Millennial Megatrends Meet the 21st Century

MEGATRENDS 2000: TEN NEW DIRECTIONS FOR THE 1990's by John Naisbitt & Patricia Aburdene, New York: William Morrow, 384 pp. $21.95 JOHN NAISBITT and Patricia Aburdene are hardly wallflowers when it comes to picking provocative topics to write about. For them, nothing like a modest little examination of the United States factory system of the 19th century, or a study guide to the flora and fauna of South Carolina. No, this enormously successful husband and wife team, which a few years back gave us ``Megatrends'' (which sold 8 million copies) think in terms of global occurrences ... spaceship Earth ... the millennium ... the cosmos.

And thanks to a blend of audacious prognostication, sprightly writing, and bold layouts (complete with various forms of type sizes), their latest book once again can be said to work. To read Naisbitt & Aburdene is to learn, among other things, that:

Seventy pounds of fiber-optic cable transmit as many messages as one ton of copper wire.

More than 35 percent of the electricity in industrial countries comes from nuclear plants.

Between 1960 and 1980 the US work force jumped by 43 percent, but the number of artists, writers and entertainers grew by 144 percent.

There were 837 Japanese-affiliated plants in the US in May 1988, 287 more than in 1987.

Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil will be the two largest cities in the world in 2000.

Will ``Megatrends 2000'' be another blockbuster? You can bet your fiber-optic cable on it! Naisbitt & Aburdene have surely hit upon a formula that can be rewritten throughout the next decade or two. And why not? Knowing where a global society is going is almost as much fun as getting there.

In this latest ``Son of Megatrends,'' Naisbitt & Aburdene examine what they see as 10 ``millennial megatrends: gateways to the 21st Century.'' They are: the global economy; a renaissance in arts; the emergence of free-market socialism; global lifestyles and cultural nationalism; the privatization of the welfare state; rise of the Pacific Rim; the decade of women in leadership; the age of biology; the religious revival, especally in what might be called ``new age'' religion; the triumph of the individual.

The authors say that Spaceship Earth is at the beginning of an enormously enriching era - one in which, in just economics alone, there are ``no limits.'' One might quibble with some of their selections (and perhaps a few of their ``facts''). Is the rise of the Pacific Rim really all that ``new,'' particularly since it was Asia that seriously clobbered the industrial West in consumer electronics (and, for the US, automobile technology) back in the 1960s and '70s. And while there is a religious revival under way, with more and more Americans, for example, returning to church, it seems far from certain that ``New Age'' religion, will overtake the traditional churches. Naisbitt and Aburdene note the growing role of women in mainstream Protestant churches, but they largely overlook the rising contribution of minorities and ethnic-Americans in many of those same churches, as well as the continuing trend towards denominational mergers, such as that of the Lutherans.

But these are minor complaints. A number of critics faulted ``Megatrends'' for what they perceived as its overly optimistic, ``gee-whiz'' assessment of the future, as well as what the critics perceived as a ``trivialization'' of the underlying forces at play in world development. Perhaps such complaints will be registered again. But ``Megatrends,'' in retrospect, looks remarkably prescient in its emphasis on the emerging information, high-tech society. To say that we are not in such a society is to deny the obvious. In similar fashion, the current world pattern - the still expanding global economy, the upsurge in popular culture, the triumph of the individual, as underscored by what's happening in Eastern Europe - suggests that Naisbitt and Aburdene have once again done their homework, even if they may be too optimistic about solutions to such problems as global pollution and poverty.

The bottom line is that ``Megatrends 2000'' is a useful road map to a world that - if it doesn't occur quite the way the authors suggest - probably should. The book is provocative, invariably interesting, and insightful.

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