We are a present driven society. When we want entertainment we have a myriad of options that can supply games, movies, music and books at the instant we feel like using them. When we’re hungry, we have numerous fast food places that can give us a burger and fries in a few minutes. We get angry if we have to wait two minutes on hold and people shoot each other because the car in front of them doesn’t move fast enough when the light changes. We are a society that wants everything now, and have worked out some pretty inventive ways to make it happen.
But this costs us dearly as well. On a more shallow level, we have lost something in the rush. I remember, as a child, looking forward to things for weeks. I remember the anticipation of not being able to get something that I wanted, and knowing that I might get it eventually, at Christmas or birthdays.
Now that I’m an adult, when I want something I buy it. But it isn’t the same. The thrill is gone, and that made me realise that the anticipation of something is often even better than actually getting the thing. It’s the same idea that makes people work years towards a degree, the anticipation of the benefits of that piece of paper are far more interesting than actually looking down at it. Just buying something reduces the pleasure of the thing, and not just by a little bit.
But this tendency has deeper consequences than consumerism that satisfies nobody. I see short term thinking all around me. Travelling around Asia, I’ve seen gutters that lead straight into the ocean at some of the world’s most famous beaches. This seems to me to be the height of short term thinking. Some of those locations draw in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Will that be true when the area is clogged with the trash and human debris that they keep pumping into the water? Trash disposal is a big problem in many countries, and putting it into the ocean, where it mostly disappears, would seem to be an easy solution. But the long term consequences are catastrophic.
Politicians make their living off the benefits of short term thinking. They make promises wildly, according to whatever their audience wants, to get the votes they need. And the things that they promise don’t last past the first day of their term, let alone for years. I think everyone can think of a very good example of this kind of thinking.
The end result is a political system that is based on making policies that change with the whim of the population, and most of them end up being extremely damaging when viewed by a long term lens. But by the time the damage becomes obvious, we’ve already been distracted with other issues and barely even notice the result of our childish approach to problems.
And it isn’t even the fault of the politicians, or their campaign managers, or those who promote their policies. It’s our fault. How often do we all look for the quick fix in our own lives, taking an easier and shorter solution because the long term solution is too difficult or too expensive or would just take too much work? Why should the political system work differently to the overall system that birthed it?
Our society would seem to be getting smarter and smarter. We build amazing constructs and machines and keep learning more about the world and the universe around us. But along with all that growth comes peculiar areas where the growth seems to be stunted. We have so many important issues to deal with now. Our planet is in trouble as a result of our actions, we seem to be constantly at war, and the threats to our safety and happiness seem to get closer and more powerful with each day that passes. We can’t cure any of these problems with the short term thinking tools that created these problems in the first place.
We have to try something new. We have to think in terms of years, in terms of generations. We have to think for the survival of the entire species for the centuries that in front of us. Otherwise, there will be no human race left. And probably no planet either.