Editor's Blog

Smooth talkers

Some words are sneakier than others. They appear to mean one thing while implying something else. Charming is one such word. A compliment, on the face of it, but often used to describe someone who flatters to deceive. If a person is described as a ‘bit of a charmer’ they are more likely to be interested in the contents of your wallet than the contents of your heart. Dazzling is another word that has this sly duality of meaning. In most cases it’s used positively to describe a West End show or a brilliant piece of art, but it can also point to the superficial quality in something, the lack of substance behind the bright lights and the pyrotechnics. Rabbits in headlamps, that sort of thing.

I always feel slightly dazzled by futurists. I'm not thinking about Umberto Boccioni and his ilk, but those people who make predictions about the future based on current trends – and through that a living. They are sometimes called futurologists and their business cards usually have ‘speaker and business consultant’ written on them. It is not clear how many of them have studied Future Studies or what qualifications they have, apart from the ability to use google. Neither is it clear that that matters.

Futurists have become the keynote speaker of choice for international conference organisers who want to impress delegates, but can’t afford anyone famous. It would be churlish to suggest they don’t earn their money. Most of them are extremely capable presenters who know better than most how to use PowerPoint. They speak for an hour or so without repetition or hesitation, mapping out a world of automation and advanced healthcare, driverless cars, and insect-based diets. They are soothsayers for the seven billion and usually, it has to be said, very entertaining. Dazzling, even.

So why do they only ever leave me feeling half full? Maybe because, while presenting serious challenges, they so rarely ask – or invite - serious questions. Their job is merely to present a glossy survey of the future - based on info pulled from magazine articles, documentaries, scientific journals - and suggest some of the ramifications. It’s impressive, the way they shape their research into a slick, attention-grabbing presentation, but like skyscrapers built in the desert, one often struggles to see the point. There is that nagging suspicion, too, that it’s all a bit of an act. That if someone who really knew what they were talking about were to challenge a statistic, the whole thing would collapse…

Smooth talkers, that’s what futurists are. Not necessarily a good thing.

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  • Sally Greenhill 28/11/2017 Of: Ms

    I love your writing james, you so often hit the nail right on its head. I also find myeslf thinking when listening to these futurologists - is this a world i want to live in? But then, are they any better predictors than Gypsy Rose Lee?