Wonder//

If You’re Convinced Your Future Will Have More Challenges Than Opportunities, Read This

Harvard research says you’re not alone.

Photo Credit: Dmitrii_Guzhanin/Getty Images

Do you worry that your future is going to suck? Not just your personal future, but that of your friends, family, even the entire planet? Are you convinced that your tomorrows will be filled with more challenges than opportunities? Well, you’re not alone. When the Harvard Institute of Politics interviewed 2600 eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds, two-thirds said they were fearful about the future.

You have been given plenty of evidence to support your fears. Everywhere you look, from mainstream media to your social media feed, headlines scream about perils just beyond the horizon:

Technology has already stolen your privacy.

Digital addiction is destroying your ability to think.

Automation is going to take your job.

Climate change is threatening your very existence.

It’s easy to see why you might want to curl up on your sofa and binge-watch shows from your childhood when life was simpler.

Another option would be to reimagine our tomorrows. We could begin by acknowledging that our individual ability to shape the future has never been greater. The tools of our digital age can be used to empower individuals and connect communities in new ways. With them, we can create a world that is sustainable, equitable, and abundant.

Being optimistic about tomorrow can seem naïve in our cynical culture. We do face serious planet-wide challenges. We live in a world where change is happening so fast;it threatens to outpace our imagination. I believe our problem is one of imagination and not capacity.

Our new future begins with the stories we tell ourselves about what’s possible. As futurist Brian David Johnson observed, “If we want to imagine a better future and then build it we need to change the story we are telling ourselves about the future we want to live in.”

Stories have magical powers. They can inform, inspire, and empower us. They remind us that the future is not a destination waiting for us to arrive but a journey inviting us to co-create.

Much of our current dread about the future can be traced back to a century of stories that fetishize technology. Too many people don’t see a place for themselves in these futures. They can only imagine being outsiders to a techno-utopia reserved for the one percent or slaves to their machine masters.

What we need now are stories that put us at the center of the future. We will still live, love, work and play. We will be born and die. What will be different about tomorrow is how we chose to use technology to reshape the way we engage in these most human activities.

Imagine a future where:

  • Multi-talented solo-preneurs are free to create a new economy based on passion and purpose.

  • A new generation of pioneers transforms abandoned suburban malls into vibrant eco-villages.

  • Communities come together to defeat the tyranny of algorithm-driven media and bring back the power of the local press.

  • Our elders thrive in community co-ops while institutional warehouses for the old sit empty.

What these stories have in common is a belief that our best tomorrows will empower individuals and support diversity. They imagine a future built from the bottom up and acknowledge that our future requires us to live in harmony with our planet.

Positive stories like these give us something to work towards, not just against. Instead of railing against the dangers of climate change, we can inspire people to work towards a world where our activities benefit both humans and the planet. In lieu of protesting economic inequity, we can empower individuals to create a more inclusive capitalism.

These stories are meant to provoke debate, inspire conversation and challenge our assumptions. They serve as springboards to action, by prompting us to ask tough questions and work together to find answers.

To create our best tomorrows, we must invite everyone to become future storytellers. It’s not that difficult to do once we learn to put our fears aside. The most important skill to have is a critical optimism about what is possible. We, humans, are an incredible species. We emerged from caves to build villages, towns, cities, nations, and even explore the cosmos. As we come to the end of the industrial age, we should recognize how much we have accomplished in a short time. In less than 200 years, average life expectancy has doubled. In the last twenty years, we have cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half. We are capable of making significant advances in a relatively short time. Imagine what we might achieve in the next two decades if we change the stories we tell ourselves.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrows you will imagine.

Excerpted from Reimagining our Tomorrows by Joe Tankersely

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