Over a week ago I went back-to-back first to the
AlwaysOn Innovation Summit(AO2003) then to the yearly conference of the
World Future Society (Oddly enough, they took
down the conference web page already, which makes it really tough to link to
any particular session).
I would have preferred to have at least a month in between the two, but it
gives me the chance to compare one with the other. I wrote about the Summit
already, therefore this post is mainly about the WFS conference.
The World Future Society was founded in 1966. My guess is they were riding
the wave of the promises of NASA space travel as well as "The
Jetsons" cartoons on TV. These promises of flying cars and towns on
the ocean floor never materialized and that also deflated the field of future
study. People just lost interest.
With the acceleration of change in the last few years, my feeling is that the
interest in the future and what it has in store for us is on the rise. But my
perspective may be a bit biased; after all I am running a Futurist
Salon and am helping to organize the first Accelerating
Change Conference at Stanford in September.
Future Studies is a wide field and that reflects in the World Future Society.
Members reach from the progressives moderns, for them more technology is the
solution to all of our problems, to environmentalists that see doomsday scenarios
just around the corner. The most famous of these is "The
Limits to Growth" report of the Club
Matthew R. Simmons revisited
that report in 2000. His sad conclusion: "As the 20th century came
to an end, wind and solar collectively only created one-tenth of 1% of renewable
electricity in the U.S. What this means, in simple arithmetic, is that the two
"promising new energy techniques," heralded to hold such promise when
The Limits to Growth was first published, still account for only 1000th of 1%
of U.S. electricity generation! To say that no progress was made in this taxing
energy issue since The Limits to Growth first hit the bookstands is a colossal
Looking back, I realize, that this is one of the charms of the World Future
Society Conference - the huge spectrum of ideas and viewpoints offered there.
I very much enjoyed the chance to sit in a session called "The Chaplains
of Tomorrow: Universal Quality Enhancers" Not being a native speaker I
didn’t even know what a Chaplain was, Charlie Chaplin is the closest I ever
got to this word before. After 10 minutes I understood that it is not for me
right now and moved on.
It is a big cafeteria system, where you pick and choose from a dozen parallel
sessions. You can go through the event without ever getting your viewpoint challenged
may it be doom or utopia. But I am a firm believer that the real interesting
stuff happens at the fringes, when different fields come together.
This is the strength of the World Future Society Conference and they should
put a stake into the ground and claim: "Here is the one time in the year
where all these disciplines come together". You only have to look at the
column headers of the schedule at a glance to see that this is true: Business,
Economics, Environment, Futures, Globalization, Governance, Health, Learning/Education,
Science/Technology, Society, Values.
With a few well-selected panels (and there were too many of these at the AO2003),
one could very nicely bring the different viewpoints to the forefront and create
a fruitful dialog. It would be great to enhance that dialog with additional
channels, like a conference Wiki or chat. Maybe the organizers should talk to
the Socialtext folks that were running
these things at the AO2003.
These tools would energize and rejuvenate the event. Prerequisite is of course
ubiquitous Wifi; I wasn’t the only one
missing it. Maybe within a year every respectable conference hotel will
have it in their portfolio. In some areas, hotel signs offering "Free Broadband"
are starting to outnumber the "Free HBO" ones, Wifi can’t be too far
behind. Another possibility is to get a sponsor to provide Wifi. World Future
Society conference organizers could really learn from the AO2003
where there were 17 sponsors at the bottom of their web
page. Lots of companies should be eager to show that they are tuned in and
forward-looking by being part of the next World Future Society Conference.
Will post about some of the sessions soon too, if I find the time :-)
Other suggestions on how to rejuvenate the World Future Society Conference?