Monday, October 31, 2005

Gazing into the crystal ball

Ah, I love it when publications look toward the future -- if not because they are accurate or enlightening, then because they are often wildly off-base in retrospect.

In the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, the publication -- "to mark our 35th anniversary" -- asked a number of luminaries "to speculate on the ideas, values, and institutions the world takes for granted that may disappear in the next 35 years."

Some of the articles require registration (or even a subscription), but others are accessible.

Excerpts of note:

"It’s ironic that the Web once seemed to promise individuals new opportunities to explore the world without showing their face. Instead, it is turning out to be a powerful force against anonymity. ... In effect, people are trading anonymity for a voice. ... As anonymity fades, a critical question will remain: Are we getting as much as we’re giving up?" Esther Dyson, editor of Releasen 1.0 (a CNET publication), in "Anonymity"

"The private domain will swallow the public domain. And the cultivation of culture and creativity will then be dictated by those who claim to own it. ... Our leaders...have been seduced by a vision of culture that measures beauty in ticket sales. ... They can’t imagine that freedom could produce anything worthwhile at all. The danger remains invisible to most, hidden by the zeal of a war on piracy. And that is how the public domain may die a quiet death, extinguished by self-righteous extremism, long before many even recognize it is gone." Lawrence Lessig, Stanford University professor, in "Public Domain"

"Thirty-five years from now, the illicit professionals who remain in the business will be custom drug designers catering to the wealthy. Their concoctions will be fine-tuned to one’s own body and neural chemistry. In time, the most destructive side effects will be designed out, perhaps even addiction itself." Peter Schwartz, chairman of Global Business Network, in "The War on Drugs".

"Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal." Jacques Attali, Foreign Policy contributing editor, in "Monogamy".

Some of these (the end of monogamy, in particular, and the end of the drug war) strike me as untenable in 35 years. But who knows -- maybe in those three decades I'll look like Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the US Office of Patents who in 1899 infamously said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

Your thoughts?

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