Long-Term Thinking May Be Constrained by a Bias Toward Presentism

"Presentism" is a term coined by historian François Hartag to describe a resistance to long-term, future-forward thinking in favour of a focus on the immediate moment. In Hartag's words, presentism is "the sense that only the present exists, a present characterized at once by the tyranny of the instant and by the treadmill of an unending now" (qtd. in Fisher).

Society experiences presentism in different degrees at different points in time; crises like war or pandemics can shorten our sense of time and cause us to lose sight of the long-term future. Fisher uses the acronym SHORT to highlight factors that he sees as contributing to short-sightedness: salience (a bias toward recent, resonant events); habits (that may cause us to focus on the present); overload (of information and data); responsibility (or the dilution thereof, as a result of our accelerated pace of living); and targets (KPIs or measures that emphasize immediate results).

The rate of change we experience today may also contribute to presentism; we're all too aware of how quickly the world is changing, making it difficult to imagine a future that we think may look very different from our present.



Fisher, Richard. “Humanity Is Stuck in Short-Term Thinking. Here’s How We Escape.” MIT Technology Review. Accessed October 28, 2020. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/10/21/1009443/short-term-vs-long-term-thinking/.

Hartog, François. Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time. Translated by Saskia Brown. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.