21st Century Ideas: The Good, The Dangerous, The Unmentioned

All of the "21 Ideas for the 21st Century" (Cover Story, Aug. 30) are interesting and imaginative--but also dangerous extrapolations into the murky future. The past century has brought technological changes of enormous and unprecedented proportions into our lives. The pace of development is ever-increasing, and will certainly continue to accelerate as we make the transition into the next century. Most of your predictions, in fact, assume that as a given.

Yet therein lies the rub. The changes we have experienced so far have in many ways benefited mankind. Medical advances come to mind as an obvious example. Many innovations, however, are of a decidedly two-edged nature: Automobiles have increased our personal freedom but have also turned us into a nation of overweight, out-of-shape candidates for premature diabetes, heart disease, and other unpleasant afflictions. Our communities have been turned into a collection of strip malls and parking lots. Our children are deprived of the exercise they need because we drive them everywhere. Our sense of civility has become a victim of road rage.

Television, and more recently computers, have greatly expanded our access to information, but rather than having an ennobling effect, too many of us have become couch potatoes addicted to the laugh track of banal sitcoms or the questionable allures of porno sites.

The key issue is that, while technology heaps new capabilities on us at a breakneck pace, we have in many ways remained moral and ethical pygmies, unable to deal effectively and reSponsibly with this cornucopia of technical wizardry. This issue must be addressed and resolved as part of the agenda for the immediate future, or we risk becoming a society that spins out of control from a sheer incapacity for absorbing an ever-increasing rate of change.

Paul W. Rosenberger

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

The rise in nationalism and separatism goes much beyond the Internet and globalization. Much of it is caused by the demonization of central government by conservatives and the resulting abdication of responsibility to states, provinces, etc. When differences in opiNions, ethnicities, or economic strength become territorial, separatism raises its head. You mention New York City-- but the U.S. is not immune: As shown by the elections of 1996 and 1998, there already is a huge ideological gulf between the Northeast, the northern Middle West, and the Pacific Coast on one hand, and the Southeast, the Deep South, and the Mountain States on the other. The latter group now runs Congress and seeks to impose its agenda on the rest of us. Not that separatism is a clear and present danger so far. But one thing that the world does not need is a neo-Confederacy that would make apartheid-era South Africa look like Sweden.

John E. Ullmann

Professor Emeritus of Management

Hofstra University

Hempstead, N.Y.

Thank you for the monumentally stupid cover story. You first express disdain for prediction, projection, and extrapolation, yet then engage in same for 80 pages. You start from the (correct) premise that scenario planning is a useful tool in creating the flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness necessary for an uncertain future, but then go off on speculative tangents untethered to basic realities of economics, human nature, or common sense.

Personal turbines? A 2,000-member U.N.? Leaderless corporations? Virtual teleportation? Great fun, perhaps, but in the end, useless for informing business planning today. I have made a fine living as a professional trends analyst and business futurist over the past 20 years debunking such drivel for my clients, subscribers, and seminar audiences, and obviously I can look forward to doing the same for the next 20 years as well.

By all means, renew my subscription.

Roger Selbert

Editor & Publisher

Growth Strategies

Santa Monica, Calif.

Although your issue was thought-provoking and interesting, you missed two of the big problems that will confront our offspring during the coming century:

1) Continuing growth of population, mainly in the Third World, and the spillover into the possibly shrinking industrialized countries.

2) Industrial and agricultural demand for water by a growing population, and climatic fluctuations in the distribution of precipitation. The engineering, environmental, economic, and political implications for managing our hydrological resources are only beginning to be addressed. Water-resource management will require a massive effort.

I encourage you to consider presenting articles on these topics; they will be hot potatoes.

James Weinman

Vienna, Va.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.