Monday, December 13, 2004

'The Next Twenty Years of Your Life': Your Future as a Canadian

The late 1990’s were clearly a writer’s market for future studies. Among the works commissioned for the impending turn of the millennium, Richard Worzel’s ‘The Next 20 Years of Your Life: A Personal Guide into the Year 2017’ stands out for its combination of competence, politeness, and unpretentiousness. It is, to put it simply, very Canadian.

This is not to say that ‘The Next 20 Years of Your Life’ cannot apply to Americans or others, but unlike more generically focused works, this one is clearly written for Canadian consumption. The economic trends focus on Canadian corporations and Canadian institutions. But Americans have not been entirely incorrect in their simpleminded assumption that the provinces north of the border are basically U.S. states; most bureaucratic agencies mentioned in this book have close parallels in both nations, and we can expect them to react—or fail to react, in similar ways.

Worzel adds colorful projection to his restrained discussion with occasional present-tense vignettes of individuals in future scenarios. Some of these characters use wearable computers and semi-intelligent digital ‘genies’ to make their daily arrangements and monitor their health. Others create their own television programming, delivered via the internet. Loose, federated business arrangements provide freedom and profit for the well-connected, and new technology enables forward-looking schools to provide better education at lower cost. Medical patients benefit from sophisticated suites of non-invasive diagnostics combined with custom genetic or nanotechnological treatments. All are reasonably credible scenarios, though some seem to entail a great deal of expense.

Worzel does not miss a beat, however. One of the chief questions addressed by this book is “Who will pay for all of this?” Worzel’s economic discussions suggest a globalized future where those with incomes enjoy tremendous prosperity, but where incomes are harder to come by, even for those who are well off: a kind of punctuated poverty that provides both freedom and prosperity for the flexible and disciplined, but a lack of security for those unable or unwilling to do what it takes to stay in the game. Adding to the instability, the bulge of aging North American baby boomers threatens to overdraw the resources of the working population without drastic cuts in entitlements. Worzel makes such points with candor and compassion, in a kind of personal plea to prepare for a more rough-and-tumble era of capitalism than many of us have known.

There are a few dry spots in ‘The Next Twenty Years of Your Life’. The chapter on the evolving telecommunications industry occasionally reads like a biblical lineage about which Canadian telco begat which thanks to some regulation or other. And the chapters on learning and education sometimes feel redundant, with overlong vignettes.

But on the whole, Worzel is both reasonable and interesting, a sometimes difficult combination for a futurist to achieve. He keeps to his chosen focus, and only takes readers to the relatively pedestrian year 2017, rather than through a technological Singularity (which can’t be ruled out by then, but will probably come later) and on to the end of the universe. In ‘The Next Twenty Years of Your Life’, the promise of personal guidance for the years just ahead is kept by an author well worth reading.


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