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Understanding Tomorrow [Secure eReader]
eBook by Lyle E. Schaller

eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: We are living in "The Big Revolution"--a time when the rights of the individual are expanding and the cultural pressures lessoning. we are immersed in liberation, rebellion, and abandonment of tradition. With so many factors now at work shaping changes in tomorrow's world, what will the twenty-first century be like? Where is America headed? Lyle Schaller helps the reader understand these changes, the increasing complexity of society, and what the future may hold. In eighteen concise insights, he identifies the central issues of tomorrow and reveals some of their implications and possible consequences. What do we need to know and do about changes such as the shift from survival to identity, the change from verbal to visual communication, the declining birth rate, "the missing 700,000," the new immigration, the urban exodus, and the growing demand for participation? The need to be informed about the future grows more important each day, and this insight-filled book, backed by facts, will help you better understand tomorrow and the impact it will have on you and on future generations.

eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2003




Introduction

"By 1975, there will be little inflation and plenty of jobs." "An unmanned satellite aircraft will have flown to outer space beyond 200 miles out." "The cars of 1975 will bear little resemblance to those of today." "A telephone in nearly every room of the average home will be considered essential." These four are among the predictions made in 1955 by a group of national leaders about what 1975 would bring. They had been sealed in a time capsule at the Prudential Insurance Company's main office in Minneapolis. The capsule was opened in June 1975.

These four examples illustrate several helpful concepts in looking at the future.

First, it is very difficult to predict the future in specific terms. Writing in 1914 John and Evelyn Dewey listed the many technological complications facing the child of that day including railways, steamboats, and telephones, but did not mention the automobile. Writing in 1958 about an affluent society John Kenneth Galbraith failed to include the black revolution as a major factor to be reckoned with in the 1960s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s many highly respected scientists and science writers including Edward Teller, C. P. Snow, and Gerard Piel anticipated that the computer would radically alter society and produce an automatic world ruled by electronic machines. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy declared that adjusting to automation would be the greatest domestic challenge of the sixties. Many credited the computer with a form of "artificial intelligence." It now is clear that the computer is only a machine that can manipulate a very limited arena of data according to instructions. It cannot think and is not about to do all of man's routine work, much less rule society.

As the year 1984 moves closer, the book with that title by George Orwell is less and less threatening -- although in 1974 many people wrote about "seven years from now" or "a dozen years hence" rather than use the convenient time frame of a decade, which returned to popularity in 1975. Presumably in 1979 planning and projections will be in multiples of three years rather than five years for that one twelve-month period.

It is very difficult, and usually impossible, to predict the future in detail. The temptations to simply project existing customs, traditions, habits, and ways of doing things are overwhelming.

A second concept that is useful in seeking to understand tomorrow is that while technological changes may occur very rapidly, they are difficult to predict. To at least one leader in 1955 a spacecraft that could travel 200 miles from earth would be a tremendous step for man to take in twenty years. To Neil Armstrong, only fourteen years later, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Between 1600 and 1650 prices in England tripled, but the price of firewood increased eight times. As wood became increasingly scarce the English government responded in a predictable manner by urging conservation measures. In 1593 beer exporters were required to return the original beer barrels to England or import sufficient lumber of the appropriate quality to make replacement barrels. What was not predictable was that this energy shortage would lead to the use of coal as a replacement for wood in heating and manufacturing, the development of the steam engine, the development first of a canal system and later of railroads, and eventually the Industrial Revolution. Now in the last half of the 1970s the shortage of firewood is a major issue in many Third World nations.

Today many people discuss the "energy shortage." A more precise statement would be to describe a shortage of low-priced petroleum. The world is filled with abundant sources of energy, most of which are yet to be harnessed. A reasonable prediction about the future is that sometime before the end of this century, and probably long before 1990, there will be (a) a technological breakthrough to replace petroleum as a basic source of fuel with a cleaner and more powerful source and (b) a sharp drop in the world market price of petroleum. Which of these will happen first is unpredictable, but very important!

A third useful concept to remember in understanding tomorrow is that while technological changes often occur at a comparatively rapid pace, such as the advances in the exploration of space, changes affecting interpersonal relationships usually occur at a comparatively slow pace (see chap. 18). People are able and willing to adapt to technological changes much more rapidly than to changes affecting social patterns and interpersonal relationships. That is one reason why the nuclear family and the worshiping congregation have survived every change for centuries.

A fourth useful concept for looking at the future also is illustrated by the Prudential time capsule. While the passage of time brings changes, the changes usually are in the direction of increasing the complexity of life, not in decreasing it. Nevertheless, most predictions about the future include the expectation that the future will bring less complexity. In fact, while the nature of the complexity of life changes, life tends to become more and more complicated for the average person (see chap. 13). This suggests that the reader should beware of any proposed change which promises to make life simpler!

In looking at the future and in reading this volume it may be helpful to look at a few of the many different approaches used by futurists.

Perhaps the most common approach is reflected by the contents of the Prudential time capsule. This is the simple prediction about the future such as the one submitted by Dr. Charles Mayo in 1955 when he predicted that by 1975 "a way of avoiding many forms of the common cold may be found" or the one submitted by another contributor: "Railroads will enjoy substantial passenger business."

A second approach to the future is the scenario popularized by Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener. The scenario is an attempt to describe in some detail an imaginative simulation of a situation set several years in the future and to document this with the hypothetical sequence of events leading to that situation.

A more frequently used approach is the projection of trends into the future. This approach was used by this writer in an earlier volume which included the probable consequences of twenty different trends.

