I share a dream: to ensure that long oppressed racial minority and diverse voices can articulate themselves in the futures imagined in the practices of long- term thinking and in the professional areas of foresight . Promises about the future in the strategic fields of long-term thinking and how they are portrayed in popular culture have quickened their pace in early 21st century digital culture about what we will do, think, and build. Mark Fisher calls this science fiction capital. This elite field of work attempts to map out how our future society will look like for major corporations, government agencies, non-profit industries and for the rest of us. As a witness and practitioner of the futures being shaped by forecasters, I see their radius of cultural boundaries as far too narrow and parochial with a few notable exceptions.
The mapping of the future still confronts the weighted language of colonial expansion, exclusion, conquest and erasure for imagining the dilemmas of racial identity and intersecting identities as we race to the future. Intersecting identities takes into account the fluid, complexity and contradictory nature of the social identities we inhabit and perform. The social identity categories of gender, race, class, age, ability sexuality, and their full expression and currency in anticipatory visions require greater not less diligence. “But let justice roll down like waters” as we interrogate how science fiction capital operates and how we can expand its horizons for defining who partakes meaningfully in the future
Consider the story of the 1960s TV series Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols who portrayed the only African-American woman on the show, as the communications officer Lt. Uhuru, and who upon announcing her plans to leave from the series, was informed by Martin Luther King that her departure would remove any trace of African-American women from the future. Nichols explained to Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s original executive producer and creator in 1966 that she was ready to move on after the first season ended and tantalizing offers of a career on Broadway beckoned. Roddenberry, with shock, asked Nichols to consider the vision he was attempting to convey and to reconsider her decision over one weekend. While stunned by Roddenberry’s reaction, Nichols attended an NAACP dinner. A tap on her shoulder by a staff member informed her that she had a secret Trekkie admirer who wanted to say hello.
Her devoted fan was none other than Martin Luther King. As surprised as she was to see the civil rights leader, she thanked him for his compliments and related that this would be her last season on the show. His praise transformed into insistence that she remain on Star Trek. “You don’t understand, you are the only show Corietta and I allow our children to watch!” MLK informed her that her departure would remove any trace of African-American women from the future. I share in MLK’s fear that the masking and erasure of racial identity in the future is still as pervasive and real as that moment in 1966. And that erasure persists in the scenarios created by professional forecasters and other producers of science fiction capital. As Kodwo Eshun frames this field from his imagined African archeologists of the future, “it is commonplace that the future is a chronopolitical terrain, a terrain as hostile and as treacherous as the past” . The most comprehensive report to date on global forecasting confirms this erasure.
According to the “Mapping Foresight” project of the European Foresight Monitoring Network (EFMN) – a Europe-wide network inspired and financed by the European Commission for the Foresight Knowledge Sharing Platform. This report is the first large international effort designed to understand the makeup of foresight practices in Europe and other world regions, including Latin America, North America, Asia and Oceania. The report underscored that “the large number of foresight exercises mapped between 2004 and 2008 (over 2 000 initiatives) is clear evidence of the rising of the ‘foresight wave’. This is mainly because foresight has become more than just a tool to support policy or strategy development in Science, Technology, and Innovation. (STI).”
An often, highlighted feature of foresight exercises is their potential to become a “space for opinion gathering and reflection among a wide-ranging group of stakeholders.” Expectations for the diversity and scale of participation are assumed to go beyond what is usually attainable in more standard agenda-setting arenas. Participation often contributes towards the value-added and shared ownership goals of foresight. EFMN admits a couple of difficulties with the mapping of this dimension: Africa remains underrepresented and was not even considered in the report’s title and regional scope; participation in most of these exercises hovered from 50 to 200 participants, and diversity was difficult to assess. Therefore, while forecasting has now become a mainstream activity for elite policy makers, the upswing in foresight requires greater accountability. This groundbreaking report cycle bodes well for the pace of foresight activities and industry with the exception of creating the broad anticipatory public space outlined. The study’s own self-reported omissions encourage a future world ill-prepared to embrace radical diversity and what Richard Iton has called the “Black Fantastic”.
