By Mari Nakano
A few months ago, as well as a few times within the past two years or so, I surveyed about two hundred people, asking them to speak, draw or write about what they foresee in the future. In summary, there were often stark differences between what people hoped versus what people believed would happen. While most people hoped for positive, healthier and sustainable futures, many of those same people also believed that our futures might prove to be fatalistic and out of our control. People also viewed the future with a post-apocalyptic mentality, writing about life after the death or destruction of planet Earth—life with no plants, life underwater, life on other planets, life in bubbles, life in self-contained capsules. Youth were generally more optimistic, and in a nutshell, perhaps had much cooler ideas than adults. When given the opportunity, youth actually developed more interesting ideas about future technologies and community necessities. Older participants placed more constraints on their visions of the future, which often led them to talk more about negative impacts as opposed to social betterment.
To supplement this information, I took some time to look at other ways in which our society has depicted the future. Media has always been perhaps one of our main influences throughout time. Television, radio, movies, books, etc… have all played influential and often manipulative roles in defining our mentality of the future. From Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio spectacle in the 1940’s to Y2K scares at the turn of the millennium, we have always questioned the stability of our world. Everyday, we hear stories about deterioration—Himalayan ice caps are melting, floods are killing hundreds all over the world, greed wars are destroying cities and cultures and the list goes on. Of course on the contrary, we see more people practicing better ways of living healthier and sustainable lifestyles. Even our presidential office is doing something right for once in a long time by passing a monumental bill on healthcare reform. I mean, we can’t be doing that bad right?
Why is it then, that so many of us differ in what we want versus what we think might happen to our world? Why do we want a positive future for ourselves but fear the coming of something unfavorable? Why are our desires and beliefs about the future not aligned? More importantly, if our head and our hearts aren’t in balance, how do we allow ourselves to posit a future in which we want to live? How do we go beyond just using reusable bags, recycling and eating locally organic foods to really make us feel like we are impacting our world?
I think we are at a cusp, a turning point, a fence where we can teeter one way or the other about this future we have waiting in front of us. It’s more than just doing little things to prevent our world from heading towards some kind of imminent death; rather, I truly think it is about developing additions to our culture that promote more opportunities for critical forward-thinking and that instill a mentality in our society to feel more responsible for things outside the radius of our current comfort zones. Now that we are living in a so-called global village where technology allows us to access one another in a matter of seconds, we ought to start thinking more urgently about how our actions affect someone or something thousands of miles away. Distance is no longer an excuse. The more we advance and progress, the more I think we need to realize the minuteness of our world. There are many ways in which we are being more critical or actively responsible for our actions as we speak; however, based on the feedback from the surveys, right now is perhaps the best time to fervently push further the boundaries of how we are investing in our future. What more can we do than what we are getting used to doing? What can we do, even if it means being uncomfortable for a little while? What more can we do than just replacing our homes with earth-friendly products? What more can we do than travel for a year to a developing country? What more can we do other than convert to paperless billing or separating our plastics from our compostables? All these things are great, but how else can we shape our futures?
As a media designer, I have wondered how people can more cleverly address issues regarding the future. How can we use processes of design, research and collaboration to assist in developing a more future-thinking culture? My questions are less about whether aliens will invade the planet, and more about what type of transportation, communication and assistive devices will support or inhibit human prosperity. My questions are also about whether or not technologies or environmental changes caused by human factors will begin to supersede the powers of humans. Is one of the reasons we cannot align our hopes and beliefs because we fear a loss of control? Is it possible that we will outsmart ourselves? I know for some of you this seems like such a far-fetched idea, but when I think about how far we’ve allowed ourselves to come, it doesn’t seem too far off to think that we—in particular corporate and global conglomerates—don’t have the audacity to allow greed and ignorance to overtake humanity. The radius of our future is wide, and now is the best time to think about how we can be more proactive on larger scales as well. We’re in an interesting place in time, and I think most of sense that we are no longer living just to survive and progress, but are living to develop a new culture of respect, responsibility and guardianship for our world.
Mari Nakano is a Nisei member of Higashi Honganji’s Bombu Taiko. She is a freelance graphic designer and attends Art Center College of Design. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.