Interview with futurist David Pearce Snyder

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His arms are average, his legs are normal. But his head is a crystal ball.

David Pearce Snyder is one of the country’s leading futurists, a guy who devotes his life to deducing what our lives will be like in the coming decades, even centuries. As Lifestyles editor of the Futurist Magazine and a consultant and speaker, the Bethesda, Maryland-based thinker crisscrosses the world weighing in on matters only psychics have the balls to predict. He spoke to us from London about the coming wave of bad movies, cool stuff even paupers will own, and especially money.

Bankrate: Will the far-out future become affordable to the average Joe?

Snyder: It already is affordable. A year ago, it cost $1 million to buy a computer setup that would give a person with just a little know-how the equivalent of a Hollywood production facility. That was a pretty good bargain for $1 million, considering it allowed that average Joe to make images of the quality you see in a movie like The Matrix. A year later, that technology is available for $6,000.

Bankrate: Does that mean that your next door neighbor who earns $32,000 and counts his change at the 7-11 will be making Hollywood blockbusters?

Snyder: Every man will be his own Orson Welles. Of course, that means people in the future will have to wade through a lot more garbage in order to find the diamond in the rough. We’ll see a lot of terrible movies in the future, but you’ll also see the man from down the hall at work become a recognized director because of something he created at home.

Bankrate: In the future, what cool stuff will everyone own, no matter how wealthy they might be?

Snyder: Well, for example, everyone will have personal digital assistants with built-in cameras. That means that any time a car crashes, any time a fight breaks out, any time a guy’s pants fall down, someone will be on the spot to record the event and then broadcast it, say, on the Internet. So not only will average people have cool things, they’ll create cool things.

Bankrate: I’m shivering with excitement at the opportunity to ask a famous futurist for a stock pick. Go ahead. Make me rich.

Snyder: Never listen to futurists about money! Most of them are much further out and speak in sweeping, vast generalities. Many begin their thinking a century out, which I think disallows practical predictions for finance. The ones I know who’ve done great financially have invested in mundane, current ventures like real estate or a relative’s business.

Bankrate: Don’t’ futurists understand the stock market?

Snyder:They do, but most are singularly disdainful of the stock market, and I’m not clear why. I think many have come to believe that the market is controlled by insiders, so they don’t want to be put into anybody’s trick bag. Some think that once a stock becomes public any real possibility of gain is gone. I feel much like that, too.

Bankrate: Even with your uncanny ability to see into the future, you won’t make stock predictions? Isn’t that like having a pair of X-ray specs and not pointing them at beautiful women?

Snyder: It’s not a matter of what I can see. It’s a matter of whether I can see the details. It’s one thing to have a notion about, say, the future of an industry. It’s another to pick the particular stock from that industry. So I’m not sure it’s helpful financially to know what we might know.

Bankrate:Please, please, please give me a stock pick!

Snyder: I don’t do that.

Bankrate: Please!

Snyder: Well, we’ve got to keep some fingers crossed on Micron Technology (NYSE: MU) and Fruit of the Loom (NYSE: FTL). Micron because it’s a former military contractor forced by current circumstances to go out in the public marketplace, and they’ve been terrible at it so far. But they have very good prospects in, say, broadcasting chips, which will replace bar codes in the future. The chips are so cheap you can put it on a sticker, so when you check out of a store, you just point a laser gun at a customer’s basket and it captures everything, no swiping. It’s the same technology they’re using at tollbooths. But this is a very volatile stock, it’s gone from $19 to $93 several times.

Bankrate: Why Fruit of the Loom? That doesn’t sound too futuristic to me…

Snyder: They produce a third of the world’s underwear. They’re a huge icon with a brand name almost as good as Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO). But through mismanagement, they’ve gotten down under a couple bucks a share. It can’t go much below that.

Bankrate: How about some other Jetson-age companies?

Snyder: There’s a lot of whiz-bang stuff that sounds great. You hear about great patents. You read glowing reviews. But I remind myself that I might not be savvy enough technically to really understand the company’s prospects. What I’m looking for is a company that makes a product that has dozens and dozens of applications, saves the consumer money and the company labor, is eminently affordable and which the consumer needs to buy forever. The Gillette safety razor was such a product. I know that’s not the futuristic kind of thing you’re looking for, but that’s what makes money. And I think the chips to replace bar codes from Micron Technology will qualify, too.

Robert Kurson is a senior editor at Chicago magazine and has written for Esquire and others.