Some people live for the here and now; and some live for the future. I’ve historically been one of those future dwellers — always planning; always sacrificing today for the promise of a better tomorrow. Funny thing though: the older you get, the less of a future you have. It’s one of those immutable laws of physics that eventually forces many a “futurist” to become a “here and nower.”
To date, I’ve failed to budge one iota from a tendency to plan several decades in advance — decades that, thanks to those immutable laws, now stretch into the afterlife, and the somewhat nebulous notion of “legacy.”
As legacies go, mine is a bit ramshackle. There were a couple of synth pop albums in the early 1990’s — neither earned me a dime, though friends did report hearing the music while on-hold for Microsoft Tech Support. So I’m pretty sure I don’t want that as my legacy. Additionally, I’ve had a significant hand in numerous music technology innovations — particularly early in my career. These, however, were all conceived and designed while employed by some company or another, and are thus unrecognizable as a personal legacy. Also, there’s that BC License Plate, which is sort of the photography analog to the Microsoft hold music. Which, pathetically, just leaves this website…
Legacy-wise, it seems I have less to mark my time on earth than the guy who knocks up his girlfriend at the high school dance.
But recently — and surprisingly — that iota of mine seems to have shifted ever so slightly, and I’m beginning to think living for the future isn’t really the sophisticated endeavour it’s cracked up to be. Society tends to put us planners on a pedestal, as if careful consideration of one’s future actions is more noble than succumbing to the lure of current delights. But is it? As a lifelong model of such virtue, I’m questioning whether all this planning isn’t just an elaborate ruse — concocted by my subconscious as a way to pretend I’m doing something useful with my life when, in fact, I’m not doing a damn thing. When you live for today, you can assess your situation, and adjust accordingly to maximize each moment. When you live 20 years in the future, there’s no accountability — so you get to be a little lackadaisical on the fine details.
Besides, when did anyone who’s planning 20 years into the future ever achieve a single one of their objectives? What good is living for a future that never comes? When I was 10 and planning for 30, my world was consumed with designing fashionable jetpacks and garages with retractable roofs to facilitate my hovercraft. As I aged, my planning became more practical, and as little as a decade ago, my scenario for this year involved being retired from my day job, working on ULTRAsomething full time, and making annual pilgrimages to Japan. Unfortunately, these plans seemed to collide with someone else’s plans for a worldwide pandemic, savings-eradicating inflation, and a generational disinterest in both the written word and in any sort of metaphoric and/or ‘social landscape’ photography.
If I can’t make feasible plans for life in the future, how am I supposed to make them for death? Why worry about legacy when I don’t even have a currency?
Putting aside my suspicion that legacy planning is merely a mollification of a life lived for naught, there’s another sticky issue: 100 years from now, will there be any humans left to care? That was the timeline for human extinction, suggested by Stephen Hawking at the end of his life — and I’m starting to think he was an optimist. So it’s pretty silly to invest all this time and energy into building a legacy, when there’s only going to be another generation or two. Tops.
So all these plans I’m making for my work to outlive me? They’re as absurd as designing a house with a hovercraft garage. Wouldn’t the more sensible plan be to simply try to take a photo that pleases me when I look at it? Or write a piece of music that I want to listen to? Or pen an essay I actually want to re-read?
Besides, no one really gets to choose their own legacy. Show me the reanimated corpse of most anyone famous, and I’ll show you one ticked-off zombie — annoyed to discover all the inaccurate quotes, actions and beliefs that society has wrongfully attributed to them. My intentions in life are misunderstood enough — I can only imagine how they would be interpreted in death.
What is legacy really? And why do we all want one? At its most basic, it’s really just a desire to be remembered… or at least to have had one’s existence acknowledged. I’ve always balked at the idea that children are a legacy, even though it’s the most surefire way of being mentioned for another generation or two. Some people are so desperate to be remembered, they don’t even care what it is they’re remembered for — just some post-mortem acknowledgement that they once roamed the planet. But what’s the point? I certainly don’t know anything about the people who don’t yet exist, so why care if they know anything about me?
So I’m making a conscious effort to step away from the “legacy planning” thing. And while there’s still a little of it left, I’ll be diving head first into the “here and now.” Obviously though, before doing anything too rash, I’ll need to consider how future generations might perceive this decision of mine… I wouldn’t want to do anything to tarnish my legacy.
