Can’t Stop Thinkin’ about Tomorrow

I always enjoy it when my brother’s Psychology Today blog intersects with the themes here at Creative Infrastructure.  His topic this week is “the future,” or rather the nostalgia he feels for the way we used to imagine the future back when the present wasn’t quite so technologically . . . well . . . present.  As I pondered the Moebius strip of his thesis (how can one be nostalgic for a future that hasn’t yet happened?), the very last space shuttle was taking off on its very last mission, which helped me to understand what Todd is getting at.  As I listened to the launch, I felt nostalgic for that first launch in 1981, still in high school, when I could imagine all of the possibilities ahead of me, metaphorically blasting off into an orbit that lasted three decades.  But, looking backward at the way I used to look forward won’t do anything for the present, or the future.

Until recently, I directed an academic unit that adopted as its PR tag line “crossing borders . . . into the future.” The word “future” still appears in the unit’s mission and in the mission of the p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship that I continue to head (“paving the way to the future of the arts by investing in student innovation and creativity”).  Nobody can predict the future, although trend analysts try hard to do so.  What artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds can do, though, is look critically at the past while creating the future.     We can imagine the future (sorry to disagree with you, bro) and what we imagine, we can create.  We can imagine a future that is not overrun by sex-bots and other smarter-than-human machines.  We can imagine a future in which we no longer consume energy at a rate that is killing the planet.  We have to imagine that future so that we can create it. And if the distasteful future you describe arrives, I imagine that artists will be on the front lines of its critique.

To create an environment for that kind of imagining will require a different kind of education, one not based solely in solving problems but also in opening doors. The other day, browsing through ted.com, I came across Sir Ken Robinson’s talk from several years ago about how schools are killing creativity.  He reminded me of the importance of failure in the creative process.  Our education system is designed to reward being right.  But perhaps our education system should be (re)designed to reward dreaming, risking, failing, dusting off and starting over – the kind of habitual behaviors of the successful entrepreneur.

George Bernard Shaw wrote  in Back to Methuselah “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”

Have a dreamy weekend!

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, including its award-winning arts entrepreneurship program, Pave: http://pave.asu.edu The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of ASU. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix and "like" the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at http://www.facebook.com/pages/pave-program-in-arts-entrepreneurship/386328970101 Find Pave's journal, Artivate, at http://artivate.org
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5 Responses to Can’t Stop Thinkin’ about Tomorrow

  1. Jeff McMahon says:

    Very nice! And I’m sorry to be so disagreeable on this very agreeable blog. It’s great to find another Essig to read and think with.

  2. Jeff McMahon says:

    This is a great response to Todd’s post and a spirited call to arms! But I don’t have as much faith that we control our future. If we could control the future, would we have, in our past, created this present? It’s not a terrible present, with all of its conveniences, but would we have created it? Or would we have been horrified by its relentless connectivity, accountability, lack of privacy?

    Remember when cell phones made no sense, when Americans scoffed at Europeans for using them—and now they are everywhere, seemingly essential to daily life, and relentlessly in touch. It has become odd to go without.

    I suspect we are the herd, not the cowboy.

    • lindaessig says:

      Thanks for your response, Jeff. Of course no one individual has control over the whole kit-and-caboodle, but individuals –and more powerfully collectives, also known as “communities” — can effect incremental change. Did you see the New Yorker piece form May about the invention of the mouse and laser printer? Imagination and creativity brings about change. No doubt there are unintended consequences to technological advancement, but if we just give up because that possibility exists, where would that leave us?

      • Jeff McMahon says:

        At our desks, hands on mouses? Aren’t the mouse and laser printer examples of Todd’s sexbots? Imagination and creativity bring about change, sure, but what selects from our imaginings to turn some into necessities: a mouse on every desk, a cellphone in every hand, two cars in every garage, a fistful of credit cards in every wallet? Not, I think, conscientious collective action.

        • lindaessig says:

          I came across this passage this morning while doing some other research and it seemed relevant: “The future is not a sequence of specific events, but a field of action. Indeed, if the future were not uncertain for the passive observer, it could not be the object of action for the active participant. We act in the world precisely to change the course of events” (Butos and Koppl, 2001 in Koppl and Minniti, 2008). Because we act (or create) in order to make change, we need to understand the ethical implications of our actions. This, I think (and it’s not a fully formed idea), is the difference between the mouse and laser printer, which serve to facilitate relationships between people (tying this back to Todd’s original post), and the sexbot, which does the opposite.

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