael Marien’s annotated guide, World Futures and the United Nations (World Future Society, Bethesda Maryland, US, 1995). There are number of magazines worth looking at. The Futurist – the magazine of the World Futures Society – is quite a mixed bag, tending slightly more towards the newsy and technological side than the philosophical side, but including both. Futures (Camford Group, Cambridge, England) is firmly at the philosophical end of the spectrum.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995