“On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about a thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story…”
From my earliest days as a reader I have loved science fiction. I think this is because good science fiction is the literature of ideas, as Pamela Sargent described it. It’s a fascinating place where the consequences of making different assumptions about the world can be explored and expanded on in a myriad ways creatively tied to our human experience.
One evening in 1966, Frederik Pohl wrote Day Million: a classic science fiction short story that starts with the sentence above, and paints—in two thousand words—an ordinary yet unbelievable day in the future.
Take three minutes to read the story here.
The story ends with one of the most perfect final paragraphs I’ve ever read:
“Balls, you say, it looks crazy to me. And you—with your aftershave lotion and your little red car, pushing papers across a desk all day and chasing tail all night—tell me, just how the hell do you think you would look to Tiglath-Pileser, say, or Attila the Hun?”
Pohl concisely demonstrates in Day Million how our very notion of “normal” can morph over time into something almost unrecognizable. What’s noteworthy is that it’s not the technology of the future that seems foreign, but its inhabitants’ attitudes about their routine lives.
And this brings us, finally, to meetings. Like the readers of Pohl’s story, we stay stuck in our beliefs about what should happen in a “normal” meeting. We cannot imagine how they could be different, in the same way as an Elizabethan merchant would be dumbfounded by the idea of buying almost anything we wanted from a box in our room and having it delivered over thousands of miles in a couple of days. When we look at the past we have no problem seeing how our perspective has changed dramatically. We frequently wonder why no one then thought to do what seems obvious today.
And yet we can barely start to conceive how our future will be different.
But it will be different.
That’s worth remembering, when someone in the meetings profession proposes something crazy. Multi-day meetings with no preplanned agenda. People constructing during the event sessions that work for them. Conference sessions designed so that attendees interact with each other.
Crazy stuff like that.
Illustration by Jack Gaughan