Iton points to an alternative future he defines as the black fantastic that re-presents current political boundaries as “the minor-key sensibilities generated from the experiences of the underground…beyond the boundaries of the modern” (p.16). This quote represents a filter for me as I flash back over the last fifteen years of my journey as a minority forecaster and educator about long-term thinking. Still in 2013, despite the election of an African-American–read multiracial–U.S. President who plays down his racial diversity, that the spaces to imagine racial identity and see minorities represented in the future have rarely made headway as a serious, sustained conversation within the realms of foresight think tanks and forecasting outfits. Silicon Valley, home of the forecasting hubs I studied, remains an insular place where model minorities may thrive while those that have suffered the most repression continue to reside at the gates and fringes of a society that glimpses their status with a shrug.
Despite Silicon Valley philanthropic public relations campaigns, aspiring undergraduates from less than Ivy league universities are usually turned away for internships or entering positions, where even “Cal State Nowhere?” in reference to the California university state system has been uttered at alumni who have managed to break through that elite barrier. Still the black tax persists as minorities in order to be displayed in the future must show some exemplary quality that makes them either extraordinary or a major threat requiring containment. I want to empower minority communities by making the tools of futures thinking more accessible and visible in order to see themselves in the often closed-quarters of forecasting where elite visionaries hunker down and hack out the future. Even as forecasting think tanks such as the Institute For The Future proclaim an open source work day on their Facebook page: “IFTF co-working starts in 10 minutes. Join us if you’re in Palo Alto!” Their networked sentiment is aimed at a rather small elite audience.
The black fantastic unsettles “the conventional notions of the political, the public sphere, and civil society that depend on the exclusion of blacks and other nonwhites from meaningful participation” (p.17) . Against this backdrop, I tell a story about foresight practices that could use an awakening to the possibilities of the black fantastic. Instead of the scary black swans, the wild card bad events that could happen in the future, why not propose black foresight frames and black fantastics? I argue for re-framing foresight practices to take into account racial and multiple forms of identity as a futures window for progressive change.
Too often, narratives of the future look towards a post-racial future as if race, gender and class no longer matter when social science research confirms the near millennial affects of hundreds of years of the persistence of racial bias, discrimination, and socioeconomic echoes that will continue to reverberate and affect life chances in the near and long term future. As Wendy Chun points out, considering “race and/as technology” shifts “…the focus from what is race to the how is race, from knowing race, to doing race by emphasizing the similarities between race and technology” (p.38) . Imagining how race as a technology is constructed, denied, and projected into the future offers possibilities for the black fantastic. If we take race as a practice, something we do and project onto ourselves and others as a technique and technology “that one uses even as one is used by it—a carefully crafted, historically inflected system of tools, of mediation, or of ‘enframing’ that builds history and identity…” , then we can use the tools of forecasting to intentionally map the contours to expand beyond token diversity to navigate racial identity and racism.
While Jason Tester of the Institute For The Future coined an all- embracing term for engagement with the future he refers to as “human-futures interaction,” a rigorous inquiry would explore its alternate and subversive meanings. I want to reframe and interrogate more deeply human-futures interaction as a set of tactics and literacy for understanding race as a technology and as racial identity futures interaction. Here, I am inspired by the work of Philip, Irani and Dourish in “PostColonial Computing: A Tactical Survey,” where race as technology is embraced as a tactical move to decenter privileged conceptions of ubiquitous computing. This move strives to understand the complexity of racism in its nuanced subtleties and abrupt shocks as a form of science fiction capital that accrues and rapidly circulates.
The professional work of forecasting and long-term thinking has too often been the provenance of think tanks whose existence depends on a complex mix of support from multinational corporations, nonprofit foundations and government agencies. Together these entities already favor a specific set of elite interests in how the future becomes real, ordinary and taken for granted. These stakeholders bid on the future and look to forecasting think tanks for navigating and negotiating anticipatory landscapes in parallel with normative and mirrored organizational interests. While glimmers of nonprofit outreach work to address the lack of minority and impoverished voices is underway in Silicon Valley and other contexts, the issue of strengthening anticipatory democracy continually requires advocacy.
Between 1995 through 2012, as a communication graduate student and scholar at UC San Diego and incoming professor at Cal State East Bay, I interned, work with, interviewed, and traveled through one new media incubator, Interval Research Corporation, and two major think tanks: 1) the Institute For The Future, and 2) the Global Business Network in the San Francisco Bay area. By gaining access to these major hubs for forecasting the future (i.e., in areas such as technology, business and health), I was able to witness and unpack how decisions about technology and communication futures are shaped, enacted, and created by a set of powerful people working within a particular and peculiar context and with a deeply embedded and carefully massaged set of assumptions. My first stop circa 1995 was at Interval Research Corporation created in 1992. Although Interval became defunct by 2002 as part of its ten-year mandate, Interval was funded by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and was an early player in incubating new digital industries. Interval alumni continue to shape the evolving digital landscape and culture.
The Institute For The Future, founded in 1968 by engineers at the RAND corporation, a well known and pivotal civil defense policy think tank, grew within a specific context of forecasting the future of urban planning and cities in the late 1960s. The Global Business Network (GBN), began in 1985 by a number of forecasters who previously worked for Stanford Research International (SRI), Shell Oil, and the Whole Earth Review. Now acquired by Monitor and Deloitte & Touche, GBN and its crew morphed into the Long Now Foundation co-founded by Stewart Brand and Brian Eno. These continuing centers and former nodes continue their roles and influence in forecasting the future of digital culture. Their peer networks extend to popular culture and trade industry literature with frequent profiling of their exploits in magazines such as Wired, and Fast Company and Boing Boing to major consulting roles in notable films like Minority Report and more recently in serious gaming.
Even as some forecasting outfits address issues of poverty, conversations about the sheer weight of racial oppression and its past seem to vanish as the embedded computing algorithms of new imaginary future worlds favor the already powerful and privileged. Forecasting captures present moments and imagines their possibilities. These visions become templates for organizational thinking and for coding our anticipatory future behavior. The framing of these visions tend to squeeze out the messiness of cultural histories and the complexity of exclusion.
In retelling my journey as a minority forecaster, I critique how the future stories being shaped favor erasures of race where a post-racial Other predominates in a post-racial digital culture. The practices of forecasting continue forms of racial exclusion and oppression anchored in the past to create new threads of digital bigotry in its wake. Despite progressive scholarship in forecasting, few academics have examined rituals of foresight as it is being produced as its practitioners create narrow and less diverse images of a tomorrow-land. We can do better in rethinking how forecasting works to imagine our futures while simultaneously visualizing black fantastics of radically empowering and queer diversity.
Queer in this instance means to “queer the Infrastructure…To queer: to challenge the basis on which categories are constructed” from science technology studies scholar Susan Leigh Star. I aim to queer the categories of forecasting, futures studies, and foresight as they are practiced and as they relate to communication and other social science disciplines. To engage in this analysis, Afrofuturism is another useful framework for unframing current practices in foresight. Afrofuturism, a term coined by Mark Dery in the mid-1990s, combines science fiction and fantasy to re-examine how the future is currently imagined and to re-construct futures thinking with deeper insight into the black experience, especially as slavery forced Africans to confront an alien world surrounded by colonial technologies. Cut off from their original cultures, Africans in the colonial world endured that abrupt erasure by creating innovative cultural and scientific strategies to reassert novel identities. The social death of their origins transformed into shields of sonic vibration as music and the vernacular of oppression turned into daily micro-practices of artistic identity, renewal and solace. From the perspective of Afrofuturism, race is a continual form of science fiction capital not completely biological or cultural but a mix of science, art, culture and fantasy.
This struggle retells how stories of the future can move beyond the narrow confines of Futures, Inc., a catch-all term I define as future imaginaries designed to protect the status quo of organizational power over science fiction capital. The forecasting I envision encompasses Afro-futures, stories with expanded insight to provoke conversations about racial identity. We continue to struggle with language for how Afro-futures can look. I grew up with Star Trek in the early 1970s, the first televised show to portray diversity in the future that still serves as a constrained benchmark for how to speak about racial and social justice as a major forecasting objective. Afrofuturism as a basic framework suggests promising directions for reinvigorating our language to speak about racial identity in the deep past and long-term future.
