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Annalee Newitz - Slow Futures: Using History to Write About Tomorrow

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Published on Feb 15, 2013

Humanity+ @San Francisco - http://2012.humanityplus.org
One of the problems futurists have conveying their ideas to the public is that they represent the next few decades as a time period when we'll experience a kind of temporal rupture, where global societies break radically from the past. Because this notion sounds so implausible to many people, futurists' predictions come across as unreasonable and unfounded. I want to suggest that we write about the future in the context of history, and even geological deep time. While some changes may seem very rapid, they are also part of a very long, slow process that may not be perceptible within a human lifetime. Acknowledging the slowness of the future offers two rhetorical advantages. One, it allows us to explain to people what's coming next in the context of familiar events that have already happened. And two, the slow future allows us to make claims that are grounded in scientific evidence from the present, rather than creating future scenarios that rely on highly speculative sciences that don't exist yet. Both of these advantages will help make our writing more plausible to a general audience, as well as audiences of scientists and engineers that many of us hope to influence. We'll explore the slow future perspective on three major areas of scientific work: synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and space colonization. What does it mean to suggest that the future of these areas of inquiry may unfold over many generations, rather than just one? The answers, I believe, can help us forge better relationships with the scientific community and encourage the public to invest in building a future world even if only their great-grandchildren will ever see it.

==Writing the Future==

Of special significance is the theme 'Writing the Future'. The aim is to encourage refined communication about the future in creative ways, and thereby promote serious attention to the opportunities and risks we are facing.

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