IEET > Vision > Fellows > Jamais Cascio > Futurism
It’s the Business of the Future to be Dangerous
Jamais Cascio   Mar 18, 2008   Open the Future  

What am I? What do you call someone who tries to engage the public in a conversation about plausible futures, and ways we could end up with a better world?

The title of this post is a quote from Alfred North Whitehead. What I like about the line is that it can be read in a couple of different ways: the role “the Future” plays in our lives is to be the danger to come, that is, to symbolize the rising challenges; and being dangerous is the “Business of the Future,” i.e., risk is the industry of tomorrow. Both are likely true.

I’ve had to introduce myself to a variety of audiences with some frequency lately, and the question of what job title I use remains troubling. I tend to default to “futurist,” because it’s requires the least explanation—everyone knows (or think they know) what a futurist does, and what I do falls close enough to that fuzzy concept for people not to be confused by what I say. But that’s a dissatisfying term, in part because there’s quite a bit of baggage associated with the term (from design movements to trend-spotters), and in part because “futurist” doesn’t acknowledge the connection to the present (in the way that, say, “foresight”—with its suggestion of looking ahead while standing here—does). Making clear that what we do today builds the world we live in tomorrow remains a critical part of my work.
Things to Come
My business card says that I’m the “World-Builder-in-Chief” at Open the Future, and that feels closer, in that the mix of snark and wonder nicely sums up my attitude. But that one requires some explanation, and could still leave people feeling confused, especially if I’m not doing explicit scenario or world-building work.

“Foresight engineer” and “paradigm engineer”—both of which I’ve seen elsewhere, and toyed with for myself—have the double drawback of (a) sounding far more techie than I’d like to imply, and (b) sounding like a play on “sanitation engineer” as the replacement title for garbage collector.

“Tacitician”—in that my job is to uncover the hard-to-spot threads and connections we know are there, but can’t put our finger on? Too easily mistaken for “tactician.”

“Provocateur”—I probably couldn’t put that on a business card and get past Homeland Security, and (in my experience) executives have a habit of pronouncing this as “provocateer”—like “Mousekateer.”

“Scenario planner,” “scenarist,” and “scenario designer” aren’t bad, but I do more than scenarios in my futures work. Need something a bit broader.

“Tomorrow Scout”—sounds like the title of a really earnest and cheesy comic book from the 1950s. Maybe one that’s recently been revived and re-imagined by Warren Ellis as being about a sullen, probably alcoholic, more than a little crazed futurist who has seen what new Hells tomorrow has in store for us, but can’t get people to listen, let alone change their behavior. A Cassandra for the 21st century. No, I’m not talking about myself.

(And as my mind wanders from this vision, I discover that there are no links for the term “Nostranomicon,” a conceptual mash-up of Nostradamus and the Necronomicon. This post hereby corrects that oversight.)

Any suggestions?

Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.


I have to disagree with you on this one. You have to look at it from a different perspective

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Thanks to Carrico and Corwin

Previous entry: Man’s best friend has new best friend