Welcome to the 2021 edition of the Back Porch!
This also marks the start of my second decade blogging from my metaphorical back porch. Given my first blog only ran for about 3 months and my second for one calendar year, I find that pretty amazing.
It’s the first Monday of the year and frankly, as far as I am concerned, the real beginning of the year. Nothing new should really have to get started any day between New Year’s and the first Monday. Give us those days off already! Sure, we got lucky this time with New Year’s falling on a Friday, but what about years when it falls on Monday?
Anyway, that’s my excuse for the delayed “first post of the year” and I’m sticking with it.
We’re done with 2020 forever. Writing, a reflective art, basically looks backward, lending itself easily to such topics as memories, memoirs, and memorials. Lots of writers and bloggers wrap up the year with a look backward. I considered doing that to close out last year, but with the start of a new year, I’d rather face forward and move into the future.
What will the future bring? Humans have pondered that question since time began. I used to love reading the annual predictions from Jeane Dixon, popular astrologist who claimed to have predicted the JFK assassination. Nostradamus never lacked for fans and believers, however convoluted the interpretations of his predictions became.
My fascination with the future grew as I did in the space age as I watched our first space flights and rockets to the moon. I thrilled to science fiction in books and movies, from Jules Verne to Star Trek — yes, “The “Original Series” (though it was not called that then).
As our knowledge grows and evolves, science fact has given us capabilities previously only dreamed of, from the internet to smart phones to scientific breakthroughs in medicine and our understanding of the universe. I may never make it to the moon myself, but I have gladly ridden on the wave of progress moving forward.
When I returned to graduate school to study the emerging field of interactive computer-based learning, my interest in staying abreast of developing technologies lead me to take a class about “futures studies.”
Futures studies (colloquially called “futures” by many of the field’s practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to explore the possibility of future events and trends.
In learning how to think about possible future scenarios, we learned the difference between “predictions” and “forecasts.” The reason the meteorologist forecasts the weather is that a forecast offers only probabilities (based on highly informed guesses), not certainties. The word prediction implies a degree of confidence and certainty that futurists simply do not apply to talking about the future.
Jane McGonigal, whom I’ve written about before (see my SuperBetter series), works at the Institute for the Future, and returned to SXSW Edu in 2016 to give a talk entitled, “How to Think (and Learn) Like a Futurist.” Perhaps the most compelling part of her presentation then was how the folks at the Institute prefer to refer to what they do, not as forecasting the future, but making the future. I like that approach.
So, here we are at the start of a new year, making our future. As is so often the case, the Grateful Dead got it right years ago in a succinct lyric:
“The future’s here — we are it.”
Let’s make this future of ours one we can enjoy!