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Presenting the Future (Part 1, 2001)
The relationship of the present to the future is partially defined and distorted by a variety of intriguing uses of present, presenting and presentation:
Presentations of projects: The business world is almost entirely governed by this process. Whether given by entrepreneurs seeking funding, executives reporting on planned targets, or consultants advising on new approaches, all take the form of presentations. The same approach is used by non-for-profit organizations. A much used software package (PowerPoint) is even used to facilitate this process.
Presenting a paper: Academics typically also present papers to conferences by which advances in human knowledge are articulated.
Presentations of government policy: Government representatives, like their business colleagues, use a simlilar format to present policy for the approval by their peers, their constituencies, or the general public.
Presenting the news: The media make use of presenters, notably for the news, but also for shows of many kinds. Curiously, although "new" by definition, the news has to be "presented".
Presenting for breeding: Mares in particular are "presented" to a stallion for breeding. In this language, ironically, the stallion "addresses" the mare. In the wild, females (notably chimpanzees) may "present" themselves to a male of their group.
Presenting arms: This procedure has shifted significance from the serious need for inspection of weapons prior to battle to honouring others on the parade ground -- features that have been repeatedly explored in sexual humour.
Presenting symptoms: This is characteristic of preoccupations in diagnosis and therapy, whether of individuals, groups or planetary society. Unlike other variants, it tends to be of impersonal origin -- rather it is presented for human attention.
Present giving: Gifts are given under a wide variety of circumstances, in part as a celebration of the present. But as with much celebration in modern society, what is celebrated is completely lost in what is increasingly a commercialized process.
Presenting people: The process of intrioducing one person to others is of great importance in many (sub)cultures. It may be a vital prelude to courtship or advancement.
Presenting oneself: There is much concern with how people present themselves. This involves questions of status, image, enhancing attractiveness, and seeking to influence. This dimension is a prime concern for the cosmetics and fashion industries. It is vital to interview processes and career advancement.
Consider some of the characteristics of these various processes as they develop and define a relationship between the future and the present moment:
Making the future: Ironically, these processes are not concerned with the present, despite being defined by some use of the term. Rather they are concerned with making the future -- effectively "futuring" or "futuration". It might however also be said that they are concerned with defining how the present will be experienced in the future -- although architects, for example, are notoriousy challenged in relating their presentations to how the structures they advocate will actually be experienced in reality.
Making present: The processes may in part seek to communicate happenings elsewhere or elsewhen, whether real or imaginary -- endeavouring to make them real in the present here-and-now to the point of entangling people in distant events. But the concern is essentially to distract from any sense of the present except as experienced vicariously through themes from elsewhere. As such it offers a form of escapism -- a form of surrogate living.
Making the past: For these processes to work, they may to some degree remake the past, redefining and reframing past experiences. One extreme form is pejoratively labelled as revisionism. Other forms may embroider myths and legends.
Devaluing the present: The impulse engendered by these processes derives in part from ways of devaluing the present in terms of conditions to be achieved in an anticipated future. The present may be framed as outdated and obsolete (essentially of the past) -- calling for it to be replaced by the new.
Displacing present focus: Although these processes occur in the present, they are designed to fill the present in such a way that the psycholgical centre of gravity is shifted into the future, or some projection of it. They offer a shift out of the here-and-now into what might be.
Charismatic entrapment: Especially intriguing is the way in which people may be bound into an agenda for the future by a presentation whose prime dynamic is dependent on charisma and presence. This bonding is effectively achieved under the guise of a presentation -- which in its more extreme forms is labelled as ideological programming (notably as practiced by some sects).
Nourishing hope: A presentation tends to cultivate hope for better conditions in the future. A charismatic presentation for example nourishes hope. This nourishment process may be used to disguise other agendas, whether sale of products and services, or proselytization.
Upgrading the past: To some degree these processes all offer means of upgrading the past -- taking something whose origins lie in the past and giving it life by exposing it in the present. This is as true of new proposals prepared months in advance, as of a relationship defined in the past that is to be reframed by a gift. Interestingly it is in the present that life occurs and flourishes -- not in the past nor in the future.
There is much familiarity with techniques of presentation, although this does not mean that people cannot be unwittingly out-maneuvered by them. Examples include:
The techniques used may include any combination of the following:
It is an interesting feature of these techniques that their success tends to be dependent on pre-meditation (contrastiong radically with any meditation in the moment). Presentations of various kinds may be prepared in advance with great care, and at great cost -- and even subject to dry-runs. Verbal presentations may be pre-scripted -- news presenters usually just read texts scrolled on tele-prompters.
