It seems we are generally fairly interested in the future. This is a common human tendency (as far as I can tell), but our interest in – and treatment of – the future has changed with time as this week’s ngram shows.
As always in this blog series, here’s an intro to Google’s ngram viewer tool if you haven’t heard of it before this.
I found a few things interesting about this. First, I separated out the capitalized use of the word from the lower-case use of the word. The capitalized use of the word has seen a significant increase in usage while the lower case version has only seen a modest increase, which means one of two things. First possibility, people started putting “future” at the beginning of sentences a whole lot more over the years. That’s doubtful, in my opinion.
Second (and more likely) the concept of “future” shifted from being a generic time reference to being treated as a proper noun. “The Future” took on an identity. It become a real thing that we referred to with a sense of honour and respect.
And perhaps a touch of anticipation?
Second observation, the increase in usage of “Future” from 1800 to 1960 is roughly equal to the increase in usage from 1960 to 2000. Again, this focus on the Future is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Third interesting observation: the two bumps in usage around World War 1 and World War 2 (in the lower case usage, at any rate). Perhaps in the midst of horror one naturally looks longingly to a glorious future when “this, too, shall pass.”
I wonder, though, if the “glorious Future” that so many have been looking forward to since the World Wars – and especially since the 1960’s – has been realized. Or perhaps they are still waiting.