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10/17/97 Notions of personal identity challenged by emerging trends

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–On-line, people can be whoever they choose.
A woman can be a man. Someone who is short and ugly can be tall and good looking.
This cyberspace reality in the late 20th-century world is only one factor contributing to dissolving boundaries of personal and private identities, a nationally known futurist told employees of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board Oct. 15 in reviewing six emerging trends.
Computer networks that enable people to experiment with multiple identities and medical research revealing that “things we used to see as free will have to do with the brain” are challenging traditional views about personality, behavior and many other areas of life, Edie Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, a New York futures consulting firm, said.
“We’re learning the brain controls aspects of personality we thought were just personality,” she said. For example, she said research is showing brain-related connections to sleep disorders, addictions and even the habit of being chronically late. Discoveries will affect human resources policy, health-care funding, market research and even occupational health and safety standards.
“More accidents occur on night shifts than day shifts because of sleep patterns,” she said.
In another trend, she said Americans live in what she termed a “multi-money” society.
“We are generating so many kinds of money that have never existed before,” such as frequent flyer miles and vouchers, Weiner said. “We’re moving into an airline pricing economy where no two people will be paying the same price for anything.”
In addition to changing notions about money, people are changing how they define authority, Weiner said.
“Increasingly, authority is being given to those who know more than we do about an issue and believe as we do. We no longer go along with authority that doesn’t agree with our opinion,” she said.
She cited the example of a person who visits a doctor who has excellent credentials but receives a treatment plan he doesn’t like or agree with. The next stop for the patient may be a health food store where he accepts direction from a clerk with far fewer credentials than the doctor. However, the clerk has a knowledge of natural foods and medicine and agrees with the patient about the best approach to treatment.
In other areas, Weiner said increased importance is being given to marketing, retirees are moving back into the work force and litigation is becoming one of the United States’ “most potent exports.”
She defined marketing as “getting your message out to gain market share. We are so bombarded with information that our bestowing attention on something is worth money. Attention is currency.”
Among retirees, many are returning to the work force, Weiner said. Some are finding they can’t live on their fixed incomes while others simply prefer employment.
On litigation, Weiner attributed Americans’ tendency to solve their problems in court in part to multicultural diversity.
“In general, one of the reasons we are so litigious is that we have had a multiplicity of views of right and wrong and how disagreements should be settled,” she said.
With what she termed a “multicultural shuffle” now going on around the world, Weiner predicted “one of our most potent exports is litigation. There is a movement from cultural accountability to legal liability.”
Weiner cautioned against seeing the future as “one trend in one direction.” Instead, she said, “for every trend there is a counter trend.”
For example, she said America is moving toward the 21st century as the most secular society in history. At the same time, there is a great hunger for spiritual meaning.
Both trends are true “and they contradict each other. We know we live in a complex world where contradictions are the name of the game.”

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson