And this isn't a little light reading about Paris Hilton's latest antics. Futurists' reading may be broad, but it's also focused. They call it "scanning," and when their eyes are roaming, they're on a treasure hunt for harbingers, tidbits that suggest a trend is taking shape.

Case in point: Randy Scheel, executive director of the Association of Professional Futurists, recently read a squib about a major soft drink bottler introducing smaller, eight-ounce bottles. So what? To Scheel's mind, this may be yet another sign that America is preparing to tackle its problems of over-consumption and obesity. Add to this little tidbit the popularity of the Atkins Diet, et al., and suddenly, many signs of looming change seem to be coming together. Collectively, these harbingers could add up to a major change in our food consumption.

STAYING POWER
But before any futurist would knit these signs into a bona fide signpost to the future, they would ask one key question: Is it a fad or a trend?

Take wireless phones and the immediacy culture of which they are a prime example - they're almost certainly part of a massive reworking of society, where people expect others to be available 24/7. But cameras as part of wireless phones may be a different story. Are they a popularity bubble that's sure to burst? Or a long-term change that eventually will affect most of us?

Here's a related futurist's question: Is the era of the hard-wired phone coming to an end? Already, harbingers are surfacing - young adults in particular are foregoing wired phones in their apartments and using wireless instead. But this may not spell the end of the traditional phone company. Young adults move frequently, and though it's bad economics to spend several hundred dollars for a new phone account every nine months, they may behave differently when they settle down with families into residences that are more permanent.