HOWTO make smarter dumb mistakes about the future

My latest Locus magazine column, "Making Smarter Dumb Mistakes About the Future," is about the ways that corporate futurism goes astray, imagining futures that make the boss happy which never come to pass. It's based on the magnificent and wondrously wrong "Carousel of Progress" that Walt Disney creates for GE's pavilion at the 1964 NYC World's Fair, an updated version of which lives at Walt Disney World. I love that thing to bits. I wish it would fit on my desk, I'd put it there like the old poets used to keep a skull by their elbows, to remind them of their hubris and frailty.

Also, if I had one on my desk, I could stop dragging my family onto it. My wife has written a new chorous to the themesong (which goes, "There's a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day"): "There's a great big hairy Cory Doctorow, sitting in the front row every day."

When confronted with a new technology and asked to predict its application, it's tempting to look for existing, unsolved problems to which the technology might apply. For example, in a notorious early ad for personal computing, Honeywell depicted a satisfied, modish hausfrau cheerfully setting the dip-switches on her kitchen's PC in order to recall recipes. It's easy to follow their thinking: Computers are used by giant companies to store and manipulate files in the workplace. What files do housewives have to store and manipulate? Recipes! This is the "horseless carriage" fallacy: tomorrow's world will be like today, but moreso. Faster transport will get us to the same places, but faster. Faster communications will let us talk to the same people, but better.

So it's natural to think that HD television will be twice as unifying as old, standard-def sets (in fact, one of the big selling points for HD is that it will allow a small percentage of the household, usually Dad, to watch sports matches with his friends, while the rest of the family waits it out somewhere else).

Making Smarter Dumb Mistakes About the Future