No future is neutral
It is one of the most glaring oversights in the often sanitized and made digestible work on futures in corporate foresight: there’s no such thing as a neutral future (scenario).
Every act of imagining a future involves subconscious decisions. Every future hold underlying assumptions, world-views, ideologies, politics, moral frameworks, and much more. Take the simple question of who wins and who loses in a future or who’s left out of a future?
It’s the whole point of critical futures studies to deconstruct existing images of the future and point to the underlying ideologies and power structures. Which rarely happens in corporate foresight contexts. So many tech futures are never questioned, while bad for many parts of society.
Cameron Kunzelman points this out in his critical review of Jane McGonigal’s book Imaginable:
People are already speculating about the future, they are doing it in large groups, and they are doing it structurally. We do not have a shortage of future-thinking. We have a shortage of thinking about how different ideological futures compete with one another, a problem that McGonigal is not interested in addressing. There are no mechanisms in Imaginable for debating possible futures or for evaluating good or bad developments. Ethical concerns emerge at the level of thoughtful discussion, where we ponder the possibilities of engineering children from the DNA of three parents, but not at the level of the production of futuristic scenarios themselves. There is not a chapter that speculates on how we might address, for example, white supremacist futurism at the level of the political.
Most scenarios are evaluated simply on metrics of success (from revenue to attention) and not on aspects like indirect consequences, possible discrimination, exploitation, and many other effects on people and groups in society or even the planet.
My hunch is that this is the legacy of most corporate foresight methods being adapted from military contexts. And it’s about time to change that. Sohail Inayatullah and others from the field of Critical Futures Studies have developed new methods to deconstruct and reconstruct alternative futures with a more responsible approach in mind.
Let me know what you think about this.
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