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John Naisbitt, futurist and best-selling author of ‘Megatrends,’ dies at 92

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Mr. Naisbitt (pronounced NEZ-bit), a onetime public relations executive and federal official, became an independent business analyst in the late 1960s, first in Chicago and later in Washington.

Spotting trends in newspapers and magazines, he summarized his findings in reports for businesses, research groups and libraries. He struggled for years, declaring bankruptcy in the late 1970s — and pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud — before “Megatrends” made him an international star of futuristic studies.

In the book, Mr. Naisbitt focused on 10 major trends he believed were reshaping American commerce and society. His first observation, long before personal computers had become commonplace, was that the country was moving from an industrial and manufacturing society to an information society.

He predicted that technology companies would foster a new industrial model, with ideas rising up from workers rather than being imposed by executives at the top of the corporate ladder. As jobs flowed to the Sun Belt, Mr. Naisbitt said technology workers would become hungry for a social connection with other people — a phenomenon he called “high tech/high touch” and used as the title of a later book.

“We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology,” he wrote in “Megatrends,” “with the spiritual demands of our human nature.”

Some of Mr. Naisbitt’s ideas didn’t quite hit the mark, including the suggestion that businesses and individuals would come to value long-term planning over short-term gain. Still, the cheery optimism of “Megatrends,” in which technology would benignly break down social and financial barriers, had such widespread appeal that the book sold more than 8 million copies around the world and stayed on bestseller lists for years.

“My God, what a fantastic time to be alive!” Mr. Naisbitt wrote at the conclusion of “Megatrends.”

Critics and scholars didn’t always share his wide-eyed enthusiasm. Journalist Karl E. Meyer, reviewing the book in the New York Times, wrote that “Mr. Naisbitt has produced the literary equivalent of a good after-dinner speech.”

Some said he was merely repackaging common knowledge as a feel-good panacea for people already on the road to success. Others noted that workers without college degrees or who were not adept with computers were left out of Mr. Naisbitt’s rosy portrait of the future.

But countless readers and corporate leaders took heart in his message of better living through technology. His consulting firm prospered, President Ronald Reagan invited him to the White House, and he considered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a friend.

He sometimes gave two speeches a day to business groups, at a reported $15,000 per appearance. He had a knack for snappy one-liners, such as “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are already going” or “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”

Mr. Naisbitt’s research method, known as content analysis, derived from his reading of Bruce Catton’s Civil War histories, which relied heavily on reports from contemporary newspapers. Allied intelligence organizations also studied local newspapers during World War II to gauge public behavior and moods.

Mr. Naisbitt used the same technique when he opened his first consulting firm in the 1960s. By the early 1980s, when he was running the Naisbitt Group in Washington, his researchers were reading 250 newspapers and dozens of magazines a day. He paid particular attention to what he called five “bellwether states” known for social change — California, Florida, Washington, Colorado and Texas.

“Our approach has to do with the notion that change starts locally, from the bottom up,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “That’s why newspapers are so important to us: No one else comes closer to chronicling what is happening.”

When scholars complained that Mr. Naisbitt’s methods were superficial and arbitrary, he countered that by the time an academic journal spotted a trend, it was already out of date.

They foresaw the growing prominence of women in the workplace, the rising economic power of Asia and a trend toward working from home. They also predicted that “the arts will permeate mass culture as never before, replacing sports as our dominant leisure activity.”

“On the threshold of the millennium, long the symbol of humanity’s golden age,” they wrote, “we possess the tools and the capacity to build utopia here and now.”

Critics noted, however, that Mr. Naisbitt’s forecasts failed to notice the coming collapse of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the spread of AIDS, the 1987 stock market crash or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

John Harling Naisbitt was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Salt Lake City. His father was a security guard and bus driver, his mother a seamstress.

Mr. Naisbitt, whose family struggled through the Great Depression, dropped out of high school to join the Marine Corps. He used the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Utah, graduating in 1952.

He was a publicist and speechwriter for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., before moving to Chicago, where worked for the Great Books Foundation, National Safety Council and the public relations department of Montgomery Ward.

