Life or something like IT

In his first book, G-Forces: The 35 Global Forces Restructuring Our Future, futurist Frank Feather took a look at the global economic forces affecting our world. In Future Consumer.com, he talked about the effect of the online world on consumers. Now he turns his eye to Future Living:

The Coming Web Lifestyle.

In Future Living, Feather describes a Web-based world dominated by “”prosumers,”” a term coined by Alvin Toffler in 1979, in his book The Third Wave. These are home-based entrepreneurs who produce goods and services both for their own use and for sale. No more commuting and cubicles for these folks – like their agrarian ancestors, they will work from home, selling their wares online in the global village as great-grandpa may have done in the local market square.

By 2005, Feather predicts that 90 percent of families will be online, and by 2010, virtually all households will have a Web presence, with their Web address more widely used than their postal address or phone number.

Future Living includes a detailed section on the ways of the Web lifestyle, which contains Feather’s arguments in favour of nine e-changes: telecommuting, online shopping, online banking, e-schooling, e-healthcare, online entertainment, cyber worship, online voting, and starting an e-business. He sees each of these changes as an ongoing trend that will ultimately prevail. His primary social unit is again the family, with home schooling becoming pervasive. Health-care is described from the point of view of the Web-informed patient who will drive the system, demanding personalized attention rather than generic solutions (His view of health-care, however, is U.S.-centric, despite the fact that Feather makes his home in Aurora, Ont.).

Feather also argues that online worship, although it won’t replace the “”congregational intimacy”” of traditional houses of worship, is viable, because, he says, “”Since the Web mirrors society, it becomes a spiritual manifestation of a new theology. The Web is our theology because the Web is us.””

In politics, Feather sees the Web as a vehicle that could allow voters to take back government from the special interest groups and participate meaningfully in decisions. He argues for electronic voting, insisting that secure technology exists, and that it will increase voter participation. Sadly, he belittles older, non Web-savvy voters, many of whom, he says, don’t even know what the Web is, and are “”the same biddies who voted twice in the Florida election”” (He doesn’t talk about the dead people whose votes were miraculously registered).

The e-business chapter describes four types of suitable businesses for home-based enterprises, but ends up being a commercial for multi-level marketing through Quixtar (Amway’s online arm), or companies like Avon, Mary Kay, Herbalife or Unicity.

The arguments throughout flow well, but readers may take issue with the things Feather doesn’t say. For example, he entirely neglects the fact that most people are not about to start making their own clothes, or manufacturing safety pins, or refining gasoline. A huge majority of businesses are not suitable for the prosumer – they need some sort of factory or heavy equipment that won’t fit into the average living room. Yet, Feather says, “”working at or from home will be a major element of a Web Lifestyle. All truly futuristic families will do it.””

Futuristic families, it seems, are all white collar knowledge workers.

And although he rhapsodizes about the virtues of home schooling, he doesn’t discuss the need for motivated parents who are capable of administering the lessons, and have the time and inclination to do so. While the Web offers tremendous educational opportunities, it also supplies vast quantities of misinformation and unsuitable content, which isn’t mentioned either.

He also says that the Web will eliminate spin in politics; anyone who’s spent time online knows only too well that the lies don’t go away, they’re just presented differently. But it’s nice to dream.

There is another issue with this book as well. Out of curiousity, I looked at a copy of Future Consumer.com to see if Feather’s thoughts had changed over the years, and suffered severe déjà vu. Whole blocks of text from it have been transplanted into Future Living, either verbatim, or in slightly altered form. While you can’t call copying from your own book plagarism, recycling previous work like that is, shall we say, rather lazy.

Mind you, Future Living is considerably more readable than the older books – it’s shorter, and the design is much more reader-friendly. Feather is obviously committed to the Web lifestyle, and in his profession, much of it is viable.

For the rest of us, Future Living is an interesting peek at one man’s ideal society.

Future Living: The Coming of the Web Lifestyle, by Frank Feather. Warwick Publishing, Toronto, 2003. $19.95.

Lynn Greiner is Computing Canada’s editor-at-large.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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