Trans-Cultural Impacts on the Future

Various regions and peoples of the world – e.g., Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Native peoples – have evolved differing value systems and perspectives that influence nearly all aspects of everyday life. These aspects extend from work-leisure balance and leisure activities to the social contract, relationships with nature, the pace of life, sources of identity (individual or group), notions of prosperity, the ways in which leaders emerge – and yes, even planning horizons as well as perspectives on the “future” and approaches to meeting its challenges.

What’s different today is the growing pace and extent of cross-cultural action and its potential to “export” and “import” value systems and lifestyles, possibly at the expense of others.

1. As the world’s cultures interact, how might cultures influence work-leisure balances and otherwise influence how people live, work, think, identify, and relate within the next decade?

2. How might the cultures of the G-8 nations rapidly draw more effectively on the cultures of the least advanced countries – and vice versa – to best improve the future-focused reform efforts of all?

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19 Responses to Trans-Cultural Impacts on the Future

  1. Art Shostak says:

    World Cultures

    As we try to construct some tentative answers to these wide-ranging questions I think we re-discover the indispensable place of social anthropology in our toolkit. As long-term forecasters we often focus on economics, statistics, decision sciences, computer modeling – and other esoteric and quantitative subjects as the “meat” of our profession. We run a risk of neglecting other “soft” subjects of comparable weight, and the effort to say something worth the saying about cross-cultural matters usefully points us back to such matters as sociology, psychology, social psychology, and especially, anthropology and social anthropology.

    As for how advanced nations might take “lessons” from developing nations, the first requirement is humility – the ability to honestly recognize the worth of people whose standard of living may leave a lot to be desired (by their OWN reckoning), but who wrestle with the same existential questions we do at our (seemingly) higher standard of living – and by virtue of our BOTH having to come up with responses to human mortality, the presence of Evil, the suddenness of accidents, and other such utterly perplexing matters it should be possible for advanced nation futurists to show the way to fellow countrymen in highlighting “lessons” worth adopting from those with less material things. We have, for example,much to learn about building “coupleness” from countries with seeming success with arranged marriages – a practice we in the West find unaccaeptable – without knowing any where enough about it – and, its possible place in a future rich in options.

    Art Shostak

  2. Bengt-Arne Vedin says:

    If you were to inspect organizational cultures, the very operations of the organization would be a factor: there would be cultural differences between, say, the repetitive task of producing cars, the project oriented task of producing a hydropower dam, and the service production of a bank. My point is that in future there might be an important overlap between national or regional cultures, and professional or occupational ones. What does the emergence of the Internet imply?

    • Art Shostak says:

      On the part played by the Internet

      Fortunately, although we are still in the very beginning stages of an endless relationship with the Internet (itself radically being transformed even as I input ideas)some impacts seem increasingly clear. As Vedin has noted, important overlaps among national or regional cultures, and among professional and occupational ones get a significant boost from the ubiquity, ease, and variations possible now in communications hosted by the Internet. Aids we could only imagine in science-fiction as recently as 25 years ago are now commonplace, and a cellphone portal into Cyberspace houses a computer chip with more power than a mid-sized computer had in the 1960s.We may soon develop an Internet-based universal language-of-sorts, much as dreamed about by the before-their-time developers of Esperanto,which could significantly aid us in minimizing inter-cultural hindrances to communication. At its most basic, automatic spell-checkers and grammar adjusters can reduce misunderstandings; close by are likely aids in reasoning,aesthetic and poetic expression, artistic add-ons, renderings, and other boosts to our ability to exchange meaning with one another. The Internet, in short, would seem an extraordinary enabler of ever-finer cross-cultural communication.

      Art Shostak

  3. Bengt-Arne Vedin says:

    Arnold Mitchell who created the VALS, values-attitudes-lifestyles, model, linked to culture through values particularly, also discussed something different: life-ways. By this he meant events and developments that affected a person’s or a group’s later developments. The Crash of ’29 was such an event; 09/11 will be so judged by posterity. When street vendor Bouzazis in a Tunisian town saw his scale confiscated and his livelihood destroyed, he doused himself in gasoline which he ignited. His act unleashed the Arab Spring, profoundly affecting events. And future culture?

