Examining the future -- with 'Megatrends' author John Naisbitt
UNTIL recently, trend analyst John Naisbitt didn't even need a secretary. But now, 900,000 copies and 16 months after the release of his best seller ''Megatrends,'' Naisbitt needs two. His speaking schedule is among the heaviest in the country; his audiences, ranging from Boy Scouts to Standard Oil executives, are among the most diverse.Skip to next paragraph
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And now, with the softcover edition of ''Megatrends'' in the stores, the saga continues. In February, the paperback climbed immediately to No. 1 in the non-fiction charts, where, ironically, it jockeyed for popularity for a while with George Orwell's ''1984,'' then topping the fiction charts. Ironic, because the two books present social scenarios that are about as similar as salt and pepper.
Where Orwell's novel describes a state held in a stranglehold of centralized power, Naisbitt's analysis indicates that America today is going through a period of intense decentralization (characterized by private charity, self-help, and a reawakening to community issues and local initiatives) in which the traditional centers of power (Washington, D.C., New York City) are often behind, rather than ahead of the times. Further, the Orwellian theme of mass uniformity has no part in Naisbitt's ''multiple option'' society, where people have more diverse products and services to choose from than ever before. And if Orwell ends his scenario darkly, pessimistically, ''Megatrends'' ends with a yawp of optimism: In the final line of the book, Naisbitt writes, ''. . . what a fantastic time to be alive!''
Apparently, the author still feels this way. He made no changes in the paperback edition of ''Megatrends.'' ''All I did was rewrite the intro,'' he told the Monitor, and ''update the statistical data from the 1979 figures to 1982 figures.''
These figures, compiled by the author's business consulting firm, the Naisbitt Group, are obtained using a research process called ''content analysis.'' First legitimized by wartime intelligence agencies, the process spots budding trends by compiling data from thousands of local newspapers. Content analysis has been one of the selling points of the book, since it offers supporting data rather than theory.
Nonetheless, one social scientist's data is another's wishful thinking, and, since ''Megatrends'' does make sweeping statements about shifts in culture, Naisbitt has made himself a target. Perhaps the most scathing public attack came in last August's edition of Harper's magazine in which an article more satiric than substantive labeled Naisbitt's work as ''megabaloney.''
But there is also a gallery of informed Naisbitt critics - some partially sympathetic, others virulent.
Social analyst Walter Truett Anderson is a little of both. He feels Naisbitt makes too many claims for his research process. ''There is a weakness in connection between (Naisbitt's) proof and his statements,'' Anderson says. ''In the book he makes an impression of having a great empirical source of data for all his material when in fact he may have a tremendous amount of data for one statement and almost none for another.'' But in terms of general direction, Anderson adds, ''the book is an important one.''