Legacy Futures: how past concepts of the future constrain current thinking

Futurist Jamais Cascio writes on his site Open the Future about how past thinking about the future constraints current thinking.  I saw this first hand when I was working on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment scenarios.

Jamais writes:

… we all have this kind of cognitive “legacy code” in our thinking about the future, not just science fiction writers, and it comes from more than just pop-culture media. We get legacy futures in business from old strategies and plans, legacy futures in politics from old budgets and forecasts, and legacy futures in environmentalism from earlier bits of analysis. Legacy futures are rarely still useful, but have so thoroughly colonized our minds that even new scenarios and futures models may end up making explicit or implicit references to them.

… Just like legacy code makes life difficult for programmers, legacy futures can make life difficult or futures thinkers. Not only do we have to describe a plausibly surreal future that fits with current thinking, we have to figure out how to deal with the leftover visions of the future that still colonize our minds. …

We can see it in both visions of a sustainable future reminiscent of 1970s commune life, and visions of a viable future that don’t include dealing with massive environmental disruption.

All of these were once legitimate scenarios for what tomorrow might hold — not predictions, but challenges to how we think and plan. For a variety of reasons, their legitimacy has faded, but their hold on many of us remains.

This leaves us with two big questions:

  • How do we deal with legacy futures without discouraging people from thinking about the future at all?
  • What scenarios considered legitimate today will be the legacy futures of tomorrow?

2 thoughts on “Legacy Futures: how past concepts of the future constrain current thinking”

  1. I love this post. terrence mckenna says we cannot think a thought that our language will not allow us to think. and so we have to combat the barrier of language and the invisible cognitive and cultural furniture we walk around like blind people in their living room.

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