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W

illiam Gibson, a sci-fi writer, once famously said: “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Indeed, one look at any of the ambitious development projects in the Middle East, the race to colonize Mars, or flying cars tells us the future is now—and it’s at times more impressive than fiction.

When I first started writing about megatrends a decade ago, being labeled a “futurist” was sometimes akin to being labeled a “fortuneteller.” Of course, they are not the same. Trendspotters—like best-selling author Marian Salzman—are strategic forecasters, but she would be quick to correct you that she is not a clairvoyant; nor does she have some magic ability to see what the future will bring. What, then, is her new book, “The New Megatrends: Seeing Clearly in the Age of Disruption,” all about if it’s not predicting the future?

The answer lies in the past.

Examining trends—especially the big ones that will change the course of human society—is an exercise of how good a student of history you can be. Indeed, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, to the 1920s, we’ve seen similar stories play out time and again. Unfortunately, we typically are not good students, tending to color the past with a rose-colored hue. This nostalgia, or idealized vision of the past, as Salzman explains, prevents us from using the past as a reliable guide to the best possible version of the future.

This is why Salzman’s “New Megatrends” are both revelatory and plausible.

There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic was a pivotal event, serving as one of the backdrops for Salzman’s writing and thinking—she started the book while in lockdown. But her focus is on the big cultural shifts hiding in plain sight. And perhaps most interestingly, their interconnectedness. From this historical vantage point, she observes several trends already taking shape. The book is full of them, but here are three big ones that were prescient for me.

1. Are We Going to Live in the “Real World”?

The leftover trauma from COVID-19, new crises popping up daily, and the ordeals and separations experienced make “real life” unbearable for so many. This is a world of chaos, one in which we might feel we have little agency. By 2038, says Salzman, more people will opt out of “real life” in favor of time spent in carefully constructed metaverses, i.e., virtual worlds in which we will live, play, engage, and even travel via avatar. The investments Big Tech and others are making in virtual platforms and the compendium of crises and uncertainties we continue to face make this a very plausible scenario. But will meta-living be another thing that divides us? Will the virtual world be a utopia or a representation of the deep-seated inequalities we see in the real world?

2. Is the Future Really Female?

The most recent World Economic Forum global gender gap report says it will be another 132 years before we achieve gender parity. Salzman reflects on the advances women made in the two decades prior to the #MeToo movement, which saw powerful men brought down for their sexist and predatory behavior. Still, “for all the doors that opened to women in advanced economies at the turn of the millennium, one statistic remained relatively unchanged: the percentage of women at the executive level in business,” writes Salzman. Women still face numerous barriers to career advancement. But the feminist movement—having chiefly benefited white, affluent women—will need to grow to confront other contemporaneous inequities across society if it is ever to succeed in its goals. While Salzman does not believe the future is female—at a time when gender is increasingly deemed a social construct—she is confident it won’t be male either.

3. Will Liberal Democracy Survive?

Though we like to think the phenomenon is recent, growing distrust, fear, and disinformation have fueled populism for decades. These political tensions are threatening to undermine liberal democracy across the globe. Disinformation and misinformation in particular—again, neither a new phenomenon—have contributed to an erosion of truth and trust across all institutions and figures of authority. It seems we trust no one and nothing. Two decades ago, explains Salzman, we might not have agreed on issues, but we would agree on basic facts. Now (and in the future), we coalesce into our separate realities. More alarmingly, says Salzman, democracy, in the next two decades, will no longer be assumed the best (or least bad) way to run a country. This stark reality is enabled by the exponential advancement of tech tools that make the spread of dis- and misinformation breathtakingly fast. Will democracy survive? It’s more than darkness we should worry about; it’s also disconnection and discontent.

Conclusion

Thinking like a futurist and—even better—being respected as one makes you a better and more effective leader. Salzman’s book is most certainly a manual for leaders—all types of leaders who embrace the skills, practices, and behaviors of futurists. While Salzman’s conclusions aren’t always optimistic, they are grounded in reality, and our reality at the moment is most certainly not rose-colored. Going from what is a possible or probable future to what is a preferred future requires disciplined studying of these signals. “The New Megatrends” accomplishes exactly that in chronicling the past, present, and future signals that will shape society in the next two decades.

The author, Marian Salzman (right), with Ana C. Rold at a recent book launch event and interview at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier. She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host and Producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The Megatrends Shaping Global Culture and Commerce in the Next Two Decades

Photo via Adobe Stock.

