The Crisis in Futurology

In 1993, the celebrated Polish journalist and travel writer, Ryszard Kapuściński published a book entitled Imperium. It is a travel memoire that chronicles the author’s often bizarre experiences as he wanders remote parts of the former Soviet Union. Like Kapuściński’s other excellent books, Imperium brims with astute social and political commentary.

At the end of the book, Kapuściński recounts the fall of Communism, and goes on to ask what the future might hold for the post-Soviet empire. It’s a difficult, if not impossible question to answer, he tells us:

“Almost no prognoses about the contemporary world come true. Futurology is in crisis; it has lost its prestige. The human imagination, shaped for thousands of years by a small, simple, and static world, today cannot grasp, is no match for, the reality that surrounds it, which is augmenting at a rapid rate (especially due to the advances in electronics and the accretion of information), in which there is increasingly more of everything, in which millions of particles, elements, units, and beings are in continual motion, in battle, in new configurations, arrangements, and assemblages, all of which it is no longer possible to seize, to stop, or to describe.”

Kapuściński does go on to offer three future scenarios for the post-Soviet Union. But it’s the preamble above that’s most striking because, though applicable to his time, it better describes the age of unfathomably rapid change we’re living in today – more than 20 years later.

It’s for the same reason that a friend, who works as a diplomat, recently told me that most journalistic and scholarly writing in the field of political science and international relations (with its emphasis on trying to predict the future) is more akin to astrology than any actual “science.”

This crisis in futurology is really just a smaller symptom of the much larger and perilous crisis in which it partakes: namely our inability as individuals and as a race to adapt to a faster, ever-changing world.