    • Art Shostak says:

      My list of high-probability/high impact events with a cross-cultural connection now includes 1) disillusionment with Arab Spring efforts at promoting democracy and income redistribution in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria – not alone because of bloody militancy as in Syria, but more so because rising aspirations cannot be met soon enough for the satisfaction of “the Street,” and ensuing turmoil generally leads to a call from the influential Middle Class for top-down restoration of Law and Order – even if that means a return to some veiled form of authoritarianism.2) World-wide dismay as the negative effects of accelerating climate change become undeniable and consequential. The prospects grow for national clashes over increasingly scare supplies of water, arable land, and precious metals, etc. 3) The faltering of rule in China as massive problems with unrest, Cyber-insurgencies, ethnic hostilities,the bursting of financial bubbles, etc., combine to strain the ability to manage 1.3 billion people. And 4) Growing unease around the world as the possibility of high levels of unemployment in key states allows a regressive Republican to capture the American presidency in 2012.

      Art Shostak

    • Jose Cordeiro says:

      Yes, the VALS model gives good insights about different cultures. Even during a time of rapid globalization (or McDonaldsization, if you wish), trans-cultural visions are fundamental to consider possible futures for humanity.

      The Vancouver WFS Conference will be a great opportunity to actually meet futurists from around the world, and share their visions with others.

      Looking forward to see many of you in Canada soon.

      Futuristically yours,
      Jose Cordeiro
      Americas-Europe-Africa-Asia, Terra Nostra, Solar System, Milky Way, Universe, Multiverse

  4. Jay Herson says:

    Value systems from other cultures are already affecting leisure activities in the US. Yoga is becoming popular in the US among middle-class women. However the US capatilistic imprint as been put on yoga. Whereas in India yoga was a personal activity in the US it is a multi-billion dollar industry with franchised yoga studios, brand names, clothing lines, etc. The art of meditation went through this process in the 70s when Transindental Meditation became a brand name and a francise business. The American business of yoga is coming to the large cities in India where franchise yoga studios are starting to appear.

    The many Asian graduate students who have come to the US to study science, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. have made some changes in graduate eduction. The Asian students prefer to teach the classes themselves and rely on the faculty for support from a front-row seat. Asian students tend to study together making graduate training a group rather than an individual activity. Chinese students are now returning to China to teach American-style graduate courses at the Chinese universities. There is a demand for these courses because it is becoming increasingly more difficult for Chinese students to come to the US to study (financial reasons, immigration laws).

    Thus, we see a blending of cultures in these two examples.

    • Art Shostak says:

      As I have been retired and off campus for the last seven years it is VERY good to read Jay’s account of changes being advanced by Asian graduate students – and I wish more of this had occurred during my 37 years as a campus-based sociologist and futurist.

      The idea of students being up at the podium as “teachers,” and professors sitting in front as occasional “coaches,” is a reform we must champion in high schools and undergraduate education. The “Sage on the Stage” MUST give way to the “Coach on the side” where ever and when ever the maturity of the older adult (commonly the teacher) recommends.

      Likewise, the employ of group study is invaluable for nurturing “soft” interpersonal skills of ever-greater value in the new cultures of business and commerce.

      Finally, news that Chinese students are bringing to the Middle Kingdom much of what they have learned and experienced while studying here is a critical gain for democracies everywhere (NOT just the USA) as it can be expected that at least some of them came to appreciate – and may have help import into the Chinese culture – the distinctly values obvious on most American campuses, namely, openness to ideas, even unconventional or troublesome ones; respect for people unlike oneself; and, above all, commitment to joining others in the effort to help shape a finer future for all.

      Art Shostak

  5. Fabienne Goux-Baudiment says:

    Transcultural impacts on the future is the theme of this online forum. But what does “transcultural” means?

    In my mind, shaped by political sciences and anthropology, ‘transcultural’ describes the values that transcend cultures. This is another way, more politically correct, to talk about what is ‘universal’ which word seems sometimes to be an insult to the variety of cultures. Yet, ‘universality’, and the character of what is universal, is nothing else then ‘humanity’, the common character to all mankind. Therefore, from my personal point of view,’transcultural impacts on the future’ could be rephrase with other words: ‘how these universal values shape our future?’ Hence this huge and pristine question: what makes us human? What is common to each of us, whatever our generation, gender, culture? What brings us together in a common recognition of our brotherhood, transcending our respective cultures?

