It wasn’t all that long ago that I had no idea what a futurist was. I’m not certain the word was even in my vocabulary.
But then I started writing a book about trends (my forthcoming book, which you can read about here). Trends tell us what’s happening right now, but they also reveal the direction that culture is going. For that reason, my research on trends led me into the wide, sometimes weird, world of futurism.
And a funny thing happens when you start studying the future – people start calling you a futurist.
When this began happening to me, in 2018, it felt awkward or like I was masquerading. In the fashion of a typical academic, I tried to correct them: No, I don’t study the future, I study people who study the future. As you can imagine, that didn’t really roll off the tongue. Eventually, I started to just let it happen—and as I did, I learned that sometimes, what people think about you provides a more accurate window into what it is that you are.
Now, I identify as a futurist. My definition of a futurist is someone who cares about, examines, and works toward the future. This is a broad definition, but I also mean something specific by it. “The future” is not just a point in time beyond our grasp—it is not next week, next month, or next year. The future is a space of strategic inquiry that demands stewardship, debate, and care. And the future belongs to all of us—not only the rich and the powerful, not only the technologically savvy or the most disruptive.
When people invoke the future, often that use is rhetorical rather than deliberative or strategic. Talk about “the future” is a way to persuade and audience, win an argument, or make their own views or desires seem more inevitable than they really are. When people wax about The Future of X, what they usually mean is “let me tell you my opinion” or “this is what I want you to do.” Often, that person is telling you that you do not have control. Often, what they are telling you is “give up.”
If you happen to hear that, remember that you’re not hearing anything about the future. You’re hearing an exercise of power, a referendum on the present.
A true futurist is someone who disregards such dogmatism. It may be that the future leans to one side or another. It may be that the levers of power are difficult to adjust. But a futurist must always believe there is a space for human agency. A futurist is someone who helps the future come into being.