Mark Dery articulated a vision of Afrofuturism in his interviews with African-American science fiction writers Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler. Dery pointed to a “[s]peculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture.” Dery characterizes this genre as African-American cultural language that reinterprets images of technology and a “prosthetically enhanced future” to take on the white technologies that have, like aliens, enslaved and transported African people from one world to another one to erase their past and remake their future.
I am caught in the flashback of having the twin passions of reading cultural histories at age 9 while watching science fiction TV shows. I had the jarring sensation of moving through time as I saw Star Trek by night and then read vivid accounts of the holocaust memories of the African slave passage by day and listened to after school stories about the extermination of six million Jews by my teachers at the Jewish Community Center in West Los Angeles. Star Trek is a compelling site of struggle of the predominately white led Star Fleet Federation against the menace of dark Klingons speaking an alien language. These narratives overlap in their expressions of modern technologies applied by powerful Others capturing and erasing cultural memories. Despite discussion of diversity and cross-disciplinary boundary crossing in some forecasting sites, the complexity of multiracial intersecting identities has not registered as a part of the conversation.
Unfortunately, during the post-Star Trek TV series years, many of the forecasts and the forecasting sages I have witnessed look absurdly ethnically homogeneous across this field, and in the future scenarios created by the foresight industry, even as our national and global societies become increasingly diverse. As a multiracial Jewish-born African-American, with Mexican, German-Russian roots, with brown skin, I look like a native of most countries anywhere from Brazil to Puerto Rico, and the Middle East to North Africa. In the U.S., I am usually perceived as being from somewhere else, African-American, or mixed. I am usually seen as a non-White Other. I argue that I entered these haloed elite think tanks as a form of affirmative action for the marginalized wannabe minority forecaster. Did I mention I am partially blind too? The scholars and professionals in this arena viewed me as an emblem for making some of their work accessible to broader publics. Ironically, in 2012, I received an anonymous research grant to bring long term thinking to students from diverse low-income working class backgrounds. In hindsight, this gift confirmed my original suspicions, that the efforts to include minority voices in the practices of forecasting and foresight are quite rare; ironically, it took an anonymous elite donor to make this endeavor happen across the Bay from Silicon Valley and to take root at California State University, East Bay in Hayward, a city at once determined to remake itself as its K-12 schools continue to struggle.
The question for all futures professionals, business trend makers, and communicators who are translating the latest technological and scientific studies for the rest of us is to wonder if we can avoid creating a future where we continue to pretend as if race does not belong in the future. Without a language for articulating and expanding racial and other identity futures interaction, we will fail to lift our collective prosperity.
The persistent and nagging question in the futurist labs and think tanks I visited kept looming as I wondered: where are all the folks like me, the multi-racial people of color, in these futures? Forecasters continue to celebrate the varied and largely homogenous cultures (i.e., China, Japan and other European countries) and stories of trendy innovation while the discussion or images of racial minorities closer to home locally and nationally in the future appear to vanish, or when they do appear, rise up as part of chaotic disruptions that have to be managed by some vague invisible hand of a corporate power. The continuing legacy of our ghettos now and into the future serve our system as centers for calculation where we can exclude and confine the Others to perpetual underemployment and outside the corridors of power. After years of waiting for more inclusive futures to be imagined and as the profile of think tanks like the Institute For The Future garner wider press and prestigious book contracts, I feel compelled to hold their practices up for critical scrutiny to reveal what is being erased.
