Seeing Futures: The Long Now Approach

No one can see the future, but we can gain a glimpse of what might come and how what we are doing today might take us there by using this technique or tool called The Long Now.

The Long Now involves taking an idea that might be on the horizon or emerging and envisioning what it might look like when adopted and carried into the future. The approach is inspired by long-term thinking and gets us to frame ideas that might be attractive, threatening or unclear today and builds a future for them over time.

Designing with the Long Now

Identify a trend that is emerging and is likely to affect the near-future (e.g., 6-12 months). This could be anything within a STEEP-V (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political or Values-based trends) framework or something similar.

Now imagine that phenomenon coming into being. This means that children born today will only know the world with this in their lives. They and everyone else will grow up with, interact with, adapt to, adopt, and work with this ‘thing’ in their lives.

Imagine what kind of barriers, enablers, and circumstances will accompany this new thing.

Then imagine what it will look and feel like in five year increments as it evolves along.

To illustrate, consider those people who first encountered the Internet in the early 1990’s and then what it looked like as the decade moved on to the dot-com boom and bust, the dawn of social media, the rise of the app and mobile handset and so on. That’s a retrospective look. What you are doing with The Long Now is creating a prospective, visionary look.

Sketch out a series of snapshots at 5-year intervals that allow you to highlight and uncover ways in which this idea will interact with the systems technological, social, cultural, and environmental — around it. (Five Year intervals are chosen because it’s enough time to see change, but close enough to be able to stitch together patterns of plausible development between them)

What this approach can do is help see threats, opportunities, and identify possible pitfalls, benefits, and choices that could affect the design of something moving forward. It also is useful as a means of assessing the plausibility or viability of something that is emerging. Could it be a fad or does it have the means to be adopted into the fabric of everyday life?

Taking The Long Now approach provides a small window into a much larger, unknown world ahead to help strategize, design, and anticipate possible futures.

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