Are You Ready? The Future Is Here, and This Author With a Strange Name Has a Test for Those Who Wonder if They’ll Fit In

Have you traded in your typewriter for a personal computer and your plug-in telephone for a mobile cellular unit?

Do you send electronic mail instead of writing letters? Do you even know what electronic mail is? Have you relegated such routine personal chores as depositing checks and paying bills to a telebanking system?

Do you think the American presidency is slowly evolving into a ceremonial post and the nation-state is an outdated concept in today’s electronically interlocked global community? In other words, are you ready for the future?

Test yourself. Such tests can tell you a lot about your readiness to survive the fast changes ahead, says a futurist who has been in the business of forecasting change for 25 years, and recently changed his name to FM-2030 to symbolize his confidence in the future. He issues this somewhat ominous warning: “We live in an electronic environment, a fast-response environment. If you don’t avail yourself of the technology, you will find you are outdated. You will be ineffective at work and in your interpersonal relations. You will find yourself in great collision with the world around you.”

To help relieve this pain, FM-2030, formerly F. M. Esfandiary, has devised 25 self-tests, wrapped them in analytic essays, added some mental stretching exercises and packaged them in a new 226-page paperback book entitled “Are You a Transhuman?”

Despite its title, the book is not science-fiction. Although FM-2030 does look forward to the Age of Transhumans (which he describes as a “21st-Century era of new evolutionary being”), he is more concerned about the present.

“This book is intended to help the reader monitor his or her rate of personal growth in a world that I see changing rapidly,” he explained. “By regularly measuring our ability to change, we can better come to grips with how we are doing. Are we falling behind? Are we keeping up with the times?”

He has clear ideas about how to survive a changing world: One must be able to go with the flow, to develop a fluid identity. The fluid people, he writes, are those “who do not have fixed or static identities, but who continually redefine themselves.”

That philosophy accounts for his emergence as FM-2030, after years of lecturing and writing (commentary pieces for the New York Times and other periodicals, as well as two books) as futurist F. M. Esfandiary. “I sort of outgrew my old name,” he explained. “I am not who I was 10 years ago.”

FM-2030 nee F. M. Esfandiary also brushes aside conventional biographical questions regarding birthplace, family and education. “In the world of rapid information that degrades quickly,” he said, “the educational determinate is not a college degree, but `update.’ ” (The “rate of information richness” is one of his 25 self-tests).

Fellow futurist Alvin Toffler summarized: “I think his name change is an imaginative stroke. He is refreshingly original. Whatever makes people think far out ahead is useful. He is a serious guy.”

The new book, which FM-2030 prefers to call an “interactive tract,” evolved out of courses he has taught during the past two decades at New York’s New School for Social Research and UCLA Extension. In pursuing his mission to raise awareness about change he found that people love to do self-tests, so that became his format.

Gradually Move Ahead

“These tests help people pay attention to how they use the technology, to new options for how we can live,” he said. “In my classes students usually do poorly at first, but continue to take the tests and gradually move ahead because they have started paying attention to growth. I have seen this time and time again.”

The book covers a wide swath of attitudinal ground. Because everyday language is the key to attitude, the first test wants to know: “How Updated Is Your Vocabulary?”

The forward-thinking person, in the gospel according to FM-2030, does not say “broken home” (single-parent home is preferable); “test-tube baby” (in vitro fertilized baby); “masses” (people); “foreigner” (visitor from another country); “Far East” (East Asia) or “Third World” (developing regions).

In an analysis of each question, FM-2030 explains his choices. For instance, what is the “Far East” far from? The phrase is a holdover from a colonial period and not useful today. Neither is “Third World” a useful term, he says, because it tends to polarize us into adversarial camps of progressive nations and backward nations when, in fact, poverty and backwardness can be found everywhere.

But dusting off one’s vocabulary is just the beginning. Succeeding tests monitor attitudes across the board: social, economic, medical, political, religious and technological.