    • Art Shostak says:

      What a wonderful issue to raise in a forum for forecasters! We are inclined to look everywhere but into the heart of the matter – our common core … regardless of the fact we differ, each one of the billions of us from one another, in body chemistry, and our unique mix of upbringing, social class, religion, race, gender, and other consequential matters. Our common core has existential roots -as we all wrestle across our life span with the SAME “deep” questions that have intrigued philosophers, gurus, mystics, and also YOU and ME across the ages – Why are we here? What are we to do? What does any of it really matter? Why do some good people suffer and terrible people seem to prosper? Why must children die? Why must we die? And do on and so forth.

      It behooves long-range forecasters to never lose sight of the ubiquity, fascination, and impact of these unanswerable questions. Tackled in 101 different ways across the cross-cultural range, the questions operate behind the scene to help direct mass movements and the key decisions of lone individuals alike.

      Our forecasts are far more reliable when informed by nuanced recognition of, and respectful employ of these soul-stretching quandaries.

      Art Shostak

  6. Stephen Aguilar-Millan says:

    It seems to me that the progress towards a world culture is predominantly linked to the process of globalisation. As the process gathered pace in recent years, so we were looking at the homogenisation of culture – the ‘MacDonaldification’ of the world. As the recession has stalled the process of globalisation, so we have seen regional, national, and tribal identities re-assert themselves. If we are to see a reassertion of a new nationalism, then part of that will be the establishment of a more heterogenous culture in the world. It is interesting to view the Arab Spring through this lens.

    • Fabienne Goux-Baudiment says:

      RE: the progress towards a world culture is predominantly linked to the process of globalisation.
      I would have agreed with this statement some years ago. But the paradigm shift that I am discerning now tells me another story, quite well described by Jeremy RIFKIN in The Empathic Civilization. According to J. RIFKIN, we are entering a civilization where empathy will reach its apex, as well as destruction, the other face of this Janusian paradoxe. He considers that this node empathy/entropy is the very core of the dynamic of the human history. And that the slow development of empathy is progressively leading mankind to a “worldization” (in TEILHARD de CHARDIN’s meaning) rather than a globalization as an economic current. And I personally think that the struggle against the entropy generated by current human activity is already significantly contributing to accelerate the pace towards this world culture.

      Arab Spring has been possible because of the development of this empathic consciousness, closely linked to core values such as kinship (extended) and asabiyyah (Ibn KHALDUN).

  7. Mohan Tikku says:

    During my presentation on ‘Future of Terror’ at the WFS in Boston, last year,I had suggested that Pakistan – West Asia region needed to be watched. The countries of this region were characterized by high population growth rates, huge economic disparities and weak State structures. what I had not been able to take into account was the impact zof technology on these societies. So, we had Facebook in addition to the three key factors above, and the result was the Arab Spring’.

    Where the ‘Arab Spring’ eventually ends up shall in good measure be determined by the capacity of these societies to assimilate technology and the philosophy of technology that comes with it.

    The point that I am trying to make is that Culture and Cultural Choices in our time are determined by technology and technological change. And, as the pace of technological change continues to increase it is bound impact cultural choices (and changes) across the world. That in turn shall impact cultural values and also alter the nature of relationship between society and culture.

    (I shall continue the argument in second part later. Meanwhile, shall welcome any comments.)

    Mohan K. Tikku
    New Delhi /INDIA

    • Art Shostak says:

      While I generally concur, I would tale issue with the use of the word – determine. I believe futurists must be wary of any sort of determinism – economic, ideological, metaphysical, etc. – as this denies agency and would reduce people to being merely passive responders or even only puppets. I hasten to agree that at times and place – given certain circumstances – certain variable far outdo others in their impact on events. This has led great theorists – Ellul, Kahn McLuhan,Marx, etc.-to spotlight one such variable and declare it determinative of this or that macro change in history. Fortunately, other academics, with the passage of time and the completion of exacting research, have taught us the error of such over-statement. All of which is to flag any use by any of us of deterministic thinking. Technology is undoubtedly a MAJOR driver today of change – as it probably has been since, as shown in an iconic sci-fi movie a caveman first threw a bone up into the air (to then become an advanced spaceship)- MAJOR, yes! Determinative? Not … as it has many other comparatively powerful forces ALSO playing on events.

      Art Shostak

  8. Art Shostak says:

    The June 6th issue of TIME has a very helpful article by Tali Sharot about the Optimism Bias – a faculty of humans, possibly regardless of native culture, to be more optimistic than realistic.

    It would seem from new findings in neuroscience that our brains are wired to accent the glass being half full, and, we even alter our memories to accent the positive in recall.