A fourth approach is to pick one year as a watershed year and suggest how the future will be influenced by the events of that year. One example of this would be the use of 1950 as a dividing year (see chap. 3) marking the shift from survival goals to an emphasis on role and identity. Another example would be to pick 1967 as such a watershed year. Among the many diverse but distinctive characteristics of that year, 1967 marked the escalation of the Vietnam conflict to that irreversible point that divided the nation; the open recognition of the identity crisis in American society, the institutionalization of the longest inflationary era in America's economic history; the "victory" of campus ministers over the senior pastors of near-campus congregations in the struggle for recognition as the focal point for ministry to students; the recognition of futurism as an important academic discipline, the shift from racial equality to the more inclusive focus of the Big Revolution (see chap. 1); the beginnings of the disengagement by Christian churches in the United States from their relationships with the Christian churches on other continents; the flowering of the New Towns Movement (which wilted again in the mid-1970s); the leveling off and the beginning of a continuing decline in the number of people institutionalized in prisons, mental hospitals, homes for unwed mothers, and institutions for emotionally disturbed children; the beginnings of major deficits in institutions of higher education; the beginning of the reversal of the rural-to-urban migration that began one hundred and fifty years earlier and had been interrupted only by the Great Depression of the 1930s (see chap. 9); and the shift to independent off-campus living by tens of thousands of university and college students. Yes, 1967 was the year that was! It was a watershed year and offers one approach for looking at the future.

A fifth approach that is gaining increasing use is the "alternative futures" concept which provides a broader base than the scenario for evaluating alternative courses of action. A simple example of this is that used by the Bureau of Census in making population projections. Traditionally they offered Series A, B, C, and D with the basic variable being the number of children a woman would bear during her lifetime. As births, or more precisely the fertility rate, continued to drop the Series A was replaced by a Series E, and in 1972 the Series B was replaced by a Series F. The alternative futures forecast by the Bureau of the Census reflected the decline in births (see chap. 7).

A sixth approach is used by the "gloom and doom" school of futurists and extends from the Old Testament prophets through the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who predicted in 1798 that the increase in population always would outrun any increases in food supply and thus the masses always would be on the verge of starvation, to the Club of Rome. An extreme form of this approach to the future leads one to look to that day when all of the residents of the United States are crowded into Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas while the rest of the nation is covered by filing cabinets and cemeteries!

A seventh approach is to think in terms of cycles or stages and to project into the future from this frame of reference. A simple example is the sixty-eight-year-old person who is dying and uses Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of looking at death -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- to look into what the future may hold. Another example is the three stages that technological advances usually follow -- first, as a replacement for previous technology; second, the perception by innovative and creative people of the potential in the new technological advance; and third, the mass application of the technological development. This concept can be illustrated with the steam engine, the automobile, the airplane, television, computers, digital watches, and nuclear power.

Occasionally the application of this concept becomes far more subjective and complex. An example of this would be the various cycles used by economists which include the forty-month Kitchin cycle, the nine-to ten-year Juglar cycle, and the fifty-year Kondratieff cycle. (Incidentally, application of Kondratieff cycle suggests an economic downturn from 1971 into the early 1990s.) While the Joseph Schumpeter school of cyclical theory in economics has been losing out to the W. W. Rostow proponents of the theory of self-sustaining and self-generating economic growth in recent years, it offers an interesting example of the use of this concept of looking into the future.

An eighth approach to the future constitutes the basic frame of reference for this volume. This is to offer a series of generalizations which attempt to identify the central issue in broader terms and to explain what is happening. This might be described as "putting the generalization over the specific." What is a useful generalization for understanding the gap between the leaders of a group and the members of that group? "What is true for the individual will not necessarily be true for the society or organization as a whole" is one attempt to explain not only the leader-group gap, but also parent-child relationships, conflicts between religious denominational agencies and congregations, differences between teachers and students, and disagreements between publishers and authors. This is a very simple and useful generalization which the Big Revolution has made increasingly relevant, but it continues to be neglected.

Another example of this approach to the future is that as a society becomes more complex (see chap. 13), social selection evolves from a hereditary class structure to a response to merit to a dependence on credentials to (let the reader fill in the next stage in this generalization).

This volume consists of an attempt to offer twenty-one such generalizations for understanding tomorrow and to suggest some of the implications and consequences of these generalizations. The first nine chapters discuss major substantial changes in American society. The next eight chapters describe eight changes which are both the products and the causes of other changes while the final chapter offers four generalizations to help the reader live more comfortably with tomorrow as it arrives. It should be fun!

The origins of this book go back many years to the author's earlier career as a city planner and the related interests in futurism and change. Out of these and subsequent experiences emerged the conviction that often it is helpful to look at the larger picture, to see details and specific incidents from the context of a larger perspective, to look beyond symptoms to problems and to survey the forest in addition to examining the individual trees. The eighteen chapters in this volume represent an attempt to bring together a series of generalizations which will help the reader understand the world of today as well as the world of tomorrow more adequately.

While it is impossible for anyone to identify all of the biases and prejudices the writer brings to a volume such as this, there are four which may help the reader in identifying the author's perspective. First, I believe God is at work in his world. Second, this is written from an optimistic rather than a pessimistic view of what tomorrow will bring. Third, much of what we know is not true and much of what we try will not work, but frequently as we fail to "solve" problems, we do succeed in "trading up" and have a better, more enjoyable, and more challenging batch of new problems to work with after we trade -- even though we thought we were solving, not trading problems. Fourth, the increasing complexity of life does represent a more sensitive concern for people, and that is good!

Finally, I am grateful to the many people who have shared their wisdom and insights with me through what they have said and what they have written. While they are far too numerous to name here, I am in their debt and I acknowledge it!

Copyright © 1976 by Abingdon Press


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