The future is full of question marks

Visitors to De Studio’s ‘Energy Junkies’ exhibit at the NEMO Science Museum, which can be visited until June 2023, plot how they see the future in light of climate change. NEMO Kennislink makes a selection of graphics and explores artwork with an expert. In this episode: Why is it so hard to imagine the future?

Paint a picture of the future in 2050. Visitors to the Energy Buffs exhibition are given this task, which revolves around our energy consumption and associated climate change. How do you see the world after thirty years? A simple question with a not so simple answer. Some people paint utopian visions of the future, with nature, flowers, and butterflies. Others assume the opposite, with smoked chimneys and dead animals. Someone has drawn both worlds, above them a question mark: what will it be? No one else got more than a sheet full of question marks. Why is it so difficult to imagine the distant future?

View a small selection of future graphics via the slideshow below:

What will the future bring: a fantasy world or a dystopian world?

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Do we choose nature or industry?

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The future is full of question marks.

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An underwater city with tall buildings below sea level.

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Live among the roots of trees underground.

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“For many people, it’s hard to think for more than a few years,” says Loes Damhof, a lecturer at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. She specializes in future literacy, a skill where she knows what assumptions to make about the future. “When the future feels uncertain, for example due to climate change or the Corona pandemic, people find it more difficult to imagine the future.”

Plan and prepare

You’ll get a call within moments from your manager, so grab your phone. Meanwhile, you’re writing a shopping list, so you don’t have to think about what you need at the supermarket later. These are two small examples that show that people are constantly concerned about the future and base their actions and decisions in the present moment on that. We anticipate the near future all day long by planning or preparing something. “This is the natural way we use the future,” says Damhoff. “What we never do is let our imagination run wild to see what our values ​​and weaknesses are about the future.”

So you can also use the future for wild imagination or for browsing in futures contracts beyond next year. We’re just not trained for that. “In this respect, our imagination is very rigid. If you are allowed to think about the world in 2050, of course you are not doing it to plan or prepare anything. If you think about the world in thirty years, you will address the future in a different way that we are not used to. Thinking In the future, practice is required.

The crazier the better

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There are also illustrators who stretch their imagination muscles a little too far. For example, there is a futuristic image of an underwater city, such as the sunken city of Atlantis, with tall buildings below sea level. Another drawing shows an underground village, where someone walks down the “street” between tree roots. Iconic, but that would never happen, right? “It’s precisely this kind of belief, that certain ideas are nonsense, that keeps you from looking at things differently,” says Damhoff. “The picture of the future doesn’t have to be realistic. It wasn’t! The more varied and crazier it was, the better.”

She finds scenarios like living underground very interesting. “Unrealistic, crazy scenarios give a lot of information about what someone thinks is important. It tells you what values ​​and beliefs are behind this vision of the future. If you imagine a subterranean village, you assume, for example, that the earth is okay to dig into. , and that people are still there at all, and that they are also capable of designing a new society.”

reverse assumptions

In a way, the visitors who adorn their drawings with question marks are right: there is no future. There are an infinite number of futures contracts imaginable. But it also means that any photo is good, no matter how miserable or unrealistic it may be.

Damhoff, who participated in the development of the mission at the Energy Hobbyists exhibition, stresses that Drawing a Dream of the Future is not intended to find solutions to the climate crisis. It is about discovering our assumptions about a particular future. A scenario where people live underground can trigger all sorts of things: fear, oppression, and comfort. It’s different for everyone. It is interesting to think about why you react the way you do. Perhaps because you assume that we humans can no longer live in nature, but are isolated from the rest as a separate species. What if you reverse this assumption and say: We are part of nature, how can we live in a way that the environment surrounds us? By reversing your assumptions, you will see all kinds of other futures contracts emerge.”

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