As the future scenarios I witnessed continue to unfold and start to take actual shape in the present, the large absence of racial minorities and the neglected consideration of racial dilemmas in high level discussions of organizational long term thinking is depressing. The future racial divide and its troubling implications were vividly on rare display in a recent film to address the future of the poorer 99%. The year 2154 as depicted in the film Elysium starring Matt Damon shows a stark panoramic view of the Earth as one large mega-shanty town wrecked and ravaged by global climate change and inhabited by a largely Spanish-speaking majority. In contrast and in high orbit around our planet, the elite eternally youthful French-speaking minority, live in a luxurious earth-like space habitat. The film shows the attempts of the earth bound to penetrate this orbiting paradise and at least heal their damaged bodies with DNA repair via MRI-like machines. Although the final scenes of the film show a startling reversal of fortune and we get our Hollywood Robin Hood ending, one is still left with the nagging sensation that, despite the sympathetic treatment of the Earthbound poor, that the barbarians had come to power. As the Latino leader of the immigrant space smuggling ring now issued orders to the Androids that had enslaved him, I wondered if they would do any better than the elite they overthrew? The film still perpetuates the images of minorities who will simply continue the logic of inherited power they have decimated. As a glimpse into 2154, the forecasting industry of the long term thinking professional can rest assured that their services will still be used to protect the fortunes of entrenched and powerful interests over the next one hundred years.
As a participant-observer of IFTF from 1998 to 2001, I gained access to this futurist-making enterprise and was able to study it from a critical cultural perspective. With the procession of futures created for various clients, I longed to view a future that acknowledged my own blended ethnic, cultural diversity and sexual orientation within the range of normative scenarios outlined. I discovered in the historical archives of founding members of the Institute For The Future, the face of pervasive ethnic fear in their early rhetoric of the future for containing and circumscribing African-American urban anger as if it were an internal communist threat, a fear that existed during the early years of IFTF in 1968.
In the last ten years of my journey through some of the most central forecasting think tanks in the world, I saw the continuing danger of elites managing a future in a cocoon to preserve their status quo against their own self-fulfilling prophecies of an increasingly balkanized, segregated, and divisive world.
In terms of measuring the future, I define forecasting as the attempt to map out how human society, and especially forms of communication, will evolve over the near and long term future: i.e., 10 to 50 and 100 years and even 10,000 years ahead in time. Current forecasting industry practices generally play it conservatively at 10 years ahead. More radical practices in the field have started to challenge this pace. Time horizons and longer trajectories from 5000 to 10,000 years in the future have entered into wider public forums as organizations like the Long Now Foundation seek to create a cathedral-like 10,000-year clock monument. New educational efforts are establishing that time-range as a priority including the Long Term and Futures Thinking Project at Cal State East Bay. Most forecasting and futures think tanks do not look nearly that long into the future; usually it is under the 50-year time horizon. Our stories about the future are saturated with the near term future where issues of racial identity are often pushed aside in favor of an expanded and transcended identity beyond the human body. Matt Damon in 2154 embodied that fictional Christ-like cyborg who redeems our fate. Even in this transcendence, racial identity still gets read as a white crusader.
The venerable sage of futures wisdom at the Long Now Foundation, Stewart Brand and his executive staff, have started to make strides in supporting greater public outreach about the long term future. As partners with the Long Term and Futures thinking project at California State University, East Bay, they have offered their name and profile in highlighting efforts to reach more diverse audiences to engage in long term thinking exercises. This effort could begin a more sustained effort in offering counter-futures to the usual future scenarios that protect White privilege in their erasure of multicultural and ethnic diversity. While I acknowledge that this post-racial trend may be changing, the pace is slow and the counter-futures too few as viable competing narratives.
With generous respect to the Long Now Foundation, I take issue with Stewart Brand’s particular framing of long term thinking and forecasting that tends to favor a journalistic objectivity that ignores some recent advances in the social sciences and in qualitative research–the observance and study of culture and groups of people. Until the 1990s, the field of forecasting and foresight privileged technological and quantitative physical sciences at the expense of social sciences and the social study of science, of how human cultures adapt and repurpose technology. While humanism and the use of storytelling anthropological perspectives have entered into the jargon and methodologies of forecasting, the avoidance of addressing the messiness of racial assumptions have resulted in bland, underwhelming forecasts about technocultural futures of diversity. Brand has simultaneously forwarded the field while constraining more critical conversations about the “wicked problems” of the future of race, class and gender.