    Our recognition of our inevitable demise apparently developed alongside of our capacity for mental time travel – that is, an ability to foresee the future(s) and take comfort from knowing there will be a tomorrow for our offspring – even if without us.

    For long-term forecasters like ourselves the lesson would seem to be that regardless of the surface differences among cultures the brains of all of are biased in favor of bright expectations – and agents of change can leverage this on behalf of helping people realize their least-worse/best possible imaginings of tomorrow.

    Art Shostak

  9. Dr. Paul J. Werbos says:

    The point you raise is very important. The deep cultural clashes in the world today are
    just as important as objective problems, such as dependency on fossil oil and continued population growth, in endangering the human future, especially with possible outcomes like nuclear war.

    One important manifestation of these cultural contradictions is between old and new in China,
    which spans the whole spectrum. This May (2011) I was grateful to be invited to speak to about 800 people in the main university near the top Confucius Institute of China, in Shandong Province, about how to bridge the gap between modern scientific approaches and older Confucian culture. See
    for the slides.

    Best of luck,


  10. Sari Söderlund says:

    I think that in the future the selection of cultures will be more heterogeneous and personal selection of IT-connectivity modes compose an integral part of personal appearances. In human beings there are physiological and psychological features that are fairly sustainable by nature. In the future there will be personal selections of connectivity modes that are fairly persistent. However, taking into consideration the whole humankind, emerging personal profiles give heterogeneity of cultures. I am quite positive, since confrontation between cultures and personalities reinforces mutual understanding, trust and acceptance. However there will be small groups expressing movements against harmony co-existence of cultures, but these voices will be weak.

  11. Art Shostak says:

    Cross-cultural musings have their place, and their distinctive value. Comparably valuable are ongoing reforms that can “travel,” that can cross borders and POSSIBLY make a desired difference in countries other than that of their origin.

    Business Week, in the issue of June 13-19, offers a sterling article entitled “Nine Ideas from Around the World to Fix the US Economy.” Peter Coy, the author, contends “the challenge is how to apply lessons from other countries to shore up American weaknesses, without sacrificing the strengths that make the U.S., for all its troubles, the world’s biggest economy.” he goes on to explore “innovative economic ideas in countries as diverse as Germany, Brazil, Singapore, and Thailand that are applicable to America’s mess.”

    Long-range forecasters might want to get the World Future Society to maintain a dynamic “inventory” of such ideas – so as to enable members to readily draw on them when helping clients expand their imaginative range – one of the most helpful contributions futurists can offer to those who ask our help.

    Only as futurists soar above artificial “fences” that seem to separate cultures – and instead, as in the Business Week article – help in the transfer of good ideas across “fences” – will futurists live up to their potential – and meet a profound responsibility to all.

    Art Shostak

  12. Disbrow says:

    Once upon a time, there was an intense-argument made by a middle-aged non-Western woman of color to a group of women from the US advocating population-control: “How can anyone argue for population control when everyone knows the most important thing in life is happiness – especially the most important kind of happiness, the kind that comes from being a member of a family, and larger families have a lot more happiness than smaller families? And since being a grandparent is the most fun thing in life, birth control would lead to older people having radically diminished levels of life-happiness.” She then made intense allegations about birth control being another white-societies raciest scheme to destroy the best source of happiness that people of color enjoy – so the racists could once again perpetuate their own materialistic happiness at the expense of the others.

    Before population growth overwhelms the world’s carrying capacity, do we not have to deal with the issues raised by her emotional perspective – especially when confronted with this highly intense and personal cross-generational scenario of happiness?

    When I first heard this argument 15 or so years ago, I wondered about it – but still couldn’t decide if it were true. Now that I’m a grandparent, let me assure you that being a grandparent is one of the greatest things in life, something that I should have been looking forward to – but didn’t know enough to do so. Is this something that cross-cultural or cross-generational education might have helped? As world cultures interact, how might her culture influence happiness and otherwise influence how G-8 families live, work, think, identify, and relate within the next decade? Maybe we could all have happier lives?

    But on top of this, how do we respond to the highly-emotional charge of population-control being a racist plot, when (if you understand her hypothesis and look at world history from her point of view) it could appear to be true? Is this something that cross-cultural education might have helped? or maybe the truth would make it worse? How might the cultures of the G-8 nations draw more effectively on this aspect of the least advanced countries’ cultures to best improve the future-focused reform efforts of all, to diminish racism-ethnocentrism, and to share happiness evenly?

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