Why we should talk more (and better) about the future

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The future is probably more present in our minds today than ever before. The constant changes that come upon us, especially in the technological field, but also in the cultural, social, political and economic fields, tend to increasingly provoke a sense of vertigo, anxiety and, above all, uncertainty.This is neither accidental nor new: the futurist Alvin Toffler christened this syndrome "future shock" in 1970. Toffler already saw how, at that time, the astonishing progress of events and the rapid succession of changes in societies, especially in the West, provoked in individuals and collectives a sense of bewilderment, paralysis and helplessness that could be summarized as "too much change, too fast to be assimilated". The old structures and certainties of traditional life were giving way to a more volatile and ephemeral way of relating to time, which decades later Bauman was good enough to call "liquid modernity", an innovative concept that, nevertheless, today we consider to be the most normal thing in the world.

Moving into the future has thus become a more difficult and, at the same time, necessary challenge than ever.

The Tomorrow, with its technological and climatic challenges, is pressing. And yet, it seems that we have not yet learned to relate to the times to come in a rational, honest and, above all, effective way. Because, precisely, trying to anticipate the future, to guess it, as some try to do, is a mistaken and often deceitful approach.

First of all, let us ask ourselves: what do we think of when we think of the future? Definitely never something concrete and common. And that is because, ultimately, the future does not exist. It is an abstraction. And, as the abstraction that it is, it is drawn in very different ways in the mind of each individual or each collective.

It is what the futurist Jim Dator, one of the greatest eminences in the field, calls "images of the future". Although the future as such does not exist and is only a diffuse nebula of mental images, this does not mean that such images are not relevant. On the contrary: these images should serve as a basis for our actions in the present. Because, as Dator himself points out, "the future cannot be predicted, but alternative futures can and should be forecasted", something to which the so-called Futures Studies are dedicated: identifying and examining the different alternative scenarios that are presented to us according to the dominant events, ideas and trends of each time or place.

Thus, we find ourselves with the paradox of thinking about the future more than at any other time, but in the wrong way. We think of it as a destiny, as a future (to-come), as something strange towards which we are approaching as if swept along by the current. This passive role perpetuates us in that state of "shock" mentioned by Toffler: we do not know where we are going, we have no power over it and, therefore, we can only let ourselves be carried along. We live disempowered in the face of the future because we feel it is alien to us; because it is, on the one hand, unknown, and on the other, inevitable.

This circumstance blurs the way we face the Tomorrow, because it is used as a tool, sometimes as a threat and sometimes as a promise, to achieve profits or accumulate power in the present. When multinationals throw concepts such as "green economy" or "sustainability", for example, what they are often aiming for is to continue selling their products and not to bring us closer to a livable future. When politicians incite fear in their ideological adversaries -painting dystopian futures- their main concern is not usually that future, but their next electoral results.

Hence the importance of Futures Studies and of bringing their reflections closer to the people, of putting them on the front page of public opinion. Abandoning the shock for the future, stop whipping it up and manipulating it for present purposes and analyze, jointly and honestly, which are the alternatives that we are facing in order to direct ourselves towards those that are most convenient for us. The future is not given to us, it is not a fatality but something that is built up, we are actually building it, with today's decisions, speeches, inventions and trends.

Our possible futures depend on our actions today. To think, before making decisions, if they build the future or, on the contrary, they take us away from the most desirable alternatives. Do I vote for this political party because I trust its project or because I am resentful? Do I buy products from companies that support my vision of the future? Do I collaborate with technological companies that are building a better tomorrow? Am I directing my life towards where I want the world to go or am I letting myself go? Only by asking ourselves these kinds of questions, discussing them and being honest with ourselves and with others, will we be able to overcome the challenge that these futures, still multiple, diffuse and full of potential, pose to our present.

We must take responsibility, interest and motivation to get closer to the future scenario we consider better. To move away from inertia and cynism or nihilism that keep us passive subjects and prevents us from building the road on which we would like to get to the next future; the Neo Future.

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May 17, 2021 — W3ST

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