Predicting the American Future

I can predict one thing about the future with confidence: the “August” issue of the Smithsonian magazine will tell us what Americans think about the somewhat more distant future (2050). Whether they are right is another matter. But it’s good they are thinking. Unless we have some clear notion of what is likely to happen tomorrow, it’s not really possible to make good decisions today.

The Smithsonian report is introduced by the assertion that, “If the U.S. has a national religion, the closest thing to it is faith in technology.” Odd statement from the director of surveys at Pew, since, well, surveys show that America certainly has a national religion, and it is, well, mainly, Christianity. What’s more, the idea that Americans have blind faith in technology is something of a myth. I just checked the latest (2010) of the annual surveys conducted by Virginian Commonwealth University on public attitudes to science. If you ask the question, has science “created as many problems for society as it has solutions,” you get a whopping YES from half the population (50%, precisely, in the 2010 poll, though the numbers range from mid-40s to mid-50s). That’s a result that should get the attention of investors and technology gurus even as it makes the rest of us thoughtful. Here’s the poll:

As to what we think as we speculate 40 years hence, the Smithsonian survey is well worth reading. People are upbeat about many things, traditionally split on immigration policy, worried that despite their high-tech hopefulness technology won’t preserve the environment, and . . . well, read it yourself.

It’s very good that we are thinking about the future. Let’s do more of it.

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