Note — Nov 08, 2020

Humanity Is Stuck in Short-Term Thinking. Here’s How We Escape.

Seen in → No.149

Source →

I’m not sure I agree with one of the central points of the article; that in the 21st century we are suffering from “presentism,” of not looking to the future but being focused on what’s going on right now. Having to focus on the present does not mean we are not envisioning the future(s), simply that we don’t have much time left for it (the focus on business is also annoying). Anyway, it’s interesting to have a read for Fisher’s historical look at how time has been perceived, but more importantly it plays off the first two articles where people are using the pandemic pause to do just the opposite; leave the present and reclaim the imagining of futures.

Being able to conceptually manipulate time may be what set us apart from other animals. In the Pleistocene, our ancestors developed what evolutionary biologists call “mental time travel.” We can build theaters in our minds that allow us to play out scenes and characters from the past, as well as hypothetical stories about the future. […]

[A]t some point between the late 1980s and the turn of the century, a convergence of societal trends took us into a new regime of time that he calls “presentism.” He defines it as “the sense that only the present exists, a present characterized at once by the tyranny of the instant and by the treadmill of an unending now.” […]

The final temporal stress—and this is a major one—is targets. Today, metrics dominate all realms of life. Growth statistics. Efficiency scores. Shareholder returns. KPIs, GDP, ROI. If poorly framed, these targets foster presentism or even encourage bad behavior.