We make the future in much the same way as we make the past. We don’t remember everything that happened to us, just selective details. We weave our memories together on demand, filling in any empty spaces with the present, which is lying around in great abundance. In Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard pscyh prof Daniel Gilbert describes an experiment in which people with delicious lunches in front of them are asked to remember their breakfast: overwhelmingly, the people with good lunches have more positive memories of breakfast than those who have bad lunches. We don’t remember breakfast—we look at lunch and superimpose it on breakfast.
We make the future in the same way: we extrapolate as much as we can, and whenever we run out of imagination, we just shovel the present into the holes. That’s why our pictures of the future always seem to resemble the present, only more so.
So the futurists told us about the Information Economy: they took all the “information-based” businesses (music, movies, and microcode, in the neat coinage of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash) and projected a future in which these would grow to dominate the world’s economies.
…The futurists were just plain wrong. An “information economy” can’t be based on selling information. Information technology make copying information easier and easier. The more IT you have, the less control you have over the bits you send out into the world. It will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy information from here on in. The information economy is about selling everything except information.
The U.S. traded its manufacturing sector’s health for its entertainment industry, hoping the Police Academy sequels could take the place of the rustbelt. The U.S. bet wrong.