In an era when starting a new magazine seems as risky as picking a hit television show, Litton Industries Inc., known primarily for technological ventures, is jumping into the world of consumer magazine publishing.

The magazine, called Next, is designed ultimately to become a mass circulation monthly about the future. If the editors are successful. Next will bring a massive conglomerate into the 1980s with a new entry in the publishing sweepstakes.

Although Litton already says it is the largest medical magazine publisher in the country, Next is aiming at an affluent, mobile readership with a keen interest in technological, financial, social and political views of the short-term future.

"There is no general consumer interest magazine about the future," said Carroll Dowden, the 46-year-old president of Next Publishing Co. and Medical Economics Co.

"Articles about the future are a well accepted journalistic form, but no one else is doing it," Dowden said.

"In addition, it happens that change is coming at an increasingly rapid rate.

"As we thought about it, we came to feel that this increased pace of change has something to do with how people felt about life today. There is a growing anxiety about life today and our future and it seemed appropriate to fill that void."

The magazine will emphasize the near term, with an eye toward channeling what Dowden referred to as anxiety into an awakening about the potential of the coming years.

"While Next may occasionally publish gloom-and-doom stories, it does not belong to that school of journalism that sees disaster at every juncture," says Litton's publicity literature. At heart we feel optimistic about the future; that is we feel something can be done about it."

With that upbeat view in mind, Litton, based in Bevery Hills, Calif., decided to put "several million dollars" into Next, a part of the company's paper, printing and publishing division. Last year, that division had revenues of more than $340 million, a small part of Litton's $4-billion in total revenues.

Yet, Dowden said running a magazine in a corporation with little experience in this type of venture and considerable experience in defense products, microwave ovens, and laser rods is easy because the company emphasizes the autonomous nature of its varied divisions.

Dowden, a former journalist, joined Litton, as a writer in 1963 and became publisher of Medical Economics magazine 10 years later.

Dowden pointed out that with Litton's stock of medical magazines, the company does not come into the Next program entirely in the dark, but notes that he had a lot to learn about newsstand distribution among other things.

"We know it's going to take five or six years, but we expect to have on the street recognition," Dowden added.

Results of preliminary mailings have been good, Dowden said, pointing to a relatively successful test distribution of 20,000 copies. When the first issue, dated March-April, is published next month, Dowden expects to have a 200,000 circulation base.

The audience, according to the company's tests, is largely college educated, is about 70 percent male and has a median income of $28,000. That sounds like a Washington audience and Dowden expects Next to do well here. In addition, Dowden said the magazine, which will be written predominately by freelancers, will look for stories by Washington area writers.

Noting the success in the 1970s of magazines like Smithsonian and the failure of others like New Times and Look, Dowden is convinced Next will soon be a successful, widely-known endeavor. "Based on all test information, I really think that a publishing fiasco is out of the question," he said.