He first came to Washington in 1963 to work at the U.S. Education Commission and later as an assistant to John W. Gardner, the secretary of the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Mr. Naisbitt returned to Chicago in 1966 and founded his first research firm two years later, publishing reports and newsletters for major companies, foundations and government agencies.

He moved to Washington in the mid-1970s, founding a nonprofit called the Center for Policy Process. In 1977, Mr. Naisbitt declared bankruptcy, saying his only assets were $5 and a tennis racket. A court found that he had not included some art objects in the inventory, and he was ordered to sell them. He was found guilty of bankruptcy fraud in 1978 and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and three years’ probation.

Four years later, the success of “Megatrends” made Mr. Naisbitt a mega-millionaire. His corporate clients included General Motors, AT&T and Merrill Lynch, and he had homes in Telluride, Colo., and Cambridge, Mass.

He moved to Austria after his third marriage in 2000 and increasingly focused his attention on Asia, which he said “will become the dominant region of the world: economically, politically, and culturally.”

His most recent book, “Mastering Megatrends,” written with his wife, Doris Naisbitt, was published in 2019.

His marriages to Noel Senior and Patricia Aburdene ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Doris Dinklage Naisbitt, a former Austrian publishing executive, of Velden am Wörthersee; five children from his first marriage, James Naisbitt of Chicago, Claire Marcil Schwadron of Takoma Park, Md., Nana Naisbitt of Durango, Colo., John S. Naisbitt of Woodridge, Ill., and David Naisbitt of Springfield, Va.; a stepdaughter, Nora Rosenblatt of Hamburg; and 13 grandchildren.

Despite his perennial optimism, Mr. Naisbitt recognized that technology sometimes produces new social problems, from violent video games to a lack of engagement with nature and other people.

“Americans are intoxicated by technology,” he wrote in his 1999 book “High Tech/High Touch” with his daughter Nana Naisbitt and Doug Phillips, which “is squeezing out our human spirit.”

Instead of spending thousands of dollars on elaborate gaming systems for their children, Mr. Naisbitt suggested that for $1 “you can go get them a ball.”

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String of satellites baffles residents, bugs astronomers

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A string of lights that lobbed across the night sky in parts of the United States over three nights earlier this week had callers frantically calling TV stations from Texas to Wisconsin and speculating that a fleet of UFOs was coming

PHILADELPHIA — A string of lights that lobbed across the night sky in parts of the U.S. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday had some people wondering if a fleet of UFOs was coming, but it had others— mostly amateur stargazers and professional astronomers— lamenting the industrialization of space.

The train of lights was actually a series of relatively low-flying satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service earlier this week. Callers swamped TV stations from Texas to Wisconsin reporting the lights and musing about UFOs.

An email to a spokesman for SpaceX was not returned Saturday, but astronomy experts said the number of lights in quick succession and their distance from Earth made them easily identifiable as Starlink satellites for those who are used to seeing them.

“The way you can tell they are Starlink satellites is they are like a string of pearls, these lights travelling in the same basic orbit, one right after the other,” said Dr. Richard Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society.

Fienberg said the satellites that are being launched in large groups called constellations string together when they orbit, especially right after launching. The strings get smaller as time goes on.

This month, SpaceX has already launched dozens of satellites. It is all part of a plan to bridge the digital divide and bring internet access to underserved areas of the world, with SpaceX tentatively scheduled to launch another 120 satellites later in the month. Overall, the company has sent about 1,500 satellites into orbit and has asked for permission to launch thousands more.

But prior to recent years, there were maybe a few hundred satellites total orbiting Earth, mostly visible as individual lights moving across the sky, Fienberg said. The other handful of companies that are planning to or have launched the satellite constellations have not launched recently and largely pushed them into orbit at a farther distance from Earth, he said.

Fienberg’s group as well as others that represent both professional and amateur stargazers don’t love the proliferation of satellites that can obscure scientific data and ruin a clear night of watching the universe. The International Astronomical Union issued a statement in July 2019 noting concern about the multiple satellite launches.

