When I grew up, I escaped the dreariness of my hometown and life by grabbing the bike and heading out the little stream they named “Aa”. (Can you imagine a worse name for a stream/river?) I would sit down in the grass, chew on candy or smoke a cigarette and think about my future. And the future of the world. I would see old ladies with hats on, looking at me with disgust: Another kid wasting his life away. Growing up in post-WWII Germany, you had two camps when thinking about the future. One camp was happy to have escaped the grim past and were content with the present and expected nothing else from the future. My parents, relatives, almost all grown-ups. The rest of us, including me, envisioned flying cars, shuttles to the moon, robots taking care of business, mind readers. All that cool stuff that never materialized.

I was never into Science Fiction, never even watched Star Wars. I liked the idea to think about different societal models, Utopia, Rudolf Steiner and all the other ideas that never materialized. Gadgets didn’t interest me that much (What an irony, since I turned into a gadget freak.) but I loved to think about the future. All of us in the second camp did.

Immediate future vs long-term future

The digital age has changed our perception of the future. We’re living from product update to product update. Incremental changes have become our vision of the future. iPads are now what we consider future and science fiction, new gadgets with new cool stuff on it. “Oh, look at that.” We’re so busy being amazed by the immediate future (supported by tools that focus solely on the present, like Twitter and Facebook) that we forget to envision the long-term future. What kind of world are we envisioning our kids to live in? Will society be kinder, more equal, more creative?

I wonder if fear is part of the reason we focus on the immediate future. Growing up post-WWII, it was pretty easy to imagine a brighter future. Especially where I grew up. All this financial crisis nonsense, the Great Recession and uprising in almost every town in the world makes us fearful the future might not be that bright. It might be more Terminator-like with Watsons telling us what to do. So, we’ve all turned into my parents. Hoping the future won’t be worse than the past.

That’s not good enough. I think we all should get our mental bikes out, head down to the river, eat a candy (yeah, that smoking thing didn’t turn out that well) and think more about the long-term future. Our kids deserve it.