What happened to the future? It moved to Asia.
Europe had its day hundreds of years ago - the renaissance, the enlightenment - then became less vibrant, less optimistic, and begrudgingly and lethargically settled for mediocre reality and cynicism. Strangely, the more static, thoughtful, lost, and doubtful Europe became on the inside, the more arrogant (the baseless willing of confidence, belief in superiorority despite facts) and demanding (entitlement attitude) it became on the outside.
While this was happening, the U.S. was building the “American century.” Energetic, self-reliant, overly optimistic, learning from Europe’s successes and mistakes perhaps but also repeating some (so, not completely self-reliant, I suppose), real confidence (self-assured from witnessing and participating in “progress”), and it must be said, a seemingly necessary naivete.
But doesn’t it seem that the U.S. has been following in old Europe’s footsteps the last few decades? Empire extension beyond sustainablility. Settling for reality and mediocrity. (while simultaneously fearing reality and damning reality - but rarely offering the bold, difficult, or even naive solutions to this reality, so, “settling”) Rampant cynicism. (seemingly the only “intelligent” form of humour allowable now in the West!) Less optimistic. More static. (“stay the course”) More navel gazing. (more graduate degrees in “criticism,” anyone?!) Lost. (coming to a TV near you!) Internally doubtful. (witness the 2 political parties as they struggle with defining who they are and what they stand for and if they are really any different - and the 17 presidential candidates asking to be followed) Arrogance? - check. Growing entitlement attitude - check.
So begins the “Asian century.” With all its vibrance, optimism, thoughtlessness (often too busy to master-plan, consider consequences, or navel gaze!), and plenty of youthful naivete. Much has also been said about Asia’s ability to “learn” from others - this is usually put in a negative light, but it is also a positive in terms of accelerating towards the future, as long as a more pioneering spirit evolves. Cynical humour? - almost unheard of in Asia! Optimistic? - there are actually rankings of optimism every year done as a part of international competitiveness reports - I recall Vietnam and other developing Asian nations being in the top half of the list.
And anyone who has been in an Asian city recently will verify there is nothing static about them! If you are looking for the modern day equivalent of those “future scenario” videos, take a look at Shanghai and its fully operational mag-lev train, Beijing’s preparation for the Olympics, Pusan’s proposed skyscraper (and Kuala Lumpur and Taipei before that), Singapore’s land reclamation, Singapore and Macau’s casino complex construction, Roppongi Hills or Odaiba (a story of the persistence of the future in this region), Hong Kong’s harbour/waterfront plans, and if we can include Dubai/U.A.E. in this Asian conversation, then I think there can be no question as to where the “future” went! And I’m just naming the “fun” stuff - the speedy infrastructure development to support such unprecedented growth rates is probably the real wonder.
Not to paint an idealistic or naive picture. Asia does not speak with one voice, because it is not one place or one people. Arrogance is creeping in some quarters. One need only look at productivity or efficiency or sales or top global brands (or clean air!) to turn this whole scenario on its head - pockets of Europe and all North America still appear comfortably dominant. But the future economic trend - and definitely the human feeling or attitude - shows the tide is turning. And a word of caution to any doubters: I am certain that plenty of Europeans viewed the U.S. during the previous century and doubted that such a fractured culture of ignorant and uncultured cowboys would rise to champion and embody the future. (Go see Gangs of New York again to see the not-so-glorious or -obvious beginnings of a world beater)
Finally, some Asian cultures may be too “pragmatic” to offer a grand vision of the future and preview their scenario with a Hollywood video - but it could be argued they are delivering their vision piece by piece in their actual actions everyday now.