“The organisation, in general, embraces the principle of a dark and radio-quiet sky as not only essential to advancing our understanding of the Universe of which we are a part, but also as a resource for all humanity and for the protection of nocturnal wildlife,” the union’s representatives wrote. They noted that light reflection can interfere with astronomical research, but the radio-waves can also cause problems for specialized research equipment such as those that captured the first images of a black hole.

Fienberg said there is no real regulation of light pollution from satellites, but SpaceX has voluntarily worked to mitigate that by creating visors that dampen the satellites’ reflection of sunlight. They’ve made significant progress in just two years, he said, but many hope that the satellites will some day be at such a low magnitude that they will not be visible to the naked eye even at dusk or dawn.

Fienberg noted a massive telescope being built in Chile, costing millions of dollars and a decade of planning. The telescope will capture a huge swath of the sky in the Southern hemisphere and take continual pictures to record a sort of movie that will show the universe changing. Because of its size, nearly eight meters across, the massive telescope could also lead to the discovery of dimmer objects in the night sky, he said.

The plan is for the telescope to start recording in 2023. And with plans for thousands of satellites, Fienberg said it’s hard to imagine that they won’t cause issues with the data since there’s no way to correct for their lights and know what amount of light should be emitted from any dimmer objects behind the path of the satellites, which could also create ghost images in the data.

“We’re talking with companies now and hoping to continue to make progress, and potentially by the time it goes into operation, have tools and techniques to correct for the lights and perhaps fainter satellites,” Fienberg said. “We can’t say this is wrong and you have to stop because the point is to provide internet access to the whole globe. It’s an admirable goal, that we would support, if it didn’t mean giving up something else… the night sky.”

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Tesla Cybertruck hits New York ahead of Elon Musk’s SNL hosting appearance

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Tesla, SpaceX and Boring Company honcho Elon Musk isn’t the only tech-world curiosity stirring up New York this weekend. It seems the soon-to-be SNL host has been joined by the Tesla Cybertruck (or at least a prototype of it).

The notorious Armageddon-ready e-pickup, which starred in a viral demo-gone-wrong in 2019, appears in a video tweeted out Saturday by Tesla. The brief clip shows the vehicle rolling past the Radio City Music Hall (doesn’t look like any Rockettes were injured during the stunt — or any rockets either, for that matter).

Twitter user Eric Rihlman also tweeted out footage of the Cybertruck, and he posted a still shot of the pickup making its way through Times Square on Friday night, along with a comment about the “Blade Runner vibes” he felt on witnessing the spectacle.

That tweet got a rise out of Musk himself, who replied, “Great pic.” (On Friday, Musk had tweeted that the prototype would be visiting New York.)

Musk of course is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live tonight, where, he’s said, there’s “no telling” what he’ll do. Here’s how to watch, as well as what to know about the comments that Musk, his fans, and SNL cast members have made about his role as host.

As for the Tesla Cybertruck, it’s supposed to launch sometime this year. But in April, Musk made it sound like that may not be happening.


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How to watch Technoking Elon Musk on SNL

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Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is hosting Saturday Night Live this week. He’s coming in fresh from Wednesday’s successful Starship prototype landing but also on the heels of recent customer complaints about Tesla’s Solar Roof costs and last month’s deadly Tesla crash. If you have the desire to spend part of your Saturday finding out if the self-proclaimed Technoking makes a good comedy show host, here are the details.

Update: NBC announced Saturday afternoon that the show would be live-streamed internationally for the first time. The link for people to watch outside of the US is here.

How do I watch?

SNL airs on NBC, and it’s available to watch on the NBC website if you have a cable login. It will also be available on other live TV streaming services like Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, and Fubo TV.

If you don’t catch it live, SNL episodes are available on Hulu and Peacock the next day.

When does it start?

It starts at 11:30PM ET on May 8th, which is — you guessed it — Saturday night.

What will happen?

Miley Cyrus will be performing. Beyond that, who knows! Perhaps Musk will make a bunch of references to Dogecoin, do a skit where he re-creates the faces he pulled while smoking weed, or joke about rockets catching fire. Maybe his Twitter charisma won’t quite carry over, or maybe he’ll shock us with a surprisingly good delivery of a witty monologue. It remains to be seen, but either way, I’m sure we’ll hear all about it on Twitter.

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