In March 2011, I helped the Association of Professional Futurists prepare their monthly online twitter-chat on the subject of disasters. I’ve re-produced the introductory materials I wrote to support it below:
“This month our subject is the ‘Future of Disasters‘; a choice openly driven by the recent tragic events in Japan.
Perhaps for most of us the scale & forces involved still remain difficult to meaningfully comprehend. Nonetheless, as rescue work continues we become increasingly aware of the longer-term issues involved in the aftermath of any disaster – the emotional impact of personal & community mourning; the likely period & hardship of physical dislocation; the costs of reconstruction; the overall economic & cultural loss; the need for future planning. And – without diminishing the severity of the Tōhoku earthquake & tsunami along the Sanriku coast – we’re also reminded of the ongoing series of events of this kind; New Zealand, Pakistan, Haiti, Sichuan, Myanmar, Java, Kashmir, New Orleans, Mumbai, the South-East Asia ‘Boxing Day’ tsunami…
Such events continue to raise a range of important issues, themes & temporal perspectives applicable to all irrespective of geography – though sometimes frighteningly specific because of that very same geography. Beyond the complexities of any particular geo-physical events involved we’d also seek to understand disasters as part of a wider & multi-faceted set of interactions including levels of economic development & prosperity; migration & urbanisation; vulnerability gaps; disaster risk reduction; human security & civil conflict issues & exposure to climate events. Lastly, public health, resilience & ‘capacity to recover’ factors among others must also come to the fore.
From this, can we form a useful set of ideas on what kind of plausible futures are likely to affect this area & how we – as local, national & international communities – can operationalise & work with these ideas to promote overall human safety & survival.”
Further background material.
In April, 2011, I co-hosted the monthly online chat, this time on the Future of Relationships. In advance of the event, I produced the following set of framing questions:
The subject for our next #futrchat will be the future of relationships. A broad topic area we’re sure you’d agree. We’ve put together a short list of ‘framing questions’ to start you thinking & help try & guide the conversation:
Q1: Will our personal relationships always be bounded by the proposed limits of Dunbar’s number (< 150 friends)? Can we /our brains evolve?
Evolutionary biology suggests we have an inherent limit on the number of relationships we can meaningfully create & maintain. Famously, Robin Dunbar cited this as a group of up to 150 in number at any one time.
- Do we believe such biological-determinism is correct?
- Does the emergence of networked communications (social media) based on the ‘strength of weak ties’ begin to change this?
- Do we need to change this idea to enable us to engage with what we might envision as future circumstances?
- How might our children’s sense of ‘personal’ interaction be different in the future, if at all?
Q2: With future declining birth rates, youth bulges & increasing longevity, how might changing family structures alter our relationships?
We’re entering a period in which the combined drivers of fertility, mortality, family size and ageing may come to increasingly effect how families are structured, supported & valued.
- If – in some parts of the world – we’re likely to have fewer children but live longer what might this do to our existing social ‘life-stages’ of marriage, parenting & extended care? How does that effect our interpretation of what these familial relationships should be?
- Will smaller but longer-lived families be closer in their relationships over time? Do the dynamics of the family change as a result?
- How might family relationships differ across the world as a result of – on the one hand – declining fertility and smaller families – and on the other – youth bulges and higher mid-term family size?
- How – if at all – are the relationships within your own family changing? Do you forsee the change continuing?
Q3: Given future job insecurity, changes to working patterns & high levels of youth unemployment, will our work relationships change?
Perhaps most of us would agree the concept of a ‘job for life’ is no longer viable in most places and – as a consequence – we’ll have to undertake a far greater number of jobs than our parents or grandparents may have expected.
- How have we adapted or changed the way we conduct relationships to accommodate this?
- Do we even perceive there to be a meaningful distinction between our work relationships and those ‘outside’? If not, what might the impact be?
- Have new forms of value become more important in being able to create viable future work relationships? (for example, your personal network or the communities-of-interest you’re involved with) What might be the consequences if you don’t have these?
- Does your current working environment signal new trends or processes you feel may become more visible over time?
Q4: What could the longer term impacts of technology be on how we form & engage in relationships? What will be more real F-2-F or virtual?
From the telegraph, to the telephone to twitter – technological developments & their associated services have profoundly altered both the temporal & spatial opportunities we have to form & engage in relationships.
- What new forms of networked, decentralised technologies do we envision becoming important? How might they introduce further change into our relationships?
- Might emergent haptic responses be a true ‘game-changer’?
- How might the increasing creation & transfer of personal data (through ideas such as lifelogging and the Quantified Self) form new ways of communicating in the future?
- How might we perceive and understand ‘realness’ or ‘authenticity’ in the future? Will face-to-face remain the default-standard to make comparisons against? Will virtual representations become a seemlessly accepted part of our interactions? Will human-computer interaction be as valid?
Q5: If we consider our relationships from a generational perspective, how do we feel they might change and why?
Although each of each can be characterised as a member of a particular generational cohort, have we thought in more detail about what that might mean in terms of our attitudes to our relationships, how they’re formed and how we conduct them?
- How do you characterise your own generation in terms of its relationships? Do you feel the perspectives on relationships each generation has are a result of its own particular context?
- In cross-generational terms; how are relationships between the different generations forming? How do you think they may change over time?
- In intergenerational terms; do we feel we have a relationship with generations yet to be born? How does this influence our perspectives on prominent global issues such as climate change or poverty & inequality?
- Do we feel we can conceive of or describe relationships in a way that would be valid or understandable to future generations?
Q6: Do we envision the structure of social relationships changing and, if so, how? What might happen to our notions of hierarchy or power?
In her blog post titled “The Future of Relationships?” regular #futrchat contributor @CASUDI picks up on a number of relationships that would – traditionally – be considered to some extent hierarchical in nature (especially as seen from a Western, developed nation perspective), for example, teacher>pupil; doctor>patient and government>electorate.
- What driving forces or trends do we currently see as effecting hierarchical relationships in this way?
- Are they new forces or are we seeing the consequences of existing ones playing themselves out?
- What ‘future-states’ might we envision for such relationships?
- How might this notion be seen differently from a global perspective? What kind of differently configured social relationships may be subject to change in other parts of the world? (eg, what is the comparative Chinese, Japanese or Indian perspective?)