Brand writes in his foundational manifesto for the Long Now foundation, The Clock of the Long Now, that the difference between real futurists or forecasters and soothesayers or amateur, unprofessional forecasters involves their inability to distinguish desire from their “…ruthless curiosity about the world and what is truly going on in it, not from their politics.” Okay, I agree in principle with looking at the long term future with curiosity and boldness rather than imagining and longing for an elusive utopian world. What Brand states next troubles me as a social scientist in his labeling of forecasters with progressive agendas as “futurismo”, or what he views as those held captive by ideology as if the state of forecasting is not already captivated and enthralled with capitalistic innovation branding.
Brand proclaims with sympathy, “Futurismists are not bad people, and certainly not fraudulent. If anything they are captive of their goodness. High-minded and earnest, they have meetings to determine ‘the goals of humankind,’ and to advance worthy causes such as feminism, multiculturalism, and a world free from hunger.” So if professional forecasters express interests and a stance in the social scientific pursuit of social justice, then they are immediately suspect as biased forecasters in his view? Brand continues that “The distinguishing trait of futurismists is that they have an agenda: something they want to have happen or something they want to prevent from happening in the future, often based on a particular ideology, political bent, theory of history, or special interest.” He refers to the forecasters I have interviewed, Peter Schwartz, former head of the Global Business Network and Paul Saffo, former director at IFTF, as liberal and as ideal leaders in the field because they were able to hold their politics in check to exhibit a rigorous sophisticated curiosity.
Great! I could accept that statement with greater ease if their visions were not already enmeshed in the elite worlds they have lived in themselves for sometime personally and in the organizations they advise. And these are some of the most well-known and progressive futurists in the field! These fellows attracted me to futures studies in the first place and they bring the ironic contradictions of White privilege with them too, what McIntosh calls the invisible knapsack, “the set of privileges and practices white people carry around them that protect them from everyday injustices” .
Communication scholars and socials studies of science researchers have revealed over the last thirty years the continuing fallibility and bias inherent in maintaining objectivity that is itself a means of excluding and including relevant facts and tacit, intangible experiences. What we frame inevitably leaves something out of view and mind. Forecasting is no different in this respect.
Brand places futurismists who advocate feminism and multiculturalism on the same playing field as cult-like messianic futurist groups: “Some hive off into sectlike groups, such as the Extropians-a 01990s California enclave of bright and enthusiastic Singularity advocates who could hardly wait for the techno-Rapture. They have a classic case of what Paul Saffo calls macro-myopia: ‘we overexpect dramatic developments early, and underexpect them in the longer term.’ While I admire Stewart Brand and his work in provoking us into dialogue about the long term especially in making it a mainstream professional endeavor, he has mistakenly lagged behind what social science has to offer to the forecasting world. While Futurismo may not be what we need, what we require are more social science frameworks that take the future seriously.
I call these Cultural and Critical Foresight Frames inspired by efforts to further the intellectual development of Afrofuturism. First, forecasting and foresight have close similarities with communication fields such as advertising and public relations. Imagining the future and its accruing science fiction capital circulates as a powerful form of social currency in various genres of media such as popular culture, advertisements, magazine articles, in film, books and television about what the near term future promises. Worlds of the near future abound while deeper long-term thinking lags behind and takes up less space in this ecosystem of future stories. Forecasting professionals and their audiences of managers, scientists, engineers breathe in these future visions, ones they have grown up with in forging our ubiquitous computing environment today.
By the 1990s, I felt uncanny recurrences of alien invasion as the Internet became more accessible and the future scenarios of what it might do enacted another form of enslavement by the exclusion and erasure of lower class, non-model minorities in forecasts of undulating computer rhythms. Afrofuturism is the accompanying story of the countercultural memory to rewrite and remind us of what the official future scenarios of think tank forecasting often forget. Critical and Cultural Forecasting Frames based on my own experiences in the forecasting industry offer approaches for re-reading and re-mapping assumptions and the self-fulfilling promises for how technology and communication futures are shaped, enacted, created and circulated.
Forecasting as a practice and as part of a set of assumptions in popular culture about how the future will take place is increasingly being translated into digital algorithms for predicting our behavior. Future oriented forecasts and scenarios about the future make promises for how that future might look by capturing moments and snapshots in our lives.
