Are you macro-myopic?

Thanks to Doc Searls, I found something today I’ve been seeking a long time. (Doc’s role explained later.) For years (okay, maybe two or three times over a several-year period) I’ve tried to track down an online reference to a concept I heard Paul Saffo explain in 1995. I’ve riffed the idea (with credit to Paul) in speeches and articles, but have never been successful in finding it via search engine (“Paul Saffo” generates 5,770 Google results). I even emailed him once to ask for a reference, but never received a response. (Update: Paul has now responded with this helpful insight.) The last time I looked, I was disappointed Paul never updates his website and, as best as I can tell, has no weblog.

Not that Paul doesn’t write. He writes all the time. And when he’s not writing, he’s being quoted.

Paul is a futurist, which I think is a great gig if you can get it. I’m thinking of applying for a futurist job myself. Of course, that will be way off in the future. I’m not going to be one of those pop-futurist pundits like Faith Popcorn either. No, I want to be like Paul.

Paul is a director of the Instutitute for the Future, but I met him while attending the Stanford Professional Publishing Course in 1992 and ’95. Paul helps run the two-week institute and is a great interpreter for lay-people, especially dead-tree publishers, of the potential impact of new technology and trends. He’s also a great guy to hang out with while you’re pretending to go back to college for a couple of weeks.

To show you how good Paul is at this futurist thing, read (courtesy of a reference made to it yesterday by Doc Searls) this interview PBS’s Frontline had with Saffo in June of 1995. Read the whole thing and you’ll see some “futurist” predictions that stand a seven-year test of time. I especially like the interview because it contains a concise description of the Saffo concept, which I heard the following month, that I have been riffing from for years. Unfortunately, I didn’t recall him giving it the term “macro-myopia.” If I had remembered that term, I could have found another Saffo description of it also. In a nutshell, this is the concept, in Paul’s words:

…Collectively as a society and as individuals we all suffer from what I call macro-myopia. A pattern where our hopes and our expectations or our fears about the threatened impact of some new technology causes us to overestimate its short term impacts and reality always fails to meet those inflated expectations. And as a result our disappointment then leads us to turn around and underestimate the long term implications and I can guarantee you this time will be no different. The short term impact of this stuff will be less than the hype would suggest but the long term implications will be vastly larger than we can possibly imagine today.”

Paul uses an “S” shape graph to illustrate the linear nature of human expectations regarding the impact of new technology. By the way, the Gartner Group later appropriated this concept and re-labled it the “hype cycle”…or, if so, my apologies in advance, did Paul appropriate it from Gartner? I’ll place my bets on Paul.

If you’re not bored silly yet, here’s a blog-pong excercise only a weblogger would enjoy: Here’s a link to a December, 2000, weblog post by Doc Searls in which his points to a listserv post I (with an erstwhile job title) made in which, as usual, I riffed the Paul Saffo concept.