So You Wanna Be A Futurist

  • Posted on: 20 June 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

Live in the future!I like the idea of the future. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the idea that, in the future, people could work from home and connect into this seemingly magical global network of computers. Far out. By the time I hit my teens, I was all gunned to write. Some kids want to be rock stars. Some was to play some wicked 'ball. I was a big ol' nerd who wanted to write comics, gaming modules, sci-fi, et cetera. I have one problem with fiction and science fiction. A key element to fiction is conflict. There was to be a problem of some sort and the story centers around it-- it's solution, it's lack thereof, how it's not going away. If science is a panacea of solutions, couldn't science give us everything eventually? It's a matter of technology, economics and human nature coming to some state of peace to deliver solutions instead of delivering profits and scarcity. If we have everything and want nothing, maybe we'll even reach states of bliss in our hearts. Ultimately no conflict. No conflict, no fiction. But the future has cool gadgets! Gadgets and thingees! How could I think the future will pay off and no take the F out of SF? How could I get a job writing about the science to come?

I could become a futurist.

The Role of the Futurist

Futurism used to be synonymous with fortune telling. In the 1950s, the Amazing Criswell went onto TV every week to predict all sorts of things. Futurists are fortune tellers and fortune makers. They predict where social trends, technology and design will go. By working with businesses, they can provide a forecast to the future and let their clients innovate ahead of the competition.

There are some cool futurists out there who have shaped our world and its course:
Alvin Toffler
Alvin Toffler was the author of "The Third Wave." and the book, "Futureshock" (go to any Salvation Army-- one shelf in their book section has ratty copies of Futureshock). If you want to get a what Toffler was talking about in The Third Wave, look around you: we're tentatively living it. According to Toffler, we are entering into a post-industrial society were we don't use foundries and massive scale, but discrete solutions and customization (aka "demassification").

Bruce Sterling
Sterling was one of the Cyberpunk crowd of authors from the 1970s and 1980s. He coined the term "Viridian"-- basically a Green who thinks that technology is a way to achieve green solutions to our world's problems. I like Sterling's ideas way more than his fiction. I'm proud to be a VIridian.

Syd Mead
If you were blown away by Blade Runner back in the 1980s, then you were blown away by Syd Mead. He has been an industrial designer since the 1950s for car companies and the like.

Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil has been a prolific inventor. When his thoughts turned to futurism, he anticipated that cellphones could be disruptive and bring down the Soviet Union and later bring about the Arab Spring. Kurzweil has spoken long on my fave topic, The Singularity where the pace of technology will accelerate until almost magic technologies come into being. A few years ago, I wrote about how Kurzweil's prediction could make me the Last Grandfather.

How to Talk Like A Futurist

This is a person who things about the future and what impact it has on us today as we move into the future.

Yes, they're aware of that term...

This what a futurist does.

Keep Thinking
Think about the the future all the time. Draw a line from the past into what we see in the present, the extrapolate where that line goes.

Use this phrase to piss off everyone else who doesn't use the phrase, "sci-fi."

How-to Be A Futurist

Self Taught

A futurist is one of those cool obscure professions, like those who graduate with degrees in pop culture (I like after the lotto winnings, Cheryl and I need his'n'hers degrees from Bowling Green). To be a futurist, there are three paths to the career. You can just declare you're a futurist through a self-taught method. Professionals in different disciplines that involve, forecasting, science and technology likely delve in the future as a part of their occupation. Innovation is creation. Gradually they begin to define themselves as futurists. Of the 40,000 members of the World Future Society, most have taken that approach. Of that group, 1200 are "professional members" who attempt to make a living as futurists. If you want the self taught route, start is with a membership in the World Future Society.

Formal Education

The second path is through a formal education. There are both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in futures studies. This is an amalgam of disciplines. University of Houston has an MS program. The University of Hawaii also has a Research Center for Future Studies (this is SLOW to load-- cue the irony). The Society of Professional Futurists offers professional development:


With 1200 professional futurists int he World Future Society, one of them could adopt a protege and show them the ropes. I like the idea of the apprenticeship system, an old system of skills acquisition, being a gateway route to work as a futurist. They will show you the whole deal: how to practice as a futurist, but likely an established futurist could show you how to turn "I'm a futurist" into "I'm living indoors because I make money as a futurist" -- a career (really important-- just ask all of those unemployed puppeteers at the soup kitchen). Just don't get desperate enough to go for this job.

Last updated date

Monday, September 30, 2019 - 17:12