author of The Future and #relatednonsense
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Brisbane, Australia and was raised with a wanderlust. There aren’t many parts of the world I haven’t been to (apologies Azerbaijan, but I’ll get to you some day). I’ve always naturally gravitated to world affairs and I’ve long been interested in people and technology, which is why I became a journalist, I guess, and why I now write and broadcast about issues that affect both individuals and societies.
When I was twelve I wanted to be either a plastic surgeon or a comedian. Or both at once – really, truly – which is a bit of a worrying combination when you think about it. Why did that seem like a realistic career path? I have no idea – it was a long time ago; At eighteen, I spent most of my time getting lost in the university library, reading books about everything but the subjects I was officially there to study. At that age the world was my oyster, but I wasn’t all that keen on looking outside the shell – I was a bit shy, I have to confess; By thirty, I was the senior producer for an international satellite news service and I had convinced myself that I wanted to be a war correspondent, though the thought of getting hurt and having to sleep rough in places like Bosnia and Liberia tended to keep me grounded.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Foolishly I believed that most of the best things in life happened as result of hard work. I now realise that luck and chance are pretty big determinants of what you do and where you end up in the future. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve also realised that (in the right situation and context) bribery, coercion, and having a few well-placed friends in the local mafia can also open a surprising number of doors.
One was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s. I was only a kid at the time, but I became fascinated by watching the TV news and I suddenly realised there was more to the world than cream-buns and playing Red Rover; The second big life-shaping event was my introduction to the extraordinary power and potential of technology. My brother bought a plug-in TV Ping Pong game in 1976 which was basically just a white dot and two vertical lines moving up and down on an old analogue screen, but to me it was just so futuristic! By comparison, space flight and nuclear fusion paled into insignificance; My third great epiphany came when I got to the very end of my university studies and realised that while my head was stuffed full of fascinating information and trivia, the only gainful employment for which my lack of real world skills equipped me was journalism and writing.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
I’ve never been much taken with the notion of dying media. TV was declared obsolete when the internet came along, but according to the World Bank the idiot box is now fast approaching global ubiquity (there’s a quote in the book); Radio was also declared dead back in the 1950s, but each week hundreds of thousands of people listen to the radio program I present (Future Tense on ABC Radio National – www.abc.net.au/rn/futuretense ) either by podcasting it or by streaming it directly from the website. Some even listen the old-fashioned way through a transistor radio.
Books will always be with us in one form or another, because the book is more than just a collection of words or one particular delivery platform, it’s a process of thought, expression and editing that turns ideas into arguments and adventures. And, for my money, until I find an e-reader I can safely use in the bath, there’ll always be a place in my house for paper books.
The Future and #relatednonsense cuts through the jargon and spin that’s infused our gadget-driven world. It looks at the major trends, ideas and technologies that are shaping today’s society and propelling us into the future. But it’s also a reality check on much of what we’re told about the future. It’s fun, humorous and packed full of intelligent quotes from leading international thinkers.
(From the publisher: ‘So, verily I say unto you, brothers and sisters – cast aside your digital rosary beads and look more closely at the world around you. Or better still, roll up your trouser legs and join me for a paddle through the shallow water at the edge of the future. Be curious, be positive, and embrace your inner sceptic!’
Do you really understand the world around you? Do you know how crowdsourcing works, what terraforming does, and what alternative currency is? Do you believe Google is great – or is there a sneaky feeling in the back of your mind that it might know way too much about you? And, by the way, just what happened to the great promises of the future, the paperless offices, the Jetsons-style commutes?
Come with guide and host of Radio National’s Future Tense, Antony Funnell, as he unravels the mysteries of the world we’ve created, cuts through the mumbo jumbo, warns of the dangers and laughs at the hype. Smart, articulate and refreshingly humorous, The Future and #relatednonsense delivers the answers to things you should know – but were too busy or too confused to ask. )
My hope is that The Future and #Related Nonsense will help people who feel intimidated by technology and the way the world is heading to realise that it is actually okay to be sceptical. That healthy scepticism keeps the world on an even keel and is more needed than ever in today’s gadget and marketing-driven society. Be curious, be positive, but embrace your inner sceptic! That’s the tag-line for my book.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
I’m pretty keen on myself, but for the sake of modesty I’ll nominate Margaret Warner, who’s a senior correspondent for the PBS Newshour. I’ve always appreciated her journalism, but for a long time I never quite knew why. Then one day I realised what it was. After decades as a journalist her eyes still light-up whenever she interviews someone. And that’s what I admire – that after a very long career as a reporter and interviewer she’s still as curious and questioning about the world as any young, eager news cadet.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My only real goal relates to the previous answer. I hope that I never lose my desire to prod and probe. My goal in life is to always maintain my sense of wonderment and curiosity. If I can keep hold of that, almost anything is still possible. (Note the insertion of the word “almost”. I am a realist after all.)
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write about stuff that fascinates you. The world is already too full of passionless prose.
Antony, thank you for playing.
From the author:
For the past six years I’ve been focussing, to a great extent, on technology and social change – first as the presenter of ABC Radio National’s Media Report and more recently hosting Future Tense. It’s a dream job. Every week I get to engage with leading international innovators and thinkers – from Oxford Dons to the wonks who develop algorithmic trading systems for Wall Street investment houses.
The Future and #Related Nonsense has given me an opportunity to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated about how society is changing and where we’re heading. There’s just so much going on. The greatest challenge I faced in putting the book together was actually editing it down – making difficult decisions about what not to cover.
The Future and #Related Nonsense was born of a desire to write a book about the future that was both information and idea rich, but which didn’t bog down in technical terms or overwhelm people with new-age jargon and marketing spin. I also wanted to give readers a take on innovation and that was both fun and enjoyable.
We’re blessed to live in interesting times, but as the old Chinese proverb would have it, that can also be a curse. People are better educated than ever before and have access to far more information than at any time in human history, and yet, as I began pulling together the major themes of the book, it became clear to me just how unquestioning we have become of technology and those who own and develop it. From the way social media works to scientific efforts underway to artificially cool the planet, there is a level of passivity in our relationship with technology that doesn’t bode well for the future.
My hope is that The Future and #Related Nonsense will help people who feel intimidated by technology and the way the world is heading to realise that it is actually okay to be sceptical. Being a sceptic doesn’t make you a Luddite. In fact, healthy scepticism keeps the world on an even keel and is more needed than ever in today’s gadget and marketing-driven society. Be curious, be positive, but embrace your inner sceptic! That’s the tag-line for my book.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.