Despite all our many references and gesturing towards it, ‘the future’ doesn’t actually exist.
There is no definitive future
When we say ‘the future’, we usually mean the ‘business as usual future’. A future that looks a lot like today, maybe bigger, faster, or more innovative in some ways, but on the whole familiar and largely unremarkable.
But there is not one single, fixed, official future we are definitely headed towards that will unfold in a neat matter according to some kind of plan.
A spectrum of potential
Instead of a straight line marching forward along the arrow of time, the future is more like a spectrum of potential that branches out from the present moment.
Like a spectrum, the further out from the present we look, the more expansive the range of potential becomes.
How do you study something that doesn’t actually exist?
Great question, I’d love to tell you.
Instead of trying to predict or forecast what ‘the future’ will be, futurists work with images of the future – what different people believe, assume, and imagine the future might be. They might do this in a number of ways:
- guide people to connect with and describe their own images of the future
- create scenarios, which are images of the future informed by pockets of the future we can see in the present
- study a diverse variety of images of the future to understand what these images reveal about us – our beliefs, assumptions, and values.
There are many futures
The future emerges through a serendipitous cacophony of trends, events, and perspectives as they intersect.
This is why futurists and foresight practitioners talk about futures as a plural – to distinguish from this vague sense of what we expect will happen, and acknowledge the multitude of options that extend out from the present moment.