Pin it Stumble google-plus

No Crystal Ball


Published: 07/16/2014

by Jim Campbell

Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1517. No, that’s wrong! “Columbus crossed the ocean blue in 1492.” The year 1517 – 25 years later – was when the news reached a remote place called Moscow. For most of human history, that’s the way information and news moved, painfully slowly.


In the 1840s, with Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph, the first step in the electronic dots and dashes sped through networks of wires and cables to set in motion a revolution of unbelievable size and complexity. Today we have Twitter, Wi-Fi, YouTube, Skype and an endless array of apps and handheld devices keeping us connected to each other and to mountains of information in milliseconds.


Where is all this taking us? Back in 1997, Nicholas Fraser, writing in The Guardian, made this observation: “Television is so huge and pervasive that we no longer pretend to understand its effects.” I wonder what he’d say about the present tidal wave of information flowing around the world.


As we struggle to keep up, there’s a major block in the system. It is us! We are human and organic; we need time to think, to gain an insight, to come up with ideas, to be creative. Nowadays, we’re not granted a lot of time to do that.


We face another problem. Le Roy Lapdurie, a French historian, observed, “It is impossible to explain the present by the present.” You need to stop and think about that for a while. Even if we could sort out all the information available to us, we’d still be challenged to identify the forces at work in our time.


Throughout the year, the media work on news packages about events of the current year and line up columnists, professors and political gurus to prepare forecasts for the future. Some even venture to use their crystal balls to look a decade or so ahead. You have to feel sorry for them; it’s an impossible assignment.


You may remember, when the Soviet Union suddenly fell apart, it caught everyone by surprise. All the spy agencies of the west were embarrassed – Britain’s MI5 and America’s CIA – with their masses of data, computers, code breakers, agents and sources in the fields, they all failed to foresee the collapse. I can just see them scrambling to produce erudite, top-secret documents, explaining why it happened ‘under the radar’ and their need for more funding.


So, the future is not only unknown, it is unknowable! But does this mean life is the pits? Are we helpless pawns on the chessboard of life? Not really. While the big picture is obviously unmanageable, we’re not helpless in our world. In our world, we can and we do influence the future. We can do much by using the law of consequences – what we do, good or bad – has an impact upon the future.


There’s no rock-solid guarantee, but the odds are, if you accentuate the positive and work on making progress, on learning a new skill or improving relationships, by the law of consequences, you improve outcomes in the future.


While we can’t foresee the future, we can make things better in the year ahead in our world. We are not helpless. We are powerful and we have choices.


Jim Campbell is an Oakville author, writer and longtime contributor to Home Digest. His most recent book is Glimpses Through the Mirror. We welcome your comments on this column at


Illustration for Home Digest by Rui Ramalheiro

Browse by Category