I definitely spend more time wondering about the future than the average person, but I can hardly claim exclusive rights. Much like the sky, folks have been gazing into the future since ancient times. Here, I collect for you some of my favorite observations people have made on the subject over the centuries, along with a few thoughts about why they have such resonance. Enjoy!
Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. [Susan Ertz]
This throws into stark relief the difference between quality and quantity. When striving to make a future that’s better than the present, it’s tempting to take the shortcut of assuming that’s a future of more, including more lifespan. But what good is a longer life if most of it goes unappreciated? Further, a life lived without purpose doesn’t just serve its owner poorly, but also has no positive influence on the future lives of others. 70 years lived with purpose and impact are worth more, in the big picture, than 200 years squandered.
Nothing endures but change. [Heraclitus]
Sometimes poetically rendered as “You can’t step in the same river twice.” In the narrow sense, you’re not the same person you were yesterday: the sum total of your experiences, emotions and perspective is different than it was at some other time. In a broader sense, this applies to human civilization, too. Social norms, forms of government, technology of course, and even language have been constantly evolving since the dawn of humanity. The one prediction I can safely make about tomorrow is that it’ll be different from today.
We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. [Richard Feynman]
The brilliant physicist hits the nail on the head with this one. Consider: The history of civilization is a series of transformational uplifts (writing, printing press, electricity, computers). Each one enlightens and empowers us, allowing us to reach the next transformation even faster. If the future follows this pattern of acceleration, it’s safe to say the vast majority of our achievements are yet to come (meaning I won’t run out of things to write about for a long time!). I also appreciate the optimistic implication that we won’t snuff ourselves out before we get there.
As for the future, your job is not to foresee it, but to enable it. [Antoine de St. Exupery]
Finally, this gem from the French writer and thinker reminds us that the future is not a thing that happens to us, but a thing that we make. It’s definitely fun to predict and pontificate (and it actually is my job, kind of). But it’s vital that we take responsibility for imagining the future we actually want, and working hard to make it real. That’s why the quote graces my about page.
So those are four of my favorites. What do you think of these? And do you have any favorite quotes about the future?