Why we should talk more (and better) about the future
Do you often think about the future? You're certainly not alone.
The future is probably more present in our minds today than ever before. The constant changes that come our way, especially in the technological field, but also in the cultural, social, political and economic fields, tend to provoke more and more a feeling of vertigo, anxiety and, above all, uncertainty. It is not accidental, nor is it new: the futurist Alvin Toffler baptised this syndrome as "future shock", and he did so in 1970, no less than 51 years ago. Toffler already saw how, at that time, the surprising advance of events and the rapid succession of changes that societies, especially Western societies, were undergoing, provoked in individuals and collectives a feeling of bewilderment, paralysis and helplessness that we could summarise 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 therefore become a more difficult and, at the same time, necessary challenge than ever.
Tomorrow, with its technological and climatic challenges at the forefront, 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, to try to anticipate the future, to guess it, as some try to do, is a mistaken and often deceitful approach.
To begin with, let us ask ourselves: what do we think of when we think of the future? Definitely never something concrete and commonplace. And that's because, ultimately, the future doesn't 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 of each collective.
It is what the futurist Jim Dator, one of the greatest eminences on the subject today, calls "images of the future". Although, that the future as such does not exist and is only a diffuse nebula of mental images, 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 must be predicted."This is what Futures Studies is all about: identifying and examining the various alternative scenarios that present themselves to us based on the dominant events, ideas and trends of the 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-be), 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" that Toffler mentioned: 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 our way of facing tomorrow, as it is used as a tool, sometimes as a threat and sometimes as a promise, to obtain benefits or accumulate power in the present. When multinationals brandish 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 whip up fear towards 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 precepts closer to the citizenry, of putting them on the front page of public opinion. To abandon the shock of the future, to stop stimulating and manipulating it for present purposes and to analyse, jointly and honestly, which are the alternatives that are presented to us in order to direct us towards those that are most convenient for us. The future is not given to us, it is not a fatality, but it is constructed, we are constructing it, with the decisions, discourses, inventions and tendencies of today.
Our possible futures depend on our actions today. We must take responsibility, interest and motivation to get closer to the one we consider better. To move away from inertia and nihilism that keep us alienated and do not direct us to where we want to go. To think, before making decisions, if these decisions build the future or, on the contrary, move 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 build a better tomorrow? Am I directing my life towards where I want the world to go or am I letting myself be carried away? Only by asking ourselves these kinds of questions, debating about 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.