Oblivion, according to the futurist Marian Salzman, is a gift. The pandemic changed all that.
“Those who were oblivious were able to live in a cloud,” Salzman said last week. “If you weren’t thinking about the future, you didn’t have to worry. But now, no matter where you are in the cloud, you’re subject to the risk of the coronavirus. Everyone is thinking about that, and it’s pushing everyone out of the comfort of oblivion.”
Worrying about the future isn’t a bad thing, according to Salzman, who lives in Switzerland and Connecticut, but considers Tucson her home. “Mankind lacks the ability to plan long-term. That’s where I come in.”
Salzman’s path to futurism began in the field of market research. She found she was unusually good at analyzing trends.
“I made my mark by looking not at trendsetters but at trend spreaders,” Salzman said. “I would look at data and find a pattern, things people would experience and share with a larger population.”
It’s about combining art with science, she said. “The art comes from old age,” said Salzman, who’s 60. “I’ve been around long enough to look at what I got right each year. The science is finding each trend and supporting it with mathematical proof.”
Last year, she predicted that America would be routinely wearing masks in 2020.
“I was looking at how in Asia, after SARS, they still wear masks. I knew that would happen in America, but I thought it would be an air-pollution issue. I didn’t get the part about the pandemic right, but I got the masks right.”
Ultimately, Salzman looks for what she calls “a master trend.”
“I’m after something that ladders up to a bigger story. In 2019, I reported that chaos would become the new normal in 2020. We would be stockpiling essentials and protecting our health. I’m saying that next year, it’ll be about how we’ve become aware that we’re one planet. We’ve started to see how the Australian wildfires are related to the Arizona wildfires, and how a virus can come here from another place. We’ll redefine geography.”
In five years, Salzman insisted, working from home will be the norm in many more industries. “And your personal brand is going to be more important than ever, because more of us will be working for ourselves, even in a corporate environment. The new challenge will be to remain relevant in order to earn a good wage.”
Salzman is best known for popularizing the concept of the metrosexual. “It was 2002,” she remembered, “and I was looking at a research study where a third of the men said they no longer felt guaranteed to be the CEO of the bedroom or the boardroom. They were starting to envy the relationships women were having with gay men. They wanted some of that. That beached white male on the couch felt left out.”
Lately, she’s been working on a new book about what we can expect over the next two decades, and last month she published her annual “Zoomsday Report,” with predictions influenced by the pandemic, our hyper-political climate, and trends in technology and distance shopping. Although she’s a professional futurist, Salzman admitted her art and science are sometimes a little off.
“I’ve historically gotten the timing wrong,” she said. “I get it conceptually right, but I always think the future is coming sooner. So, really — never take stock market advice from me.”
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.