July 30, 2022

Thinking like a futurist and—even better—being respected as one makes you a better and more effective leader. In her review, Ana Rold describes Marian Salzman’s book "The New Megatrends" as a manual for all types of leaders who embrace the skills, practices, and behaviors of futurists.

W

illiam Gibson, a sci-fi writer, once famously said: “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Indeed, one look at any of the ambitious development projects in the Middle East, the race to colonize Mars, or flying cars tells us the future is now—and it’s at times more impressive than fiction.

When I first started writing about megatrends a decade ago, being labeled a “futurist” was sometimes akin to being labeled a “fortuneteller.” Of course, they are not the same. Trendspotters—like best-selling author Marian Salzman—are strategic forecasters, but she would be quick to correct you that she is not a clairvoyant; nor does she have some magic ability to see what the future will bring. What, then, is her new book, “The New Megatrends: Seeing Clearly in the Age of Disruption,” all about if it’s not predicting the future?

The answer lies in the past.

Examining trends—especially the big ones that will change the course of human society—is an exercise of how good a student of history you can be. Indeed, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, to the 1920s, we’ve seen similar stories play out time and again. Unfortunately, we typically are not good students, tending to color the past with a rose-colored hue. This nostalgia, or idealized vision of the past, as Salzman explains, prevents us from using the past as a reliable guide to the best possible version of the future.

This is why Salzman’s “New Megatrends” are both revelatory and plausible.

There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic was a pivotal event, serving as one of the backdrops for Salzman’s writing and thinking—she started the book while in lockdown. But her focus is on the big cultural shifts hiding in plain sight. And perhaps most interestingly, their interconnectedness. From this historical vantage point, she observes several trends already taking shape. The book is full of them, but here are three big ones that were prescient for me.

1. Are We Going to Live in the “Real World”?

The leftover trauma from COVID-19, new crises popping up daily, and the ordeals and separations experienced make “real life” unbearable for so many. This is a world of chaos, one in which we might feel we have little agency. By 2038, says Salzman, more people will opt out of “real life” in favor of time spent in carefully constructed metaverses, i.e., virtual worlds in which we will live, play, engage, and even travel via avatar. The investments Big Tech and others are making in virtual platforms and the compendium of crises and uncertainties we continue to face make this a very plausible scenario. But will meta-living be another thing that divides us? Will the virtual world be a utopia or a representation of the deep-seated inequalities we see in the real world?

2. Is the Future Really Female?

The most recent World Economic Forum global gender gap report says it will be another 132 years before we achieve gender parity. Salzman reflects on the advances women made in the two decades prior to the #MeToo movement, which saw powerful men brought down for their sexist and predatory behavior. Still, “for all the doors that opened to women in advanced economies at the turn of the millennium, one statistic remained relatively unchanged: the percentage of women at the executive level in business,” writes Salzman. Women still face numerous barriers to career advancement. But the feminist movement—having chiefly benefited white, affluent women—will need to grow to confront other contemporaneous inequities across society if it is ever to succeed in its goals. While Salzman does not believe the future is female—at a time when gender is increasingly deemed a social construct—she is confident it won’t be male either.

3. Will Liberal Democracy Survive?

Though we like to think the phenomenon is recent, growing distrust, fear, and disinformation have fueled populism for decades. These political tensions are threatening to undermine liberal democracy across the globe. Disinformation and misinformation in particular—again, neither a new phenomenon—have contributed to an erosion of truth and trust across all institutions and figures of authority. It seems we trust no one and nothing. Two decades ago, explains Salzman, we might not have agreed on issues, but we would agree on basic facts. Now (and in the future), we coalesce into our separate realities. More alarmingly, says Salzman, democracy, in the next two decades, will no longer be assumed the best (or least bad) way to run a country. This stark reality is enabled by the exponential advancement of tech tools that make the spread of dis- and misinformation breathtakingly fast. Will democracy survive? It’s more than darkness we should worry about; it’s also disconnection and discontent.

Conclusion

Thinking like a futurist and—even better—being respected as one makes you a better and more effective leader. Salzman’s book is most certainly a manual for leaders—all types of leaders who embrace the skills, practices, and behaviors of futurists. While Salzman’s conclusions aren’t always optimistic, they are grounded in reality, and our reality at the moment is most certainly not rose-colored. Going from what is a possible or probable future to what is a preferred future requires disciplined studying of these signals. “The New Megatrends” accomplishes exactly that in chronicling the past, present, and future signals that will shape society in the next two decades.

The author, Marian Salzman (right), with Ana C. Rold at a recent book launch event and interview at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier. She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host and Producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.