Fast Company

The End of Authority

Report from the Futurist

Futurist

Jim Dator, 65, director, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, University of Hawaii.

Scenario

"More and more people are rejecting authority figures: They're choosing either to fall back on some form of fundamentalism or to believe only in themselves. So the standard gatekeepers of information and expertise -- journalists, professors, doctors -- are losing their authority. The Internet is the latest development in a do-it-yourself culture that abhors the expert."

So What?

"The Net makes outsider status a badge of credibility. Conventional news outlets are losing mind share to renegades like the Drudge Report (www.drudgereport.com) and Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com). Patients are bypassing doctors to get medical advice from fellow sufferers in Web chat rooms. Rent-a-judge mediation and cybercourts are growing in popularity as people seek to avoid the formal legal system. Organizations that embrace these developments stand to benefit from a kind of creative anarchy, because information and ideas will be liberated from official channels and allowed to move in all directions."

Futurology Decoder Key

"Reject pronouncements that sound reasonable, comfortable, or familiar. Any useful statement about the future will sound ridiculous initially. And consider very carefully statements that disgust, surprise, or discomfort you. For instance, I think it's time to think about the rights of robots. That sounds ridiculous -- but 100 years ago, so did women's rights. Or, to take the end of authority to its logical conclusion: Soon there will be no reliable ideas, data, or even truth. The person who makes the most persuasive argument -- by manipulating powerful symbols on the Net and in other media -- will win the most followers."

Cathy Olofson (cathyo@channel1.com) is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can reach Jim Dator by email (dator@hawaii.edu).

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