Culture Shift

The Next Big Thing
Alberta Venture, October 2004, pp. 95-102

I’m prowling for the Next Big Thing coming out of top Alberta sci-tech labs – and wishing a few of those innovations were at my fingertips right now, perhaps even imbedded in my skull. With calls coming in from a baker’s dozen of Alberta’s leading research shepherds, what I wouldn’t give for a boost in brain-power through some stem cell manipulation, or a good-cholesterol bar to counteract junk ingested on the run.

The potential of what lies ahead boggles the mind: regenerating body parts, robotic surgery, pharmaceutical food, energy-producing farms, self-assembling materials, quantum computing, non-stop surveillance, interactive essays. Wouldn’t it be great to walk right into my reams of notes and create an interactive, 3-D masterpiece that plays out the implications of what might lie ahead?

It’s the implications, after all, that intrigue. “We’re in a fascinating time, because if you can imagine it, you can probably find a way to do it,” says John McDougall, who helps decide what surges ahead as president and CEO of the Alberta Research Council. “But some of these advances raise real questions.” Pointing to fierce debates about genetically modified organisms, about artificial life, about privacy versus safety, he adds, “The real fundamental control on the pace of development is likely to be ethical and regulatory. We can do all kinds of neat stuff. But do we really want to be a bunch of 150 year olds?”…

© 2004 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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21 Ideas for the 21st Century
Alberta Venture, January/February 2000, pp. 46-62

There’s nothing quite so revealing as old forecasts – those telescopic prognostications that put entire colonies in space long before we popped the millennial bubbly…and failed to foresee such major asteroids as AIDS, the ozone hole or the fall of the Berlin wall.

Truly, forecasting has its perils. Try as we might, we’ve never corralled history into a straight chute. And there’s little chance of doing that now, when the poles of potential are straying farther apart than ever before. What’s more, as Max Dublin warns in Futurehype, predictions have power. At worst, they pull us, lemming-like, “to live dishonestly and irresponsibly in the present” with the expectation of future reward. As the Queen told Alice when discussing Wonderland, where memory works in both directions, “the rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”

So perhaps it’s no wonder that those interviewed for this series – futurists included – shy away from predicting a certain destiny. “Futurism in its true sense sketches a lot of possibilities,” says Minaz H. Lalani of Towers Perrin in Calgary. It’s up to each of us to shape how the future plays out.

What follows, then, is not your future on a black and white platter. Rather, it’s an array of ideas for the 21st century, some still at the fringes of our collective mind. Ideas intended to spark your own imagination, and perhaps give you a mirror for gazing forward as well as back while living responsibly each day….

© 2000 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Sandwiched caregivers
Alberta Views, October/November 2005, pp. 27-30

For years, I’ve known Terese Brasen as a talented and creative writer. But here’s something I didn’t know: in a huge other part of her life, she’s a sandwiched caregiver. That is, she looks after not only her children, but her parents. It’s a reality she doesn’t often mention to clients, not wanting to raise the spectre of unmet deadlines. But as her parents age and lose chunks of independence, she’s increasingly consumed by their care.

As we walk through the incongruous sunlight of a beautiful Edmonton day, Brasen takes me back to her latest caregiving crisis….

© 2005 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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It’s a Living, Not a Life
Avenue, May 2005, pp. 56-63

Laura Tanner is in her element as we pore over architectural plans in the home office that dominates her living room. Here’s a day-care centre she designed for a student project; there’s a family vacation complex that blends her ideas with the more austere modernism favoured by her mother, the only woman to graduate from the University of Manitoba architecture program in 1944.

In contrast to her mother’s experience, when Tanner entered the University of Calgary architecture program four decades later her classmates were almost evenly divided between women and men. That gender balance is still the norm in architecture classes today, both in Calgary and across the nation. Yet a majority of the women in those classes, Tanner included, do not go on to become registered architects….

© 2005 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Roll of a Writer in the Alberta Landscape
WestWord, September/October 2007, pp. 33-34

I’m bumping along an ill-defined bicycle trail in northeast Edmonton, beyond familiar territory, when a trio of teens pedals into sight. “There’s nothing much ahead,” one advises as I pull out of the rut to let them pass. I continue anyway, searching for an overlook into the river valley—a place to figure out where I’ve been and where I could have gone.

I know where I should be. Home at the keyboard, writing about the roles and responsibilities of the writer in a booming Alberta. On the other hand, by keeping fit (or trying to), I may be shaving dollars off health care costs—and writers aren’t immune to that responsibility, at least not in any of the “active living” promos I’ve seen. Besides, I’m mapping out where this piece might go as I roll. So the time’s not wasted, or so I’d like to think.

Time. For writers, it’s a valuable commodity. How to use it well?….

© 2007 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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