Researching the Future

I have no idea what the future will be, so “research” became necessary.  Research?  Yes.  And there are resources for that research: books, college courses in futurology, and a website for the World Future Society

People who study the future, i.e. futurists, study trends and extrapolate them into the future.  The World Future Society does this.  The American government’s National Intelligence Council (NIC), a center of strategic thinking that reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) produces unclassified reports that estimate broader trends in the world of foreign policy for the future.  I’m currently reviewing one of their reports, “Project 2025.” 

In addition to Alvin Toffler’s famous work (Future Shock), I found a fascinating “future history” written by W. Warren Wagar: A Short History of the Future.  In it, Wagar writes an imaginary history of the world from 1995 to 2200 through a fictitious historian looking back at that period.  By the time I’d read Wagar’s book, I’d already written several drafts of Perceval but I needed to fill in more detail about Evan’s world in 2048.  I needed to jolt my imagination.  The work of researching the future is really the work of the imagination.  I was gratified and disturbed to discover that Wagar and I had imagined the future in much the same way, with differences in the details.

The future is everywhere in pop culture and the media.  Time publishes sections periodically on the best inventions for each year as well as glimpses into the future based on the progress of technology.  Science fiction has been a consistently rich vein of future stories, whether on TV, in the movies, or in novels and short stories.  Star Trek: The Next Generation has influenced my thinking.  So much of science fiction, however, focuses on technology or space travel, and I wanted to focus on people.

The future in the Perceval novels is seen primarily from Evan Quinn’s point of view, influenced by his interests and dislikes, as well as his ignorance and education, and his personality.  As a result, I began imagining that in 2048 a backlash against technology and capitalism is in its early stages.  What becomes important is choice.  For example, Evan can choose not to have internet access on his cell phone, and all European cell phones (possibly this will be a global initiative) no longer have video or photographic capabilities.  He can choose not to have a cell phone.  He doesn’t particularly like them.  But cell phones continue to proliferate in design, size and add-ons.  One cell phone circles the face like a spider’s black leg, ending over the mouth.

Research can be fun, seductive, and dangerous.  Too much can stifle the imagination.  Not enough and readers complain that the story isn’t real or authentic.  Other areas of research for the Perceval novels have been grounded in the real world, facts and experience, and far easier than imagining a future world.  However, I found extrapolating trends liberating.  My imagination loved taking the clues I found in my research and creating Evan’s world.  In fifty years, readers may find the novels either amusingly way off base or eerie in how much I got right, but no one can accuse me of not doing enough future research!

Now I think of the Perceval series as a future historical pentad that includes high crimes, politics, espionage, war and suspense, and classical music as experienced by Evan Quinn, an orchestra conductor.


2 responses to “Researching the Future

  1. One of my favorite sci-fi serial novels are from Lois McMaster Bujold. One of her technological “advances” is the uterine replicator, a device which allows a woman to avoid the ‘dangers’ inherent in a “body birth”. One of the central figures in the earlier stories is just shocked that anyone would want to simply give birth personally. Doing it via technology allows (in this future), genetic ‘cleaning’ by which they mean eliminating genetic diseases and mutations (not genocide).

    Sounds great, eh? Especially after my 2nd pregnancy, which just knocked me on my butt.

    It allows a woman to become a mother at an older age, which made sense along with a longer life span. The galactic ‘norm’ was pushing 100 as a reasonably expected life span.

    Yet …

    science today states that breastfeeding reduces the risk for breast cancer. Pregnancy reduces the risk for some other female-linked health problems. Is the avoidance of birth hazards really a long-term risk reduction, since there are distinct physiological benefits to it?

    The idea of removing genetic diseases sounds grand. It’s cited as the significant contributor to the enhanced life span. Such things as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, etc. would be a thing of the past. This would reduce the public health costs, to be sure.

    But where would the ethical line be drawn about diddling with your child’s body? Green eyes vs. brown might seem pretty innocuous. But what else will seem ‘innocuous’ in a few centuries?

    I find it interesting how the people in the story respond to different technological advances, and how those advances influence social and personal behaviors. E.g. the ear-mounted blue-tooth (right name?) cell phones – they drive me insane and yet are right out of Star Trek. I also think they encourage social behaviors I find distasteful.

    • There is a lot of research being done right now, especially in autoimmune diseases, to identify the genes involved with the disease process, what gene turns it on or off or controls it. This research is a step in developing gene therapy to “cure” these diseases. The researchers want to be able to target the specific gene(s) involved in people. This is on the verge of becoming a reality in our lifetime. So it will actually eliminate the need to “correct” genetic mutations or genetic diseases via something like a “uterine replicator.”

      Breast milk contains things that also help a baby’s developing immune system. Not breastfeeding her/him could affect the immune system’s development. I’ve also wondered if it is a factor in the development of autoimmune diseases.

      Cell phones do encourage some very distasteful behaviors….(smile)

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