Timeline Tuesday: Waves of Change 1750-2100

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One of the best tools in the futurists bag is the visual timeline. Here is one of my favorite by Peter von Stackelberg at Social Technologies http://www.socialtechnologies.com/, a futurist consultancy based in Washington DC. Peter started this project as a student at the University of Houston in 1989 and continues to build on it. http://bit.ly/2QKt8H

 

A Timeline of Major Trends and Events

In this amazing diagram, Peter tracked major events, trends and cycles from an American perspective, starting in 1750 and then projected to 2100. Whats more, his analysis spanned all five STEEP domains. STEEP is an acronym for Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political areas which is used for environmental scanning research. While futurists tend to prefer using a range of probable futures, Peter essentially gives a single future view. The complexity of the data justifies this approach, and viewers just need to take that parameter into account.

Peter began with two sets of cycles shown under Economic trends:

1.      The Kondratieff Cycle http://bit.ly/ar0U6 idealized as a K-Wave that considers four distinct periods: early advance (E.D.) growth, late advance (L.A.) conservation, early decline (E.D) recession or collapse, late decline (L.D.) reorganization. Then the cycle begins again. 

2.      Schumpeters theory of creative destruction http://bit.ly/ZeYXn, illustrates an S-curve for major technological breakthroughs, or lead technologies. Most recently, Peter indicates eras of steel, then petroleum and now information and projects the next era as biotech.

 

Uniquely, the complexity of this data over time and topics gives a rich picture of possible futures. Any one of these areas might be somewhat different and change the future substantially. 

 

Whats It Mean for Cities and Architecture?

For future cities and architecture, a number of ideas catch my attention:

1.      While worldwide oil production is said to decline from 2010 to 2025, a positive economic cycle is projected. The only reason I can imagine that is if new technologies and areas of production and not just biotech emerge. One possible area is green tech, another is social tech, and a third is productivity among developing nations. All three would have positive results for cities.

2.      Superfast Trains such as mag-lev are shown on an S-curve that is just beginning a growth cycle. I cannot tell you how excited I would be to see a train culture emerge globally. If it is a mere third of the transportation pie, I think our quality of life and environmental consequences would be immeasurably improved, especially if another third of transit used personal transportation such as walking, bikes, and other intimate devices.

3.      Smaller households from aging and delayed parenting would create a need for more housing but not necessarily a demand for more space. One trend in the past fifteen years that can stand a reversal is the average size of houses, luckily already showing a decrease during the current recession.http://bit.ly/13E1Wz

4.      We continue to project growth in the US, which in turn makes the economy grow. However, that growth is based on immigration which is based on being a desirable place to live with jobs, education, and opportunity in short, the American Dream. Keeping that dream alive should be a national priority, not just for the US, but for every country. I think it has been a defining element of the past fifty years, a culture of optimism. However, on this chart, several risks emerge: end of oil, increased social and civil unrest, global population explosion, and American involvement in a war. Each of these cycles could cause major difficulties that require preparation.

 

Whats Missing?

This timeline uses cycles, which are external forces from specific systems and represent a structural or contextual change.

The actual experience combines external large forces with the actions of individuals, groups, organizations, and nations, our intentions and innovations. By understanding grand patterns, we can look at the best and worst for various scenarios.

Preferred scenarios become visions, images of the future, that shape the decisions and choices we make today.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Alan Kay