Kristin: I’ve been doing some research on how people think about the future, in particular the types of images of the future that inspire hope or fear, or the degree to which people actively think about the future. Today I came across a reference to an article by R. Evered*. Evered had conducted a study into how ‘future-conscious’ US Presidents were by counting how often the words will, can, may, shall, would, could, might, should and must appeared in their inaugural addresses. Evered made the assumption that when these words made up more than 2% of the total words being used, then the future was being discussed.
And while there are plenty of questions that can be asked about this approach, I wondered how Obama and McCain stacked up in terms of their future-consciousness. We’re obviously still waiting for an inauguration speech, so I used a transcript of the first debate. On a rough view, these words made up less than 0.5% of the total words. On this very small sample, McCain was 40% more future-conscious than Obama, although Obama often used the phrase ‘we’ve got to’. Almost 90% of McCain’s future-focused words were will and would, and while Obama also favoured these, he was more varied, adding ‘may’ and ‘should’. Interesting, the future-focused words were mostly used for criticism, rather than for vision.
And this goes to the heart of the matter. Images of the future provide the opportunity to create a shared and preferred future and the motivation to move towards that vision. Just who is creating a vision for the US? And just who is creating a vision for us?
* Evered, Tech Forecasting & Social Change v 24 1983, cited in Tepperman & Curtis, Futures v 27 1995