Why Can’t We Foresee the Future?

There are two main reasons why we find it so impossible to foresee what life will be like in the future:

Nokia 5110 mobile phone
  • We are tramlined by the familiar:
    Back in 2006, a class of 15-year-old children was asked to draw a mobile phone of the future. The result was a range of fantastical devices, but they were all variations on the basic Nokia style phones that were in common use at the time.
    Not one child sketched a touch-screen, Internet-connected device on which making telephone calls and sending texts would be only a small part of their daily use.
    Yet the iPhone was launched the very next year!


The first bridge made of iron, which is at Ironbridge in Shropshire
  • We use new technologies for familiar things:
    The iron bridge at the start of this section is a great example of how we always begin by using new technologies to do familiar things.

    The iron bridge that they built in 1775 was better than a wooden bridge. Apart from anything, it’s still there, 240 years later. But it wasn’t a new idea.

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A Modern Example
Here’s a modern example of doing a familiar thing with a new technology.

CD cover for Encarta encyclopaedia

When the CD was invented - a device for holding a high volume of information, what they they do with it? They put a whole encyclopaedia onto one CD. 

It was exciting and innovative, but it wasn’t a new idea!
It was just replacing paper with a new digital medium to hold a lot of information.

We Always Do This
New technologies always follow this pattern. First we do something familiar with them. Then, as we begin to see the possibilities, a few creative people come up with new ideas and begin to do things that have never been done before; things that could not have been done using the old technologies.

This gives us a clue as to how to foresee what’s to come:

Look at the past to learn about the future:
This website looks at some examples from the past. The people in these stories couldn’t foresee the future either, but we have the benefit of hindsight so we can look at what happened to them and get some pointers that might help us look towards our own future.


Next: A Bridge Made of Iron


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© Brian Smith 2015