clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

We shouldn't cling to past in fear of the unknown future

John Naisbitt, in his 1982 book, "Megatrends," wrote, "We are living in the time of the parenthesis, the time between eras....We have not quite left behind the either/or America of the past—centralized, industrialized and economically self-contained.... But we have not embraced the future either. We have done the human thing: We are clinging to the known past in fear of the unknown future."

"Why is it we can predict the future, yet we are less able or willing to do anything about it?" That was the question I asked my friend, Mike Youngren, as we sat at DB Coopers discussing Naisbitt's book almost three decades ago.

The next day, Mike, then news director at KUTV, drafted what was the beginning of Project 2000 to make the public aware of how change could affect our lives and to provide policy options in dealing with our future. It became a successful series of TV documentaries about how our institutions ought to change. Project 2000, years later, morphed in to Envision Utah, focusing on quality growth. However, the original question becomes even more timely 30 years later as we rush through the new digital age.

Once again, we find ourselves in the time of the parenthesis doing the human thing, clinging to the past in fear of the unknown future, except now it's more rapid and more global. More ominous is the heightened fear that has Americans finding someone to blame and turning inward. And that may be part of the answer as to why we are still unable to do anything about it.

Rather than clinging to the past and living in fear, let us embrace the unknown future and do what Americans have always done in time of peril, pull together and muster the resources necessary to create our own destiny rather than letting negative self-fulfilling prophecies determine it for us.

While we live in a more wired and digital world that has changed our lives, it also gives us new tools to predict the future, and a greater opportunity to work together in sharing our knowledge, creativity, imagination and in finding new ways to solve the problems brought about by the information revolution.

That requires we have the capacity to put our pet assumptions, fears, and habits aside and to see the landscape with new eyes. The old solutions and institutions we created to guide our lives have become sclerotic and in need of renewing to cope with a new world. The danger we face is that which every society faces: those within the system who fight to preserve the benefits they reap from the status quo.

Our society is hurting and in need for us to shed old assumptions, fears, and habits and to risk thinking new. We must take the time to elect leaders who have an understanding of how our world has changed and have the courage to act. Political, media, church, business, and education leaders responsible for overseeing our institutions ought to renew them so they can respond to today's challenges.

Our institutions need our loving care. And as John W. Gardner once said:

"That human institutions require periodic redesign.... Taken the span of history, there is no more important lesson to be learned....How curious then in all this history, with all the immensely varied principles on which society has been designed and operated, no people have seriously attempted to take into account the aging of institutions and to provide for their continuous renewal. Why should we not be the first to do so"?

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at