Alvin Toffler, in 1970 spoke of a phenomenon that would shake the very foundations of our existence: Future Shock. Toffler predicted that the pace of technological change would soon become so rapid that it would leave individuals and society in a state of shock and disorientation. Today, we face a new challenge: the impacts of Futurbulences Or the failure of positive futures to arrive.
We live today in a multipolar world overwhelmed by large-scale problems that refuse to disappear, and multiply rapidly. Climate change disasters, hybrid conflicts, economic and migratory crisis, social and technological transformations and massive shifts in consumer behaviors and preferences.
Futurbulences can be described as events or phenomena that disrupt our sense of continuity and expose our epistemic “dead angles,” or blind spots in our understanding of the world. These events arrive unexpectedly and challenge our assumptions about the future and our place in it.
Futurbulences are complex and hybrid events that surprisingly arrive earlier than expected. They challenge both the worldviews of leaders and their ability to respond, often ill-equipped (due to sense jamming) to deal with these phenomenons of the future.
Seven lenses into futurbulences
- The Iceberg’s Tip: Much like explorers who only see the tip of an iceberg while a huge mass lurks beneath the water, futurbulences are the visible manifestations of deep, underlying issues. They rise to the surface, disrupting the seemingly calm sea of our societal expectations and revealing the vast, hidden complexities that lie beneath.
- The Unstable Jenga Tower: Like a game of Jenga that becomes increasingly unstable as more pieces are pulled, our society, built upon assumptions of predictability and continuity, is reaching a point of instability. Each futurbulence represents a block pulled from our once stable structure, pushing us closer to the brink of systemic collapse.
- The Storm Warning: Futurbulences are akin to storm warnings that pierce through the tranquil background noise. While we may be engrossed in our daily routines, these warnings signal the impending shift in weather, indicating the turbulence that’s about to disrupt our normalcy.
- The Shifting Sands: Much like building a castle on shifting sands only for it to collapse when the foundations move, futurbulences challenge the perceived solidity of our societal and political structures, revealing them to be more mutable and precarious than we realized.
- The Unexpected Plot Twist: Futurbulences are like the plot twists in a novel or a film that suddenly and dramatically change the direction or outcome of the story. They jolt us out of our comfort zones, forcing us to rethink and adapt to a new reality.
- The Warp in the Fabric: Like a sudden warp in a finely woven fabric, futurbulences pull at the threads of our societal constructs, revealing the vulnerabilities and weak links that compromise the integrity of the whole.
- The Rude Awakening: Futurbulences serve as a rude awakening from our slumber of complacency. As the alarm bells of reality blare, we are forced to wake up and confront the challenges that we were oblivious to or chose to ignore, much like the sudden awareness of a looming deadline after a period of procrastination.
Each of these metaphors encapsulates the unexpected, disruptive, and revealing nature of futurbulences, highlighting their role in unmasking the complexities and systemic flaws inherent in our world today.
In many ways, our current Global North society is built on the idea of a certain degree of continuity and stability. We assume that the world will continue to function in a predictable manner and we plan our lives and institutions accordingly. However, futurbulences expose the flaws in our assumption and reveal the fragility of our systems.
Futurbulences can be seen as a moment of realization that the future we were promised or hoped for has not come to pass, and that something valuable or meaningful from the past has been lost or eroded in the process. It’s a moment of disorientation and sometimes even grief, as we come to terms with the fact that the world around us is changing in ways we didn’t expect or want.
While some may cling to tales of endless growth and unrestrained solutionism, and others may whisper about the puppet masters who answer to the lizard overlords, the harsh reality is that we are facing challenges that are impacting every aspect of our society.
From the intricacies of our global supply chains to the very balance of Holocene weather patterns, it is clear that the post-WW2 “Trente Glorieuses” era is a distant memory. We are in the midst of a shift towards a more unstable and hostile world, one that presents us with even greater challenges to overcome.
While scientists have been warning about the dangers of climate change and climate injustice for decades, it has taken extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and wildfires, to bring the reality of the situation into sharp focus. These events have disrupted our sense of continuity and revealed the inadequacy of our systems to react and correct our course of action.
Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as a futurbulence that arrived unexpectedly and exposed our epistemic dead angles. The pandemic has disrupted our assumptions about public health and safety, as well as our assumptions about work, education, social interaction and overall the need for strong and well functioning public good infrastructures.. It has revealed the limitations of our healthcare systems and exposed the deep inequalities and vulnerabilities of our societies.
In the words of the great Alvin Toffler:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Futurbulences bring a critical dimension into focus: the moment when those privileged in the Global North start to feel the destructive repercussions of capitalism and the externalities it engenders. This encounter with the brutal reality of systemic failures serves as a stark reminder of how far-reaching and indiscriminate the effects of unsustainable and exploitative practices can be. It disrupts the illusion of security often found within Global North privileged societies, forcing a confrontation with the true costs of unchecked consumption and growth, thus revealing the fragility of a world system based on inequality and exploitation.
Futurbulences act as a mirror reflecting the imbalances and injustices embedded within our global structures. They highlight the interdependence of societies and the necessity for collective action and responsibility, puncturing the bubble of complacency and privilege, and demanding a paradigm shift in how we approach our shared future.
This confrontation with a turbulent future can trigger cognitive dissonance, as people struggle to reconcile their expectations and assumptions about the world with the reality that is unfolding. Such a dissonance can lead to resistance, denial, or a sense of helplessness, all of which can hinder efforts to address the challenges we face.
Futurbulences are therefore like the aftershocks of Future Shock – the long-term consequences of rapid technological change, systemic injustices and other global forces. They are the disruptions, uncertainties, and crises that shake our assumptions, values, and ways of life.