Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.
There is no doubt that the future is, and always been, one of the most seductive1 subjects to which the human mind can turn. Anyone who has ever whiled away a dull or sleepless hour2 in the pastime of planning—whether for next summer’s flower garden, a new home, a fortune-spinning business, or a vacation—will know just how engaging3 the future becomes when reality can be completely ignored or temporarily tamed into compliance4 with fantasy.
Fortunately, maturity brings a healthy scepticism to temper that kind of euphoria5. Experience teaches that tomorrow’s gardens, homes, business deals, and vacations turn out to be much like yesterday’s. We can make believe it6 will be otherwise without too much harm; but if we truly believe it, we are behaving more like compulsive gamblers than like shrewd managers of affairs. Then, too, the nature of an unbridled daydream7, the fact that it occupies time out of our more sober and useful workday lives, helps to devaluate it in advance.
But what of futurologists—those who make a profession of forecasting the future? Around the world there must by now be several thousand practitioners of this new science8, men and women who devote their working lives to devising and refining techniques for predicting the broad future. And for every one of these there are a further 1,000, if not 10,000, whose concern is some particular aspect of that broad future. Their field may be global, such as the future of the energy industries, or it may be literally parochial9, such as the traffic pattern round the village green five years from now. The futurologists are people with a full or part-time professional concern with the future; someone pays them to make predictions and suggest courses of action on the basis of their expectations.
The predictions they make are not of the daytime kind (although ‘daytime nightmare’10 might aptly characterise some of their findings), nor are they much concerned with the utterly unguessable long-term future—a century or more ahead, say. As for the very long-term future, we actually know a great deal about it, and there is little point in it. Here for instance are some of its certainties12:
- The sun will explode spectacularly as either a nova or supernova, or else it will swell and cool slightly, becoming a red giant. Either type of event will destroy the Earth as we know it.
- Earth and Moon will collide.
- The present arrangement of continents and oceans will change beyond recognition.
- Most, if not all, of the existing species will eventually become extinct, supplanted by the new forms which will evolve from the present ones.
Predictions of such far-off and inescapable happenings will make little impression upon us, and in no way can condition our daily lives. Nobody is likely to change their ways because Earth and Moon will one day collide; few would pay more for their hilltop land because it will be spared from flooding when Antarctica melts. But the short-term future, upon which the futurologists focus most of their attention, is quite another thing. If we do not manage to survive the short-term—the next 10 to 25 years—there can be no long-term worries anyhow.
(adapted from Malcolm Ross-Macdonald’s ‘Life in the Future’)
1 Why is it suggested in the first paragraph that thinking about the future is ‘seductive’?
2 Explain the phrase ‘whiled away a dull or sleepless hour’.
3 What word could replace ‘engaging’ in this context?
4 What is being ‘temporarily tamed into compliance’? Explain the meaning of this phrase.
5 What exactly is the ‘euphoria’ referred to?
6 What does ‘it’ refer to?
7 What does the writer mean by ‘an unbridled daydream’?
8 What is the ‘new science’ referred to?
9 Explain, in your own words, the phrase ‘literally parochial’.
10 What do you think are the futurologist’s findings described as a ‘daytime nightmare’?
11 Why does the long-term future not concern futurologists very much?
12 What does ‘its certainties’ refer to?
13 What is suggested will happen to mankind in the far-off future?
14 In a paragraph of 50–80 words, summarise man’s interest in futurology.