When set against McLuhan, today's futurists seem strangely devoid of inspiration. Cleaned up and sanitized for the masses, their proclamations echo McLuhan's famous aphorisms, their predictions reflect the technological boosterism of corporate annual reports, and their futures are nothing more than "a continuation of the thing that is happening".
Now the Internet is here. And it's changed everything.
Futurists, always quick to jump on the bandwagon, are now reworking their predictions to include the Internet. Not surprisingly, the "global communications revolution" has come to dominate their thinking. Marshall McLuhan, whose ideas were once ignored by nearly everyone but communication theorists and advertising copywriters, has now been resurrected as the patron saint of the Information Age.
McLuhan, of course, never claimed to be a futurist. Which is probably why his ground-breaking analysis was so prescient. McLuhan's "global village" , his view that the information environment is an extension of our senses, his insistence that knowledge, not capital, is the new source of wealth, all make perfect sense today. But in 1964, at a time when television had yet to complete its conquest of our consciousness, McLuhan's radical analysis of the impact of communications media on social systems seemed incoherent and wildly cerebral -- certainly irrelevant to ordinary life.
Even Alvin Toffler, whose influence has been profound and reaches deep into the corridors of power, continues to generate books on the future that are nothing but amplifications of the present. Just take a look at his first best-seller, Future Shock. Sure, he coined a new phrase, but what else did he tell us? The future of Future Shock was a strange world of hippie communes, open marriage, bizarre architecture and offbeat technology. In Power Shift, Toffler reiterated what any thoughtful person already knew -- we are in the midst of one of the most fundamental social transformations in history, one that ranks right up there with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. But what did he tell us about the future?
"The only constant is change," says Frank Ogden. "Learn to love it. The next big step is into chaos."
True enough. But that's obvious to everyone except unionized workers in the steel and auto industries.
On the other hand, Ogden's vagueness makes him less insidious than other fortune tellers. He makes no global claims, no broad predictions of who will dominate the next century. Instead, Ogden confines himself to serving up tasty morsels, technological tidbits that whet our appetite for change. His books read like Wired's "Fetish" column, crammed with breathless descriptions of the latest gadgets and accessories for the well-equipped traveler to the future.
And Ogden loves his work. At an age when most people are fading slowly away in front of their television sets, this gnome-like septuagenarian is working harder than a man half his age. His boundless energy is reflected by the sparkle in his eyes, the spring in his step, and the exhuberance of his quavering voice.
Unabashedly critical of the backwards thinking that paralyses big corporations, governments, and public education systems, Ogden is more social critic than trend-spotting futurist. His pronouncements make many who listen to him uncomfortable. "I've had more than two thousand people walk out on me, " he says proudly. "I've had seven coffee cups and a chair thrown at me. Three people even vomited."
It's hard to believe that Ogden can elicit these kinds of reactions. Tiny, diminutive, and prone to the kind of mental wandering you would expect from a man his age, he hardly seems the kind of man capable of shocking or upsetting his audiences. After all, it is the present, not the future, that Ogden is really talking about. "If you are not aboard the steamroller of change," Ogden warns his corporate audiences, "you stand a good chance of being part of the road."
Perhaps, on these occasions, Ogden has not been addressing the corporate surfers of the future, but the workers who are being downsized out of existence. Ogden betrays a callous insensitivity to the victims of change, and like many of his compatriots has few thoughts on how to ameliorate their pain -- other than the exhortation to "Be self-employed, not unemployed."
"Jobs are going the way of child labour, slavery and indentured service," says Ogden, hardly encouraging news for the millions who have been trained their whole lives to believe that a good job and steady paycheck are the dividends of playing by the rules in modern society.
"Jobs are going the way of child labour, slavery and indentured service,"
"Be self-employed, not unemployed."
Ogden's lack of concern for the casualties of the future is not surprising, however. In many ways, Ogden epitomizes the self-made man. "I have no academic qualifications whatsoever," he boasts. "That's my biggest asset. Instead of a Ph.D., I have an LSD."
An LSD? What is the old geezer on about, you wonder. Well, as it happens, Ogden is right up there with Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley as an early disciple of the mind-expanding benefits of the psychedelic experience.
In 1960, Ogden read a news story about a psychiatric hospital in Vancouver that was using LSD as a therapeutic drug. This sounded interesting so he took himself off to Vancouver and asked for a job. They asked him what his qualifications were. None. They asked him what his experience was. None. "I'll tell you what," Ogden told the baffled psychiatrist, "I'll work for free for one month and if you like me, you can hire me."
He spent the next seven years at the hospital, working as a researcher and therapist. Ogden looks back on this period as perhaps the most important transitional period of his life. If anything explains his current outlook on life, it's LSD, he says. "LSD opened my mind. It allowed me to think in new ways, to see the world differently."
And with that new outlook on life, Ogden's career soon took a turn. After spending a couple of years helping turn a bottom-feeding Montreal FM radio station into the city's Number One rock radio station, Ogden was invited by the Ontario College of Art to teach a course in Creative Thinking. Later on, he spent two years in Haiti studying the Voodoo culture and non-verbal communication. There he took part in a five-day "purification by fire" ritual. His hands and feet were thrust into the fire 12 times. "But I wasn't burnt. I can't explain it."
|With his soul strengthened by fire and his mind opened by LSD, Frank was ready to embark on the next stage of his life. In 1976, he built the houseboat in which he still lives today, filled it with state-of-art technology, and began peering into the emerging data waves of the future. Today, like many other former devotees of LSD and other psychotropic substances, Ogden is an ardent believer in the mind-expanding capabilities of technology. "The ones who succeed in the future," he says, "are those who learn to walk on electrons and dance with electrons."|
Since then, Frank's never had to worry about what to do next. With the pace of technological change constantly accelerating, there's always something new for him to study and write about. Today, he shows no signs of slowing down. His latest book, "Navigating in Cyberspace" comes complete with CD-ROM and is a best-seller in both Canada and the United States. He makes appearances on everything from the Discovery Channel to MuchMusic. And he's always on the go, logging in more than 300,000 miles a year as he jets around the globe in search of the next big thing -- which, by the way, is biotechnology. "Imagine," he says, "In ten years your cousin could be a giraffe."
Like a kid in a candy store, Ogden revels in the ceaseless flow of new technological gadgetry. The first thing he gives you when you meet him is a plastic laminated business card which features an MRI scan of his brain -- which, if the latest psychological studies are anything to go by, may reveal much more about his personality than he might like. Next, he'll tell you about the artificial lens in his eye which, as he says, makes him a cyborg -- a fact he is very proud of. And let's not forget the special ink encoded with his DNA , the paintings on the walls that double as heat reflectors, or the solarium powered by waste heat from his refrigerator.
You gotta love the guy. His childlike enthusiasm and eagerness to impress would make even the most rabid technophile blush. And when you get down to it, Dr. Tomorrow isn't really a futurist or a prophet, he's just an old guy living on the edge and loving it, dreaming up new possibilities in a world of possibilities.
-- Christopher Hunt
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