Is there anyone out there?

No, not blog readers, aliens.

There’s a great line from Richard Neville in his book, Footprints of the Future, about the question being not being whether UFOs exist but rather why people keep seeing them. I was reminded of this recently when I read an article by Brian Appleyard entitled: “Is there anybody out there?”

According to the originator of the famous Drake equation*, Dr Frank Drake, the answer might be that it’s some kind of substitute for religion. Personally I prefer Appleyard’s analysis that it’s all to do with the dream of not being alone. A bit like Twitter or Facebook but on a more cosmic scale perhaps 🙂

* The Drake equation says (or, at least, originally said) that there are probably around 10,000 communicative civilizations living somewhere in the Milky Way alone. However, given that our entire galaxy is 100,000 light years across it could take a while for them to find us or for us to find them. By the way, to put 100,000 light years into perspective, the moon is 1.3 light seconds from Earth.

PS. New book done. Issue 25 of my What’s Next report up in about a week and another issue of brainmail up not far after that.

Strategic Wildcards


As part of the Bookends scenario project looking at the environments public libraries might have to contend with in the year 2030, Oliver Freeman and myself have come up with a set of playing cards to help individual libraries test the resilience of their current strategy.What I especially love about these cards is that they deal with worlds that are made up of a combination of trends that can sometimes be contradictory.

Each player is dealt seven cards and must then collect one card from each of the seven different suits (ideas, nature, society, politics, economy, culture and technology). The order of play is based on rummy. Each player picks one car from the pack and throws one away. The first player to get a full set across all seven suits wins and the rest of the players then have to use this imaginary world to create an adaptive strategy. If anyone wants a set of cards they will be available from the State Library in due course.

Quote of the Week

Great quote yesterday on the New York Times website (

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” – American Army Brigadier General H. R. McMaster on the growing use of PowerPoint presentations among military commanders.

Interview on ABC Radio


If you are interested (you probably aren’t) here’s a one hour ABC interview with me about ‘the future’ complete with five of my all-time favourite songs (they didn’t let me include rock music otherwise I’d have had ACDC, The Killers and The Angels).

Clickable link is in comments below….

Fifty Things We Might Say in the Future

1. It was called blogging. It was hugely popular.
2. We used metal and bits of paper to pay for things back then.
3. People would dry the leaves, roll them up in paper and set fire to them.
4. Quite the opposite. The life insurance was in case you died.
5. You couldn’t sail across the ice caps back then — even in summer.
6. People would save up until they could afford it.
7. You had to type in a query about what you were looking for.
8. C-60, C-90, C-120. It must be some kind of ancient code.
9. We called them developing nations.
10. Marriage was contractual but with no rolling six-month break clause.
11. Oil? Yes it was cheap. Around $175 a barrel.
12. So you had to write out the amount by hand and then sign it?
13. Twitter? It was a bit like sending a postcard.
14. You could take pictures of your kids without permission.
15. Huh? So you actually had to show up in person to vote?
16. Yes, Belgium was a country back then.
17. It was a fixed household bill. You didn’t pay for it by the litre.
18. We’d all sit down in the same room and watch a single screen.
19. You mean that people used to read every word in a linear fashion?
20. Trade Unions you say. What were they for again?
21. At that time we thought that we were the most intelligent species.
22. Yes, both the textbooks and the exams were still on paper.
23. What do you mean you got lost? How can you possibly get lost?
24. Never mind the price. What’s the carbon footprint of it?
25. Have you seen the kids? Are they playing with the invisibility suit again?
26. Let me get this right. Some people had more than one house?
27. We had to travel to an office and all sit there for eight hours straight.
28. European Union? That was an amalgam of diverse regional hatreds.
29. That’s because the world was largely run by men back then.
30. That’s because the link with mobile use wasn’t proven.
31. No, the screen was only in two dimensions.
32. Is there anything the Chinese don’t own?
33. People used to stop work when they reached the age of sixty-five.
34. Indeed, the phone number used to belong to the house.
35. And you could read all that for free on the internet?
36. Mum, I’m suing you for negligence.
37. You know, emerging markets like Britain and the US.
38. Sure. We used to do other things by hand too.
39. Do you want to try one of those new sleep hotels?
40. What do you mean she failed? Then I want the school fees back.
41. What? And you could drive it yourself on the open road?
42. So each country had their own army?
43. That’s before autocratic government became wildly popular.
44. You can’t stay in until you’ve finished your homework.
45. We used to fly there.
46. It was called copyright.
47. We used to drive right into the city.
48. The Beatles? Never heard of them.
49. Someone just stole my medical identity. Again.
50. Cher is still alive?

Return to Real

Something else along similar lines, this time taken from an interview with the writer Philip Pulman in the Financial Times.

” That is exactly what I miss with the internet. Moving a little mouse about and seeing a cursor zipping down a screen – it is not satisfying. I would infinitely rather draw something – there is more pleasure in moving a pencil across the slightly resistant but also slightly forgiving surface of roughened paper, the pleasure of seeing a drop of paint on a wet brush bloom as it touches your paper. I like a sensuous engagement with things.”

The Return to Real

I can’t resist this. I’m reading an essay in Harper’s magazine (US) about the life and death of great American newspapers (Harper’s November 2009, ‘Final Edition by Richard Rodriguez) and there’s a great quote, which I agree with: ” Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-its and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons.”

Quotes about the future

Choice quote via Matt D:

“The writer Douglas Adams observed how technology that
existed when we were born seems normal, anything that is developed
before we turn 35 is exciting, and whatever comes after that is
treated with suspicion.”