Jettisons Some Institutions

And along the way the author jettisons as outdated such cherished institutions and rituals as birthdays (“narcissisms left over from childhood”), hard work (workaholics are “one-dimensional people”), long books, plays or concerts (“hopelessly slow for a high-tech people who want interaction and feedback”), power positions (“Hail to the Chief” may be a “throwback to our earliest tribal days”), and all competitions from the Olympic Games to the Academy Awards (“a wasteful behavior . . . that is divisive and inefficient”).

“I want to help people retool and come to terms with the massive changes that lie ahead,” said FM-2030, who started writing and teaching courses on futurism in the mid-1960s before the concept even had a label. “I am very serious about this.”

He was sitting on a recent afternoon in his Westwood apartment, a high-rise with a panoramic skyline view. Close at hand was a telephone dragging a low-tech extension cord. It was midpoint in a week loaded with radio interviews, promoting his book. He had just finished a talk show on a Cincinnati station during which he had taken calls from people throughout the Midwest, including some who were not ready to be retooled.

“Some people get very emotional when you discuss change,” he said. “I was talking to a man who said he was very religious, and when I asked him if he ate meat, and went hunting, and favored the death penalty and watched violent sports, he said `yes’ to all those things.” FM-2030 rates indifference to violence as near-zero in his test on humanity, which he regards as the basis of religion.

A large, affable man with a courtly manner, he reviewed the genesis of his gospel of optimism.

His 1973 book, “Up-Wingers,” was well-regarded by social scientist reviewers who praised its vision of an emerging post-Industrial Age. In the introduction to that book he wrote:

Bold, New Philosophy

“We must develop a bold new philosophy of the future. A hopeful outlook which can embolden people to want to face the future. To want to plan for it.”

He has not changed his message today. Other futurists may peer ahead and see complex, interconnected problems such as pollution, overpopulation, depleted natural resources and spiritual malaise, but not FM-2030.

“I’m an optimist, and what I have to share runs contrary to the pessimism around us today,” he declared.

Also unlike most futurists, he does not shy away from making predictions. He has been doing so since the mid-1960s when he taught a course at the New School for Social Research in New York. “They didn’t have a niche for me; there was no such field as future studies,” he said. So his course was entitled “Toward New Concepts of the Human,” and listed in the academic area called Social Activism.

“But even then I was talking about solar satellites, post-industrial societies, global communities, tele-democracies and post-family life styles,” he said.

The unorthodox presentation of himself as a global citizen with a name like FM-2030 draws a “lot of flak,” he acknowledged. “I am accustomed to this,” he said. “I am doing it for a purpose. I want people to shift their consciousness from conventional labeling.”

In his opinion, the question of one’s nationality “should be obsolete in a world of global telecommunications, global travel and global economy. It seems to me the nation-state has lost viability and we ought to think in new ways.”

Futurist Toffler (author of “Future Shock”), who in 1973 heralded “Up-Wingers” as “an exhilarating voice of a new, non-mystical consciousness and a new, non-petty politics,” has known FM-2030 since the 1960s. “He is gutsy and truly a visionary,” Toffler noted. “One doesn’t have to agree with everything he says to be refreshed by it.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Although the unflagging hope that underlies all his writings has received praise from many quarters, certainly not everyone will agree with FM-2030’s total view of the future. Although he thinks, for example, that the average American taking his 25 self-tests would probably rank in the slow-growth-rate category, he also believes that a lot of progress has been made since his first class at the New School attracted 12 students and was considered “a little weird.”

“People can move easily to a moderate or rapid growth rate,” he maintains. “Just look how negligent we were about our diet only eight or 10 years ago. We became aware we needed to improve our eating habits and we have.”

His five-session course called “Fast Forward to the Future” is being offered at UCLA Extension starting Jan. 23.

Said Elizabeth Brooks, UCLA coordinator of special extension programs: “We hope it will be a consciousness-raising course. It’s a free-form format, for people willing to break out of a conventional way of thinking about things. The 1980s were a decade of denial. We hope that now people will begin to think about what’s happening to us.”

Written by Connie Koenenn and published by the Los Angeles Times on January 11, 1989