THIS must be said right at the outset: Every parent of
a high-school-aged child should read this book.
Megatrends is a look at what is really happening in the United States today, an examination of the actual events and trends that are shaping our lives. John Naisbitt shows that the nation is not falling apart, but rather we Americans are in a transition period that offers immense new opportunities for those wise enough to understand what is happening.
The book shows which industries are growing and which are failing, how our life styles and work habits are changing. It is a clear blueprint for designing a young person's career -- or making a midcourse correction in the career of a not-so-young person.
Most books about the future offer grand theories, imaginative projections, or reviews of past history. To Naisbitt's credit, he is neither trying to predict the future nor convince the reader of a pet theory. In his own words: "This book is about a new American society that is not yet fully evolved. Nevertheless, the restructuring of America is already changing our inner and outer lives."
Naisbitt is presenting and analyzing trends, which he uncovers in a very simple and pragmatic technique called content analysis: analyzing the day-by-day content of newspapers, on the assumption that they only print those stories that are most interesting to their readers (or, at least, their editors). Thus, the content of a newspaper is a reliable guide to the interests, hopes, and fears of its readership.
For example, in the 1960s, American newspapers heavily featured stories about civil rights and racial discrimination. But as people became more concerned about environmental issues, stories about the environment took over more and more space in the newspaper, squeezing out stories about civil rights. The trend of public concern, then, was toward environmental awareness at the expense of civil rights.
The question that this technique raises is the old problem of the chicken versus the egg. Does public awareness of an issue increase because more space is devoted to that issue in the media, or do the media devote more space to an issue because the public is increasingly concerned about it? The beauty of the technique is that it really doesn't matter: more space in the media means more public concern, no matter where the concern originates.
Using this technique of content analysis, Naisbitt formed his own business, the Naisbitt Group, which publishes quarterly the national Trend Report and four regional reports, for clients such as United Technologies, AT&T, Pacific National Bank, Merrill Lynch, and others. After years of such work, Naisbitt has identified 10 major trends affecting American life today. These are the subject matter for Megatrends.
The trends are:
* We are moving from an industrial society to an information society. Our economic strength as a nation no longer depends as much on the goods we manufacture as the information services we produce.
This past June, for the first time in history, more Americans were employed in service industries than in manufacturing. Orthodox economists say that this is because the current economic recession has hit manufacturing jobs especially hard. That misses the point: jobs in the information and service sectors of the economy have been rising, steadily and strongly, despite the recession.
* Almost from the foundation of the United States, our economy has been predominantly internal; our own home markets have consumed most of what we produce, and we produced most of what we consumed at home. No longer. The United States is increasingly part of a great, global international marketplace, where grain grown in Iowa is as likely to be eaten in Leningrad as Lexington, and "American" automobiles are composed of parts built in Japan, South Korea, or western Europe.
Thus the cries for protection against foreign competition that are raised by corporate and union leaders alike should not be heeded. If the United States starts erecting trade barriers against foreign competition, the result will be trade barriers raised against our export goods -- which will lead to economic collapse here at home.
* America has become a "bottom-up" society, much different from the hierarchical "top-down" society we were as late as the 1950s. Social, political, and even industrial organizations are being rebuilt from the ground up.
* We are moving from a representational democracy to a participatory one. We no longer depend on our elected representatives to get something done for us; we do it ourselves by going to court or placing initiatives on the local and state ballots. Many of us do not vote because we no longer believe one politician can be any more effective than another.
* We are moving toward "high tech" and "high touch." Every increase in the complexity of the technology we use brings about a new social organization among the users of that technology. As robots are introduced in factories, for example, workers organize quality assurance groups among themselves.
* Informal networks of communications are replacing the old chain-of-command kind of communications, in business, in politics, and even in the home.
* Self-help is replacing institutional help, in areas ranging fron exercise-and-nutrition to job counseling.
* Americans are moving west and south, leaving behind what Naisbitt calls "the slowly sinking cities of the North."
* We are beginning to approach problems from the long-term point of view, rather than trying to solve everything in a short-term framework.
* Our choices in almost every aspect of life are enormously wider than they have ever been. We have moved "from a narrow either/or society . . . into a free-wheeling multiple-option society."
It sounds simple, even obvious, to state the trends that baldly. But the truth is usually simple.
Students who are looking forward, perhaps with some trepidation, to entering the job market ought to read this book thoroughly. It shows where the jobs are today, and where they will be tomorrow. It presents a picture of a growing, more human, more flexible American economy and society, where computerized information and entertainment industries are the major employers, and the old, decaying industries have moved to other lands where the factories are newer and the workers are content with lower wages.
Megatrends is an enlightening, heartening book. Although the writing is too flat in places, too much like a business report, the information content is rewardingly high. There is an old bit of folk wisdom that states, when somebody gives you a lemon, make lemonade. Megatrends is a peach. Use it wisely and make the most of your own future.