Have you ever wondered what the French kings were thinking when they began building castles and chateaus, which could not possibly be completed within a lifetime? What were the Chinese rulers thinking when they began their Great Wall? What motivated Peter the Great to begin the process of modernizing Russia?
Perhaps some thought that they could extend their lives in a fashion. Maybe others believed that it was their duty to leave behind a better, stronger world. Possibly, many were so focused on their dreams and goals that they could ignore the inescapable limits of a human lifetime. Of course, it was most likely some combination of these things, different for each person, whenever or wherever they began their massive undertakings.
But today, such projects seem so much more difficult to even begin.
The internet appears to have trapped us in an inescapable NOW. The sheer volume of information—breaking news, status updates, and the constant parade of selfies—have made it difficult to pay any attention to tomorrow. The Internet makes instant gratification possible in a way that it never has been for previous generations. If you want to listen to a song, watch a movie, or read a book, the Internet can deliver you that experience in seconds. If you want a physical object, well, you can order that online and have it by the end of the day—if you’re willing to shell out a little more cash for shipping!
Our inability to look beyond the NOW has made solving difficult problems even more daunting. For example, some foresighted leaders have tried to convince people everywhere that if we do not address climate change in a far-reaching, ambitious way, then the planet may be rendered unlivable within the century, but it seems impossible to get people’s minds off of the present hardships they face and onto the future catastrophes they have sown. And, unfortunately, it is that sort of forward-thinking that we so desperately need.
It is time that we put aside our desire for instant gratification, and turn instead to our equivalent of the French chateaus, Italian cathedrals, and Chinese fortresses. It is time to extricate ourselves from the NOW and focus on projects which will take generations, even if they leave nothing physical behind. It is time to put down the selfie-stick and look at the people around us, to think about future generations and what sort of world we would like to leave behind.