This Changes Everything
You have my permission to slap the next futurist (foresight thinker, scenario strategist, or trend-spotter) who uses the expression "this changes everything" seriously. Slap them hard. Maybe a shin-kick, too, if you're into it.
The notion that some new development -- usually a technology, but not always -- "changes everything" manages to combine the most uselessly banal and the most pointlessly wrong observations in the field.
At the top end, it's part of what I'm starting to call the "cinematic bias" in futurism: the need to describe future developments in ways that startle, titillate, and would probably look pretty cool on-screen. Quite often, the items that fall into this category are simply impossible, or so implausible as to make me struggle to avoid lashing out with Dean Venture's infamous "I dare you to make less sense!" I'm not shocked when people from client companies offer up suggestions like these -- cinematic science fiction is the common language of futurism right now -- but I'm boggled when I see people who get paid to do this for a living coming up with misfires like "teleportation eases traffic problems!" or "population pressure solved by Moon colonies!"
Sometimes, it's not just implausibility, it's an unwillingness to deviate from The One True Future. Logic is irrelevant, except for the narrow conjectural pathway that leads the futurist from Point A to Point Stupid. Complexity goes right out the window, as do any notions of co-evolution, competing drivers, mistakes, or push-back. This is the kind of thinking that tells us that we don't need to worry about global warming/hunger/poverty/ocean acidification/resource depletion because NewTechnology will fix all of our problems, for ever and ever amen.
I'm not saying this out of pessimism, or even realism. It's I'm-not-trapped-with-my-head-up-my-posterier-ism.
At the opposite end of the "this changes everything" spectrum are those people who use this cognitive abortion of a phrase to describe something that might merit a page 14 mention in Widget Fancy. No, a new form of text messaging does not change everything. A new teen language trend does not change everything. And the latest update to an MP3 player most decidedly does not change everything.
You might think that the people offering up such exaggerated praise for minor developments are novice marketeers, trying on their big hyperbole pants for the first time. You'd be wrong. More often, such an utterance comes from someone who should be paying attention to such things discovering a new toy or trend that half the people sitting around the table already knew about (most likely the underpaid under-30 interns & employees). Simply put, saying that a new widget will "change everything" is just one step more articulate than holding up a napkin drawing and saying "ZOOM! WHOOSH! PEW PEW!"
What frustrates me most about the ascendence of the "this changes everything" meme is that its implicit opposite is "this changes nothing." Left out are the changes that really matter: the widgets and methods and practices and ideas that change the little parts of our lives, the everyday decisions, offering us new perspectives on old problems -- not solving them with a wave of the hand, but letting us see new ways to grapple with old dilemmas. This doesn't change everything -- in the real world, like it or not, we change everything. The longer we wait for magical technology or new MP3 players to do it for us, the sorrier we'll be.