Bridging the Future

We took a more far-out view for this issue’s Meetings Industry Forecast. Here’s why.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell, Convene Editor in Chief

The second span of a brand-new, $4-billion bridge just opened over the Hudson River, a short drive from my home in northern New Jersey. Known as the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, it’s the largest project of its kind in the United States, and replaces the rickety, 61-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge. It’s much wider and — with cables strung gracefully from eight soaring white columns — far more aesthetically pleasing. Happily, it will make the often-congested crossing less so for drivers like me.

As excited as I am about the new bridge in my backyard, there are many of us who are disappointed that the project didn’t put public transportation — a more forward-thinking challenge — in the front seat. The bridge can support railroad tracks that would run between its two spans, but that’s not part of the plan. At least not yet.

It’s an example of how we tend to take a present-day approach to tackling big issues, without first trying to imagine what the future may hold. 2001: A Space Odyssey author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that politicians should read science fiction. Decades later, Eliot Peper, an author, editor, and adviser to tech entrepreneurs and investors, picked up that sentiment in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction.”

While I’m not a fan of the genre, I found Peper’s argument convincing: “Science fiction isn’t useful because it’s predictive. It’s useful because it reframes our perspective on the world. Like international travel or meditation, it creates space for us to question our assumptions.”

Not that assumptions are all bad. They help us make sense of the world, Peper notes, but they “fail to update when that world changes, and they stand in the way when we could change the world.”

Which made us think that it would be interesting to reframe our 17th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast from the perspective of science-fiction writers. Instead of just looking at the business of face-to-face events over the next few years, how might they envision the industry more deeply into the future? Executive Editor (and avid science-fiction reader) Christopher Durso found and interviewed four authors who were up to the task. You can read what they had to say — as well as traditional forecasts for travel, lodging, exhibitions, and technology — in our cover story.

According to Peper, science fiction “forces us to recognize that sometimes imagination is more important than analysis.” This month, we’re giving you both.

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