In this sense presentations and presents are very much "pre-sentations" -- despatched by the past into the present. They are effectively "programmes" and may well be described and experienced as such -- or may be featured as part of programmes. Just as secondhand objects have been charmingly described as "pre-loved", so pre-sentations may be described as "pre-sent" as secondhand experience. The present is then experienced as an ersatz or artificial present -- pre-cast, like concrete -- articulated through pre-conceived, pre-defined concepts.
Clearly conception in the moment is only with great difficulty associated with the process of presentation -- possibly only as an unwelcome disruption. Presentations might even be described as conceptual contraceptives. In this sense how society currently encourages the present moment to be experienced effectively prevents unforeseen futures from being born. Presentations are designed to eliminate the surprises that enable the human spirit to thrive.
This points to the dilemma of pre-determining human experience to the degree that the moment can no longer be experienced spontaneously but is to a high degree conditioned -- deliberately or inadvertently -- by what has been pre-sent. The "present" moment then becomes essentially a product from the past -- pre-sent -- as the only authorized nourishment of living experience and the human spirit.
In the consequences for the human spirit, there is an instructive irony in how society controls access to spirit -- by which the present is celebrated in both secular and religious contexts. Is experience of the moment effectively watered down and diluted -- even adulterated -- as a constraint on social disruption? Is there effectively some kind of strange analogue to the temperance movement campaigning for prohibition? Is there a case for assessing and taxing spontaneity in society with the assiduity of excise officials -- "8 percent spirit" already making for beer considered excessively strong, with "pure spirit" to be priced as a major source of tax revenue?
In its extreme form, this process is most evident in the role played by personal organizers (whether diary, file or computer). In an effort to maximize efficiency, the foreseeable future is carved into time slots that are progressively more occupied by pre-planned consensual commitments -- the closer the future comes to the present.
This degree of organization has many of the characteristics of commodification -- with a temporal dimension. The present is then experienced as composed of pre-sent products to be consumed. This reinforces, at a fundamental psychological level, patterns of consumption whose more obvious manifestations are increasingly challenged as unsustainable -- and as constituting a fundamental danger for life on this planet.
Clearly this dilemma of how to organize is highly problematic in relation to "presenting the future":
It is interesting that presentations tend to be made by "representatives" -- who also make "representations" to other authorities. Representatives come in a variety of flavours:
The question is why they are not called "presentatives" rather than "representatives". Why the focus on re-presentation? Is it indeed the case that they are presenting views that have already been pre-sent? This would reflect the understanding that they are intermediaries -- acting as agents of determinism. What needed to be presented to them by their constituencies is now represented onwards to others. Clearly there is a fundamental danger that any sense of the present moment is lost in this process -- in which insights are doubly pre-sent. No representative, as such, can in this sense embody the spirit of the moment -- except by betraying their relationship to the constituency they represent.
This would tend to explain the unfruitful quality of meetings of representatives purportedly endeavouring to respond to the human condition. In effect meetings have already "happened" -- to the extent that they are an encounter in the moment -- before they actually occur. They are essentially over as conceptually creative encounters, except as rehearsals of pre-defined programmes. No serious international conference can effectively be held unrehearsed -- without some degree of rehearsal that may even give rise to a draft conclusion.
This raises questions about conferences as vehicles for responding to the future
-- especially if "hearse" is a conceptual dimension they share with
psychopomp activity -- namely conducting souls of the dead to the afterworld,
enabling them to proceed to their appropriate place. Current usage of hearse,
referring to the vehicle in which a coffin is carried, dates from the mid-17th
century. The meaning of "framework around a coffin" was extended to "vehicle
enclosing a coffin for transport". The word rehearse is related to hearse. Etymologically
it means "re-harrow", or, metaphorically, to "go over again". It originally
meant "to repeat", but also referred to recitation (as in church services) and
the relating of a story. It was not until the late 16th century that the word
came to refer to practicing a play, scene or part in private before a public
appearance. Use of rehearsal in relation to presentations and conferences thus
carries with it an unexplored sense of repeated burial of any spontaneity in
the moment -- emphasizing instead the repeated removal of the dead content from
its conceptual coffin for display, as is done in the perambulation of religious
[To Part 2]
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