Making the Future Yours
As a species, Homo sapiens isn't particularly good at thinking about the future. It's not really what we evolved to do. Our cognitive tools developed in a world where rapid and just-accurate-enough pattern recognition and situation analysis meant the difference between finding enough tubers & termites to munch on for the evening and ending up as dinner for the friendly neighborhood predator. In a world of constant, imminent existential threats, the ability to recognize subtle, long-term processes and multi-generational changes wasn't a particularly important adaptive advantage.
But what we haven't evolved to do, we can learn to do. And now, more than at any previous point in human history, our survival depends on our capacity to think beyond the immediate future. The existential threats we face today are, in nearly every case, slow, subtle, and seemingly -- but deceptively -- remote. We no longer live in a world of obvious cause and easily-connected effect, and choices based on these sorts of expectations are apt to cause us vastly more harm than benefit.
Unfortunately, thinking in the language of the long term isn't a habit most of us have cultivated. So the development I'd like to see happen in 2007 is something that all of us can do: try to imagine tomorrow. Not in a gauzy, indeterminate "what if..." kind of way, and not in a cyber-chrome & nano-goo science fiction kind of way. I'd like us to start with something concrete and personal.
On January 1st, as we recover from the previous night's celebrations, rather than making out a list of resolutions we know we're unlikely to keep, I'd like us each to imagine, with as much plausibility and detail as we can muster, what our lives will be like in just one year, at the beginning of 2008. What has the last year been like? What has changed? What has surprised us? What are we (the "we" of a year hence) thinking about? Regretting? Looking forward to?
Then, after we've exercised our future-thinking muscles a bit, try this: do the same thing, only for ten years hence. What are our lives like in 2017? If possible, we should try to give this as much detail as we gave 2008. Not because this will make it more accurate -- it won't. But it can make it more real, more anchored in our lives of the present.
We should write down what we've come up with, and save it (or if we're feeling a bit adventurous, blog it).
That's it; just for a little while, let's think about our future.
We create our tomorrows with every choice we make, but too few of us take even a moment to consider the consequences of our decisions. Every now and again, we need to think beyond the present, and recognize that we are as connected to our future as we are to our past. It's a good habit to get into; as our choices become ever more complex, it's the kind of habit that can even be worldchanging.
(This was my contribution to WorldChanging's "What's Next:2007" series, posted today.)