As these glimpses of the future are captured, they leave out too much on the cutting room floor and the messy discarded notions of culture that add to the sensuality of real life. Instead of erasing culture and race, what can we gain by celebrating the black fantastic? I borrow from the language and methods of future scenarios, usually told as a set of three narratives about the near term future. The logic of this method asserts that the actual future is bound to contain elements of all three. I flip this methodology around to hold forecasting and foresight up for scrutiny and transformative accountability.
With each future story I encountered and experienced, I reflect and deconstruct it with these lenses: Foresight Frame Scenario One–Futures, Inc. Unlimited: The relentless promotion of Futures, Inc. projects a short-term future of a ubiquitous digital presence in the model of permanent capitalistic expansion. Stories about the near term future assemble a language of branding and mining resources vying to become normal aspects of our daily present as promises and sets of expectations (Franz Berkhout: 2006). I found myself restricted in this view of forecasting as well, that thinking about the next 100 years or 10,000 was too difficult to translate or envision for my students. My own conception of long-term thinking had become constrained by this currency of short-term future sells (read spreadsheet cells) of narrow slices of myopic possibilities. In my analysis of the various sets of future visions and case studies I collected, I view them as competing bids on the near to long term future, similar to advertising although distinct. I witnessed how as popular narratives they get produced, distributed and adopted by various stakeholders. The future as a story is an easily distributed commodity, although how that vision is made and for what purposes, is not always transparent. The idyllic Elysium images of a space colony, a beautiful wheel shaped habitat revolving on its on own axis with a gleaming artificial Earth-like atmosphere captured my imagination as a metaphor for the race for the future where only a few will benefit from the few prognosticators who are given the power to shape temporal landscapes.
Foresight Frame and Scenario Two–Futures, Inc. Performed: This frame views Futures, Inc. as an evolving series of theater-like and performance spectacles that combine into a moral and economic force. Future visions project and act out economic and moral value: Jan English-Lueck (2006) to indicates how communicating about the future as artifacts and tools of foresight provides knowledge workers with more tangible pathways to indicate their processes of innovation. Foresight takes on special currency and power especially in a region where buildings are often nondescript and where digital work is not easily showcased in three-dimensional form. Foresight shapes digital culture by constantly projecting its future value. And the think tanks I studied avidly engaged performative genres for enacting the future for their clients. The future as a spectacle acted out future dilemmas on stage, in games, and on the walls as colorful displays of imagined organizational power taking shape.
I played the role of minority forecaster and the Other non-white futurist. As a participant-observer assimilating to the professional culture of forecasting, I arrived with quiet access and muted voice. I expanded my role as a promise champion of the future and then realized how I was being seen and categorized as less than equal, as a minority seeking to be included. With the dot.com crash in 2001, I then channeled to my “appropriate place” as teacher reformer at a state university and that even this relatively academic elite status is conveniently labeled to preserve racial distinctions and forms of power.
Lisa Nakamura’s conception of cybertypes reveals the tenacious grip of race categories in cyberspace. Similarly, Nakamura’s label provides a useful path for tracing Futuretypes in forecasting as profiles of our imagined future selves, human beings and digital artifacts and what they represent socially and where they are situated in terms of status as desired, feared, and erased forms of humanity.
Foresight Frame and Scenario Three–Queering Futures, Inc.: Current future visions project racial, segregated and elite future landscapes. The demographics of forecasting, who forecasts the future and towards what ends, re-enforce beliefs of racial segregation and discrimination. Creating a language for queering the future involves re-telling and critiquing the forecasts already being deployed and forecasts in the making. We can augment visions of anticipatory democracy as a vital social network for purposes of social justice and diversity in bringing forth Afro-future frames and tactics. I have arrived back from the future to retell a number of stories and for each story I discuss about my sojourn in the forecasting world, I examine how it reflects the promises of a Futures, Inc. Unlimited and a Futures, Inc. Performed and how any good story of the future can be queered from an Afrofutures perspective.
Note: This piece is part of a chapter contribution to a forthcoming anthology Afrofuturism 2.o edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles Jones and part of a larger book project in revision for MIT Press: Futures, Inc.: Erasing Race in Post-Racial Digital Culture