Futurists See Clearly That the Outlook Is Foggy

Baltimore Sun

While psychics and soothsayers may use the event of the new year for crystal ball conjecturing about the lives of celebrities from Princess Diana to Michael Jackson, a more serious sort of prognosticating is also going on this time of year.

Futurists, forecasters and market analysts depend on concrete facts rather than hunches from the heavens for their predictions. “Our reports,” says Timothy Willard of the World Future Society of Bethesda, Md., “are not a promise about the future but rather an offering about future trends that if they happen will require action.”

If futurists’ predictions are likely to be less definite and set in more flexible time frames than the pronouncements of psychics, they are also likely to be a whole lot more accurate.

Predictions run the gamut from worldwide trends to changes in personal life. Among the possibilities forecast for 1989:


Politically, says Kim Long, author of “The American Forecaster,” an annual publication, 1989 will be “an interesting but not blockbuster year. The Democratic dominance of Congress will be the key to the whole political scene.”

‘Modern Version of New Deal’

He predicts a “trend to a modern version of the New Deal,” with Congress creating a package of legislation with a “fairly liberal bias,” including provisions for child care, guaranteed parental leave and guaranteed pensions.

Long sees an alarming dichotomy in U.S. eating trends. The fastest-growing categories in new foods are products associated with health--and the opposite, snacks and sweets. This is a result, Long feels, of “baby boomers involved in the process of getting old. They want to eat what’s good for them, but then they want to reward themselves for doing it.”

Long’s own assessment of this trend: “It’s pathetic. The food industry is laughing all the way to the bank.”

The World Future Society predicts that computers will soon become a popular target for terrorists, an event easy to foresee with a recent incident of widespread computer tampering still simmering in the news. The society warns, “Attacks on computer networks, telecommunications facilities or defense computers could pose a major security threat to nations.”

Another of the society’s projections is that “books will be published by telephone in the future, with manuscripts sent electronically by phone, printed on high-speed laser printers and then bound. A 250-page book could be produced in as little as 6 minutes.”

‘Some Kind of Economic Crisis’

On the economic front, William Halal, professor of management at George Washington University and author of “The New Capitalism,” paints a pessimistic picture for 1989 and the years to come. “I think the country is headed for some kind of economic crisis,” he says.

For the last 20 years, he says, “we have been entering a transition to a new era,” an era of a global economy, of an “information age.”

Unfortunately, “the country hasn’t faced this; it’s all been piecemeal. We haven’t faced the need to redefine the corporation.”

The huge and mounting federal deficit and the 1987 stock market collapse are “phenomena thrown off by this failure of redefinition,” Halal says. “Old capitalism still reigns, but the country needs a new capitalism for the new age. The belief that capital drives the economy is an outmoded idea. Cooperation is a powerful force. The Japanese have shown this to us, but Americans have a hard time accepting it.”

Working Hours Increase

Several analysts of the U.S. workplace predict a movement toward longer working hours, a trend borne out by a Louis Harris survey earlier this year finding that the average workweek increased to 46.8 hours in 1987, up from 40.6 hours in 1973.

“We’re seeing people start work earlier and work later in order to keep up,” trend follower Faith Popcorn has found. Among the reasons are the rise in individual entrepreneurial enterprises and the baby boom population bulge creating more competition for jobs at the top.

Popcorn, president of BrainReserve, a New York market research company, also predicts a continuation of the recently recognized cocooning phenomenon--people spending more and more of their leisure time in the comfort of their own homes. Evidence runs the gamut from increases in built-in residential swimming pools to the burgeoning home-delivery food business.

But this prediction is disputed by other observers of the U.S. scene who point to rising attendance at art, cultural and sports events and a leveling off of TV viewing.

Up With Romance

Romance and marriage will have a resurgence in 1989. The reasons are as diverse as the fear of acquired immune deficiency syndrome and the aging of baby boomers. “In the ‘70s, you apologized for getting married,” says Millie Martini, associate editor of Brides Magazine. “Now it’s OK to have a traditional wedding.”

On the other hand, the percentage of singles in the population continues to grow, and services for them--frozen foods in one-person servings, etc.--will continue to occupy an ever-increasing spot in the marketplace. Some demographers predict that the percentage of people who never marry--now about 5%--will probably double by the end of the century.

The long-depressed women’s apparel market can look for an upturn in the months to come, but only after orienting its business to what women--particularly working women--are asking for, rather than what fashion designers are mandating.

“The apparel business has been soft since May 1987,” says Stacy Ruchlamer, an analyst for Shearson Lehman Hutton, “but women can only stay away from the stores for so long.”

‘Women Will Dictate Fashion’

“In the future, women will dictate fashion,” adds Judith Langer of Langer Associates Inc., a market research company. “The buzzword with women today is options .”

For those who look to more traditional predictions, Jeane Dixon says, among other things, that President-elect Bush will have faced and mastered an international crisis by March; Vice President-elect Dan Quayle’s brief honeymoon from controversy will end by spring, and phony masterpieces will deflate the sky-high market in art and antiques.

On the celebrity front, Dixon says Lisa Marie Presley could make plans for divorce before her baby is born; Mike Tyson will fall in love again and wish to marry before the ink is dry on his divorce from Robin Givens, and TV censorship will make a comeback.