Let’s All Be Futurists

Why don’t we hear much about futurists anymore? Where are our emerging Buckminster Fullers? Who is planning our future? I think we should all be planning the future. Think big. Think outrageous. Forget about how to pay for it. Just think about it.

Our world has changed. When I was coming out of high school, we were told that it was OK that the manufacturing jobs were going overseas. We have all of these computer and software jobs. We are the best at this. Let the other countries have the dirty manufacturing jobs. I was young. That sounded it good. It wasn’t so good for those folks in their late 40s, 50s and 60s who had worked at those manufacturing jobs. Many of them didn’t have the skills to catch the tech wave. They could go back to school and maybe they could figure out the new fangled computers. Many didn’t. Many became farmers. Many swallowed their pride and clerked at a store. I was too young to think of these consequences. I only saw the booming future. I was too young to realize that my time was coming.

I went to the community college. Everything fascinated me. I had access to thousands of books on every imaginable topic. I finished an associate’s degee. A job opened up. I took it. Isn’t that what you are supposed to do? Get a job and save money? I did just that for ten years. I worked for a state college for ten years. My retirement from ten years of work will be $168 per month. So much for the get a job, work hard and save your money theory. It was one of the better jobs available in my town of ten thousand people. I worked in an office and not in the warehouse scraping labels off of products so that they could be resold to another chair store.

I caught the wave of the 1990s tech boom. I got married, moved to the West Coast. This was during the time when anyone who was a warm body and knew something about a computer could get a foot in the door and work their way up the corporate food chain. I did my time in customer support, tech support and software QA. I was self-taught. I had a good job making more money than I could ever imagine…when you come from a place where fifteen thousand dollars a year is pretty good. Just as suddenly, it was all gone. Yet another reorganization and I was not needed anymore.

My time had come. It was the beginning of the exodus of computer and software jobs offshore to other countries. Now I was the unemployed relic. But how can we change things so that people don’t find themselves as unemployed relics? Sure, there are all these jobs programs…except if you actually try to get into one. Or great, you have a jobs program but what about my kids? What do I do with them from 8-5 while I’m in training? Who will pick them up from school? And since I just came from a well-paying job, I don’t qualify for any of the programs. However, it wasn’t well-paying enough that you could save much of anything. We have bits and pieces of programs and nothing that fully works. But I didn’t start writing today to write about unemployment and childcare, I wanted to write about planning for the future.

What jobs will we need to fill in the future? This is not something that any of our politicians are talking about. No one seems to have a path forward. I see ads stating that we’ll need engineers in the future. I’m sure we will but that ad was placed by Exxon. Where are our leaders? The people who normally give speeches and tell us that we’re going to the moon or Mars are exceptionally quiet. Their primary worry seems to be arguing every few years about whether or not they’ll pass a budget. I’m tired of their argument. They are going to pass a budget anyway. I wish they’d stop arguing like middle schoolers and get on with it.

What I wonder about is the future of my children. I don’t worry about my children paying for the federal deficit. I worry about whether my children will still live with me when I’m 90 because they’ve never been able to get a job that pays a living wage. Will they ever have the independence of living in their own apartment and finding their own way in this world? What should my children study so they will be able to find a job? Do what you love, the money will follow is a luxury of those who already have a foot on the ladder.  I’d love for my child to be able to study archaeology. However, I doubt she’d be able to find a job. Academic positions pay very little. Huge segments of our society think it’s silly to study history.

This is why we need futurists. No, futurists won’t have the answers to my questions. Futurists get us thinking and questioning how things currently function. Futurists challenge us to think of new ways of doing things, to dream big and propose new ideas. I’m going to be proposing some ideas. I’d like feedback. “You’re and idiot!” isn’t feedback. If you’re going to call me an idiot, then assume that I’m an idiot and explain it to me. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I was an idiot in a proposed future idea. Tunnel vision does happen. I can get so caught up in an idea that I miss an obvious flaw. Or maybe I noticed the flaw, I’m willing to admit it and ask “How do we fix that problem?” That is how we’ll move into the future, by suggesting ideas and improving upon those ideas. I hope that there are others out there who are looking to move our world forward.