Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the future and the past

So, at some point during Tale Torrent last week, I tweeted this:

'Inherent in the future is a fetishisation of the past. Discuss.'

I was being throwaway, of course, but also semi-serious, I think. So I was very gratified that one of the people in the audience, Martin Headon, took it upon himself to post a very thoughtful answer to the question, which is well worth you reading in full.

This bit in particular particularly leapt out at me:

"What we need to do is relate progress not to the past, but to people - to human needs and instincts."

Now, when it comes to new media technologies, certainly, I don't think we're very good at this. Consider, at the almost laughably microscopic level, how we try and find an excuse to run a new production technique in an ad, rather than finding an idea that, y'know, might demonstrate some relevancy or aspect of the product or service under consideration.

But I wonder if, philosophically speaking, we're not at some level doomed to do this. That's to say: we can't imagine the future perfectly, with a blank sheet, as the only reference points we have are the present and the past.

We're trapped by the very experience that we have, and that means we cannot help but refer to the past when trying to explain or articulate our visions of the future.

Which might not have been a problem, when forgetting was easier. But now, with a permanent, outboard memory, we are surrounded by the detritus of what has just gone before, and that clouds our views and judgement; we're privileging recency rather than relevancy when it comes to the hard thinking that we need to be doing.

I'm not sure there's any escape from this catch 22 (or indeed, that there needs to be) - more that we need to be aware that our thoughts about the future don't spring from nowhere, and that the value judgments that are inherent within them are as much influenced by the past as anything else.



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