Design Research, Digital Filmmaking, Storytelling, Strategic Foresight

Future of Marriage

/ The Future of Marriage

The Future of Marriage is a strategic foresight project utilizing foresight methodologies to conceptualize American marriage in the year 2036. This project explores the social, economic, political, technological and personal influences of contemporary marriage, projected into a cohesive future scenario that takes place in San Francisco in 2036.


Note: this article is featured in the prestigious Journal of Future Studies published by Tamkang University, Taipei, Taiwan. As the original proprietor of this material, I’ve republished some of the article, here.

/ Role

Strategic Foresight / Project Management / Storytelling / Filmmaking

/ Design Challenge

How might we use foresight methodologies to convey marriage in the United States in the year 2036?

/ Restrictions

The final product must be on video.

/ Research

Using four independent foresight methodologies our team will create four future scenarios. To begin, we need to look carefully at the four different methodologies. Most foresight methodologies rely heavily on indicators like events/ideas from the past, as well as emerging issues, trends, and signals from the present. The methodology being used dictates how the indicators will be analyzed and applied in the creation of the future scenario. Research relies heavily on academic journals, news articles and reports from industry experts, sociologists, and historians.

/ Methodology 1: Alternative Futures

The Alternative Futures method explores a phenomenon under the assumption that our future is not predetermined. It asks the practitioner to imagine and engineer a scenario surrounding a phenomenon, in this case, marriage, if society followed a path of 1) Growth, 2) Collapse, 3) Discipline 4) Transformation. The practitioner uses the trends and emerging issues of the present day to help shine a light on what might happen in the four aforementioned scenarios.


Each scenario should have the following ingrained: 1) Systemic set of assumptions about the drivers shaping the world. 2) Leading ideas that shape the world and the institutions of marriage. 3) Powerful forces that interact beyond the institution of marriage. 4) Institutions and governance parameters that influence the world. Using the Alternative Futures method, the team developed four scenarios imagined following paths of growth, collapse, discipline, and transformation.


Below are summaries of the Alternative Futures marriage scenarios:

Growth – The union of marriage itself has become a product or commodity, independent of fidelity or sexual relationships.

Collapse – The construct of relationships becomes obsolete as people search for sexual stimulation and intimacy through other means, such as technology.

Discipline – A decline in birthrates has led to government intervention and ultimately controlled mating.

Transformation – Multiple types of marriage emerge to meet different needs through different concurrent partners.

/ Methodology 2: Three Horizons

The intent of the Three Horizons framework is to offer a new way to look at an issue or phenomenon like marriage by observing patterns and transitional and potentially disruptive moments. The idea is that an individual or group has the ability to choose to continue the status quo or to challenge continuity by moving to a new pattern or cycle. It asks what can be “let go of” and where transitions from one cycle to the next are possible. This method allows for visualizations in terms of time range — short, medium and long— helping practitioners make decisions about how to manage change, make future decisions and set goals.

Through the Three Horizons framework, the following four scenarios were developed:

“Diminishing Love” – Technology has replaced the need for human partners. Instead of finding one person that fulfills all your needs, all you have to do is buy what you need.

“Marriage for Society” – Declining marriage rates has led to government intervention in order to maintain families and society. All citizens are legally required to marry by age 30.

“Marriage Rebranded” – Short-term or “beta” marriages offer couples the chance to test the waters before being legally bound. People expect less from marriage.

“Collapse of Marriage” – Marriage is no longer seen as a necessary social institution, though cohabitation is still common. Children will be increasingly made in labs and selected for compatibility and survivability.

/ Methodology 3: Causal Layered Analysis (CLA)

Causal Layered Analysis, or CLA, is designed to challenge conventional future and assumptions. This process involves detailing multiple perspectives from the phenomena being studied and analyzing it from four different perspectives. Ultimately, the goal of CLA is to regain influence and agency by exploring reality at four levels and creating a coherent new future.

The four levels of CLA analysis are: 1) Litany – This includes qualitative analysis, including what we see and feel. 2) Social System and Structure – This level explores economic, cultural, political, and historical factors. 3) Worldviews – This level is a discourse analysis taking into account values and philosophical frameworks. 4) Myths and Metaphors – This level looks at societal myths, metaphors, archetypes, symbolism, and emotional or gut-level responses.

Utilizing CLA analysis, the following explorations into the future marriage were developed:

1. Litany – The average length of marriages increases as life expectancy increases. At the same time, the cost of both weddings and divorces has risen.

2. Systemic – Free will and individual options are central to marriage, with increasing choices in partnership, childbearing, and childrearing.

3. Worldview – The human need for intimacy is intrinsic, yet traditional marriage seems unsustainable. Individuality is emphasized, sometimes at the peril of community and family.

4. Myths and Metaphors – There is a growing divide between the idea of “happily ever after” and “I love you forever, today.”

/ Methodology 4: Scenario Planning

The Scenario Planning Method, also known as the 2×2 Scenario Matrix, was developed by Jay Ogilvy and enables the creation of four or more future scenarios. The 2X2 Matrix is one of the most widely used and easily accessible foresight methods. The 2×2 Matrix utilizes two critical uncertainties to create four quadrants, allowing for additional inputs to create depth and complexity for each scenario.

Using the 2×2 Matrix to explore the spectrum of social change and individual debt, the following four scenarios were developed:

1. “Everybody In” – A preference for human interaction and high individual debt leads to a rise in carefully instituted marriages. Divorces are expensive, and increased life expectancy and overpopulation has created housing shortages and a rise in multi-generational homes.

2. “Ghost Town” – A preference for virtual/non-human interaction and high individual debt leads to a rise in virtually driven relationships. With scarce jobs, partners must live where they are employed, leading to many couples living separately.

3. “Robo First Lady” – A preference for virtual/non-human interaction and low individual debt leads to a future where marriage between humans and humanoid robots becomes normalized. Technology allows for babies to be created with DNA, regardless of the parents’ sex.

4. “Nanny State of Mind” – A preference for human interaction and low individual debt leads to a future characterized by technology being utilized to select mates and track unfaithful partners. Communal living becomes more common and infidelity hits an all-time high as young adults share everything – including partners.

/ Final Scenario

Utilizing the four aforementioned foresight methods, the team synthesized the 16 possible scenarios creating one cohesive future scenario that explores the following themes: Fluidity of partners/multi-partner relationships, communal living arrangements for multi-partner families, utilitarian value of marriage or partnership for purpose, ease of access to partners, ease of access to marriage services, ease of access to divorce, emotional emptiness or increased impatience with marital difficulties and, communal parenting.

/ Reflection

While no one will be able to totally predict the future of marriage, by utilizing foresight methodologies a range of possible futures emerged — a future heavily influenced by convenience, technology, and utilitarian purpose. Utilizing these influences, and taking into the account basic human needs of security, intimacy, and procreation, The Future of Marriage explores the themes of partnership, living arrangements, commitment, parenting, and love.