What virtual worlds tell us about participation, community, globalisation and marketing in the 21st century

Lisa Galarneau
Intrepid

INTRODUCTION

'If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me' William Shakespeare

Prediction of the future is always a difficult task. As Alan Kay famously suggested, 'the best way to predict the future is to invent it'. But great futurists have often said that the key to predicting the future is to have a keen understanding of what is working in the present. What distinguishes a futurist is the ability to look at what is happening in there here and now and analyse, or sometimes shape, what is likely to continue to grow. The tricky bit, as Shakespeare alludes, is determining which activities in the present are mostly likely to flourish in the future. We often ignore the subtler movements and pockets of activity in the world and focus our attention on outlandish and unlikely futures complete with flying cars, food replicators and human transporters. But a more realistic approach is to examine trends outside the imaginations of ungrounded science fiction writers and other pundits. The seeds of our future are on our present: perhaps they are not yet in their final form, but the hints are all around us. Authors Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne refer to these subtle movements as microtrends, or small forces that will usher in tomorrow's big changes (Zalesne, 2007).