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.”