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January 26, 2011

"Win the Future"

Nothing_Ends.pngIf you watched the American State of the Union address last night, in part or in total, you couldn't have escaped noticing one particular phrase: "win the future." President Obama used it (or "winning the future") nine times in the speech; he used "future" 15 times, in total. You might think that, as a futures guy, I would be thrilled at the Presidential shout-out, but I'm not.

When thinking about the future, "winning" is a terrible metaphor. It's not just that "winner" implies "loser;" it's not just that "win" demands competition. For me, the fundamental problem with the metaphor is that "win" means that the competition is over. Okay, we've won the future... now what? Everybody goes to Disneyland? Or if "win the future" means the future is a prize, once we've won it, what do we do with it? I don't think my office bookcase is big enough to hold the whole future. I might have to get a storage locker.

In reality, there's always more future yet to come*: that's why my favorite thing that Bruce Sterling has ever said is simply "the future is a process, not a destination." If we think of the future as thing, or a goal, we are limiting it -- and, by extension, limiting ourselves. Obama, by encouraging us to "win the future," is not just asking that we do something that simply cannot be done, he's asking us to accept a meager, ephemeral sense of triumph, when we could do so much more.

Embrace the future. Create the future. Become the future.

All more meaningful and forward-looking than a transient victory. Harder to articulate than "win," undoubtedly -- but the future isn't easy.

* Statement not valid post-Eschaton, or outside of standard model physics.

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future

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