Why young people find the future so fascinating

(Picture: Theana Breugem)
(Picture: Theana Breugem)
Theana Breugem

Clem Sunter

Quite a few schools are now involved in our 'growing foxes' programme. One line of comment made by several teachers is how enthusiastic young people are when debating the future; how good they are at identifying the flags to watch; how vivid they are at painting different scenarios; and how brilliant they can be at assessing the probabilities of various outcomes. In other words, the adults are blown away. 

Reportedly, the conversation sometimes gets so intense that the teacher plays the role of a facilitator in the background as opposed to a conductor in the foreground. This happens in England if the topic is around, say, the possible ways that Brexit can play out and in South Africa, if it is about the future of the country under the new leadership. The message is: select the right issue, sit back, listen and throw in the occasional comment to keep the process on track.

It should come as no surprise that young people are fascinated by the future. After all, prophecy was the number one profession in the history of most religions and even the Delphic Oracle was a foxy scenario planner of sorts. Become a good futurist and the world is yours. You will be remembered forever.

But there are other reasons. The great thing about making judgements about the future is that you have to integrate your knowledge. You must take a piece of history, a piece of science, a piece of your experience of humankind, a piece of playing a game of sport and combine them all into projecting what may happen. A kaleidoscope comes in handy!

On the other hand, you need imagination to visualise how the forces and variables of today can turn the world upside down tomorrow. Think about the future of our planet. These young people are fully aware that the older generation have no idea how to stop the grotesque decline in the natural environment over the remainder of this century. They know that most adults don't really care because they are not going to live long enough to see the tragic consequences of their actions. 

Generation Z, namely those born in this century, are prepared to put revolutionary views on the table because they do have to live with the consequences and so will their children. Innovation comes from not having too much at stake in maintaining the current state of affairs and having both feet firmly planted in the future. Youth has both these qualities. Experience, and the lack of it, can work both ways.

Another fascinating aspect that the future offers young people is its non-linear essence. It is called the 'butterfly effect'. When a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere in the world, it can start a hurricane that encircles the globe. Look at what social media and hashtag movements are doing to change human behaviour as we speak.

Hence, you have a spectrum from the predictability of an apple continuing to fall to the ground next week to complete surprises that come out of nowhere to change the game. As a futurist, you have to distinguish between what is a predictable trend and what is a small granular event that causes a massive disruption in the way we do things. The clockwork and cloudy flags beckon to be grasped by a young mind in its cognitive formation.

I guess I can sum up my reasoning as follows.  By definition, young people have more of the future ahead of them than us oldies. They have more to gain, more to lose. Their perspective should therefore be considered just as much as that of people more advanced in years. They can bring a new slant to the most mundane subject which may prove to be right in the long run.

Perhaps News24 should add Youth24 to its portfolio, where the only condition is that you have to be 18 or younger to write for it. Dreamers go beyond the borders established by adults and the results should be very interesting. The future is not what it used to be.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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