It is difficult to relate with our future selves, and even more, with our future society.
But why is that so? Recent science published by Slate presents an interesting predicament in our ability to think about the future, deep inside our brains. Scans have shown that when individuals think about their future selves, their brain scans light up similarly to when they think about a stranger. This may explain a lot — why it’s difficult to invest at a young age, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to get out of that relationship you know is probably not going to last, but is fun, for now. Studies show that the more your brain treats your future self like a stranger, the less self-control you exhibit today, and the less likely you are to make pro-social choices, choices that will probably help the world in the long run. – Jane McGonigal, Ph.D.
, SlateThe same article presented a study done by the Institute for the Future, which found that 53 precent of the Americans surveyed said they “rarely or never think about something that might happen 30 years from today.” This phenomena called the “future gap” may ring a bell if you’re part of the majority of Americans. It definitely rings true when you look at the policies we are enacting in government today. Senators and Congresspeople who are constantly up for re-election aren’t in a system that encourages long-term investment. Thus, public education funding, federal spending on education grants and child care get slashed. Taxes are cut, and minimum wage jobs — which are held by many young people — remain at embarrassingly low rates. To advocate for the future takes a sense of oneself requires a certain conviction in one’s own character and beliefs, and faith in future generations. The truth is, time slows for no one, and a stone kicked down the road will still be there when you catch up to it.
When Andrew was a child, he lived with his mother, father and younger brother in a one-bedroom home where the family struggled to put food on the table. When famine struck their village, the four borrowed just enough money to make the long journey to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where Andrew began working at 13 years old. Life as an impoverished immigrant family was challenging. Andrew’s father died seven years later, leaving him as the sole breadwinner of the family. Since formal schooling was not an option, Andrew often spent his free time at the local public library where he developed a hunger for literature and music. He eventually learned a bookkeeping at night school, while working during the day. Of course, this Andrew is Andrew Carnegie, the man who would become the wealthiest man of his time. “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration,” Carnegie would later say.
He would go on to found an endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Library, Carnegie-Mellon University, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. At his direction, the Carnegie Corporation of New York would dedicate 125 million dollars to public libraries, education, concert halls and publishing. Legend has it that at one time in his youth, Carnegie fell in love and proposed marriage. But the girl’s mother dissuaded her from accepting, embarrassed that her daughter would wed a working boy of poverty. Of course, there was no way for her to know what the future would hold. But it does present an interesting look into society’s view of young people. We rush to judgement about a person’s future prospects, both as individuals, and as a society. As a country, we fail the future with inaction on major legislation and investment in programs that benefit younger generations.
Fortunately, there is a way to overcome this phenomena called the “future gap.” According Jane McGonical, it’s about taking the time to learn about concrete possibilities for your future. It’s time to take a moment to reflect, what are our fundamental values as a society? What do we imagine the world to be? Does that reflect in the investments we are making now? As one Buddhist saying goes, if you’d like to know the future, look at the present. Rather than waiting for destiny or a strange series of events, we must realize that the future is in fact, in our hands today.