“How prepared are you for the future?” I asked at a recent business seminar.
“I surf the Net and hang out on the Web,” someone volunteered.
“Splendid. How else are you preparing for the coming years?”
“I use a videophone and have a satellite dish,” someone else joined in.
“This is encouraging. What else?” I asked.
“I have a wrist organizer and one of these new palm-size computers.”
“Haven’t you forgotten something else?” I asked.
Everyone looked around puzzled.
“Do you mean virtual reality?”
“You have told us about the tools you have acquired,” I said, “but you have left out some equally important items. What about your lifestyles and values, your work modes and eating habits and civic activities? What good is tinkering with 21st century machines if you are still parked in mid-20th century lives?”
There is a simplistic assumption around these days that to blaze forward, all you have to do is switch on a computer, surf the Net, engage in some trendy cybertalk and then, presto, you are magically teleported to the future. You are with it.
The fact is that deploying new technology is only one of the steps needed to soft-land in the future. Smart machines do not automatically catalyze us to smarter lives. Switching on the future entails more effort. For example, what good is going global on the Internet if your real-time allegiances remain nationalistic and ethnocentric? You can gloat over your portable equipment, but if you continue to run in place in unportable lifestyles, marinating for decades in the same apartment, the same city, the same country, the same profession, the same social ties, how portable are you?
You can be hyperteched with smart labor-saving machines, but if you are still toiling long hours, you are operating at the archaic level of dumb mechanical machines.
How much are you really benefiting from your futuristic gizmos if you embrace anti-future public policies?
The unbalanced focus on technology pervades all areas of today’s society. Every day across the United States, thousands of people flock to electronic trade shows and convention centers to make contact with the latest Tomorrowland technology. On national television “Future This” and “Future That” programs abound, each striving to outgadget the other. Where are the conventions and the national TV programs highlighting the equally important social transformations?
The fact is that some of the most spectacular advances of our times are unfolding in our values and in our emotional and social lives. The accelerating phase-out of patriarchy and puritanism, the proliferation of fluid lifestyles and flex work schedules, the increasing expectation of a vigorous long life, the shift from command decision-making to power-sharing, the leapfrog from national loyalties to a global consciousness.
These and other social revolutions are just as powerful, just as glamorous and futuristic as the new technology and they demand just as much attention and adaptation as does the new hardware.
In fact the new technology and the new social revolution are part of the same continuum. Sooner or later, each reinforces the other. Without the new technology, social progress would not unfold so quickly and without the new values, technology can be all too often used as a weapon to spread bigotries or monopolize power.
To free-fall into the future takes more than simply acquiring more gadgets. We need the self-assembling interface of new technology and new values so we can surge ahead to the marvels of the new century.
Published by the Los Angeles Time on February 16, 1998