I used to watch reruns of "Star Trek" with my son, and I often mused, as I followed those stirring adventures, that although we have brilliant powers of imagination regarding technological and even political changes, we seem to wax wimpy when it comes to imagining any fundamental psychological changes. There on the screen were all those gallant men and women of the far-distant future, acting in pretty much the same way as the characters in World War II movies.
But psychological changes have taken place over the course of history and are taking place now. The difficult part is knowing where it all leads. It's so much easier to comprehend the stunning imaginary futures of science fiction than it is to imagine a world in which people are really much different from, say, Harry and Bess Truman. Can we do that?
The following four scenarios of life in the 21st century tell stories about two different kinds of progress. First is what most people think of when they use the word "progress" -- continued expansion of the world economy with increasing output of goods and services; rapid development of new high-tech wonders; and high mobility, lots of travel, lots of immigration. The second is psychological -- movement beyond the modern self toward more multifaceted, changeable, decentralized identities, or even toward the no-self consciousness sometimes called enlightenment or liberation.
These scenarios, remember, are meant not only for imagining the future, but also for illuminating the present.
Click on the chart to see 4 different scenarios for the future.
Walter Truett Anderson is the author of several books. His upcoming book, The Future of the Self (Tarcher/Putnam, 1998), examines the concept of identity from multiple perspectives -- medicine, religion, cyberspace, global politics, psychology, and economics -- investigating the changes to identify in a postmodern world.