EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Professor Gary Saul Morson are speaking out on the world to come in 25 years in their new book, “The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040.”
The two editors of the book appeared this week (June 30) on WTTW-TV Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight” program to discuss their predictions and those of other luminaries who contributed essays to the recently released book. Watch the program here.
And an interview with Morson about the book will run on C-SPAN's "Book TV" at noon (CT) Sunday, July 12. The interview will air again at midnight.
What will the future hold? Will it be one of economic prosperity, greater tolerance, extraordinary technological innovations, or even longer, happier lives?
THE FABULOUS FUTURE? America and the World in 2040, edited and with an introduction by Morson and Schapiro (Northwestern University Press; May 29, 2015), seeks to open a dialogue about these questions and many more by asking some of the world’s leading specialists from diverse fields to share their expectations for the future.
Morson is Frances Hooper Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Northwestern. Schapiro is a professor of economics and the president of Northwestern.
Their book was inspired by Fortune magazine’s 1955 publication of “The Fabulous Future in America in 1980,” in which some of the smartest and most influential Americans at the time made various predictions that held true: technology sped up, polio was conquered and ‘calculating machines’ were invented.
But in detail and broad conception these luminaries almost categorically missed the mark, predicting energy would be free, most forms of transportation would be atomic-powered, houses would run on small atomic generators, people would commute by personal helicopter and the economy would no longer be subject to serious recession. The 1980s that were imagined in the 1950s were nothing like the era we experienced.
In this new volume, “The Fabulous Future?” asks questions similar to its predecessor, with hopefully more accurate results. Morson and Schapiro suggest in their conclusion that the diversity of contributors creates a volume that more closely reflects the multiplicity of today’s thinking and therefore might more accurately anticipate the world to come.
It is a less optimistic volume, notably economist Robert Gordon’s suggestion that economic life in 2040 could be far worse than expected, but perhaps more balanced than the first book. On the other hand, writes Richard Easterlin, personal satisfaction is largely unrelated to economic growth, suggesting that happiness will be tied more to meaningful employment and the presence of a social safety net than to economic successes.
Wendy Kaminer and John Kelly write on human rights and technology, and their implications diverge. Kaminer suggests that our increase in technology could have a large-scale impact on our personal and collective freedoms, as privacy becomes a thing of the past, and as unprecedented surveillance and security challenge our Bill of Rights. Kelly, however, is optimistic that developments in technology will hold great promise, that economic, medical, educational and political innovations could ultimately transform the human condition.
In their chapter on the environment, the Nature Conservancy’s Mark Tercek and Jimmie Powell are cautiously optimistic in suggesting that advances in science, technology and communications might also help us to understand and address environmental changes in a new way.
Divided into four sections, the first deals with three of the basic aims of any society: wealth, health and happiness; followed by politics, religion and human rights; then science, technology and the environment, and finally, education, communication and society. In their conclusion, Morson and Schapiro examine how the various predictions interrelate, how they converge and diverge, and what they say about the world of the future.
Regardless of the accuracy of its predictions, “The Fabulous Future” is expected to stand as a testament to 2015’s loftiest aspirations and greatest fears.
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Professor Gary Saul Morson, co-author of "The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040."