Beyond the particular futures that get funded and developed, there’s also a broader issue with the ways in which people think about what forces actually shape the future. “We get some really ready-made easy ways of thinking about the future by thinking that the future is shapeable by tech development,” said Kember, the professor of technology at University of London.
In the 1980s, two futurists (a man and a woman) wrote a book that invited key members of the futurist community to write essays on what they saw coming. The book was called What Futurists Believe, and it included profiles of 17 futurists, including Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Schwartz. All seventeen people profiled were men. And in some ways, they were very close to predicting the future. They seemed to grasp the importance of the cell phone and the trajectory of the personal computer. But they completely missed a huge set of other things. “What they never got right was the social side, they never saw flattened organizations, social media, the uprisings in the Middle East, ISIS using Twitter,” says Frewen.
Terry Grim, a professor in the Studies of the Future program at the University of Houston, recalls a video she saw from the 1960s depicting the office of the future. “It had everything pretty much right, they had envisioned the computer and fax machine and forward-looking technology products.” But there was something missing: “There were no women in the office,” she said.
Okorafor says that she’s gotten so used to not seeing anybody like herself in visions of the future that it’s not really surprising to her when it happens. “I feel like more of a tourist when I experience these imaginings, this isn’t even a place where I would exist in the first place,” she says. “In the type of setting, the environment, and the way everything is set up just doesn’t feel like it would be my future at all, and this is something that I experience regularly when I read or watch imagined futures, and this is part of what made me start writing my own.”
This is also perhaps why futurists often don’t talk about some of the issues and problems that many people face every day—harassment, child care, work-life balance, water rights, immigration, police brutality. “When you lose out on women’s voices you lose out on the issues that they have to deal with,” Ashby says. She was recently at a futures event where people presented on a global trends report, and there was nothing in the slides on the future of law enforcement. The questions that many people face about their futures are lost in the futures being imagined.
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In the 1970s, Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock argued that there are three types of futurism the world needed: a science of futurism that could talk about the probability of things happening, an art of futurism that could explore what is possible, and a politics of futurism that could investigate what is preferable. Futurism has done well to develop the first side, building devices and technologies and frameworks through which to see technical advances. But Zalman says that it’s fallen down a bit on the other two. “Arts and humanities are given short shrift.”