© 2022 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: “Optimism Rally” was photographed with a Leica M10 Monochrom, fronted with a 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar-M. “Shoddy Matinée” was shot on Fomapan 100, inside a Nikon 28Ti, and developed in HC-110 (H). “Condo Living” was photographed through a 35mm f/3.5 Elmar LTM lens and Leica IIIc, onto Tri-X at ISO 400, and developed in HC-110 (E). “Placeholder” was shot on FP4+ at ISO 125 and developed in HC-110 (H). The camera was the cheapest bit of utter crap I could possibly find. It shall remain ‘nameless,’ since it’s a gift I’ve yet to present to a photographer friend. Hmm… maybe this is indicative of why I have so few friends.
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Wonderfully insightful blog.
Curiously, it’s only those future generations (whom I’ve chosen to ignore) that have the ultimate say over its actual insightfulness.
Salient and interesting in full measure EGOR, but I noticed the wriggle room at the end, so I’m not convinced of your reform from what is really procrastination rather than the intention to leave an enduring ‘I wus here’ monument.
Bit like that old chestnut ‘I thought I was schizophrenic but now I’m in two minds about it’.
Rest assured however, that your legacy as an amusing, thought-provoking communicator is safe with me, well at least until I push up my own daisies.
PS I just created a legacy for myself and have every confidence that it will last as long as it takes for someone to clear the bookshelves after the wake.
Thanks David. Yes, I left myself plenty of wiggle room. Maintaining plausible deniability is an essential skill to possess for anyone dumb enough to write stuff and publish it on the internet.
Some of your loveliest photos…a sort of legacy I guess. Pleasing yourself is still the best course. It’s a generational thing I’m sure but I still seek the written word and turn off the video opinion pieces and camera reviews.
I, too, have opinions about video opinions. But if I wanted anyone to pay attention, I’d have to put them on video — which would create a sort of cosmic destabilizing irony.
Very poignant article. I am also transitioning from a planner to a “live for today” guy, Getting older I am looking back more and more on all the years spent planning and not doing.
Of course, one could still construe that planning not to plan does still constitute a plan…
I have created a “monument to self” as well although I am the only one that visits or really even knows about it. I run my own blog and it is something I hope my heirs will eventually find and peruse through.
If I had any heirs, I’d just stipulate that they read every entry and pass a rather gruelling comprehension test before receiving payout. What good are heirs if you can’t force your legacy upon them? 😉
Try asking any 15 year old who JFK or MLK or the Beatles or even Elvis are, most will look at you like you’re from Mars.
No-ones legacy really lasts except amongst a very few fans. Try asking your local butcher who HCB is, prepare for a very blank look or even a slap in the face.
Your peice really got me thinking, and my conclusion was if I enjoy taking photos and looking at them afterwards that’s a result.
I’m still making a few books of family pictures and some of my more successful pictures and giving them to all my family and friends before I pass, what they do with them is their problem, but it helps to give a purpose to my photography.
I take consolation in the fact that people looked at me like I was from Mars long before JFK, MLK, the Beatles or Elvis faded from popular culture.
Making books is a good idea — they’re likely to survive for far longer than anything that’s floating around in the cloud.
The only time you might really live in the present is when you die, Lars Norén wrote. I think he was right, and dwell in future and in past.
Unfortunately none of us really know what time is. In quantum mechanics, it’s fixed and absolute. In relativity, it’s dynamic and variable. In Quantum gravity theory, it doesn’t exist at all… which is a comforting, albeit headache inducing thought.
Hi Egor…, and here I was thinking this was all going to lead to you justifying a shiny new Nikon Z9 and some glass,.. or a Leica M11… 😉
All roads will eventually lead to acquiring some kind of camera, whether I was planning it or not.
On the other end of the scale I cannot plan for more then one week ahead lest I lose contact with the here and now, and do nothing but worry about the schedule.
On ‘That was the timeline for human extinction, suggested by Stephen Hawking at the end of his life — and I’m starting to think he was an optimist.’ I’d agree with you if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a father of an 8 year old for whom I really like to leave a better world (or at least not worse which, granted, is already quite the challenge).
Week-at-a-time planning! Nirvana! I’d suggest you write a “self help” book for all us futurists who forget that ‘living in the moment’ actually requires ‘living’ — although you’d obviously have to write it within one week’s time. 😉
I wonder what an 8 year-old sees when they envision the future? Surely not the jetpacks and hovercraft of my youth…
Well, that struck a nerve, either that or you got creative faking comments from 9 subscribers. Someone wise once said to me that life needs to be lived bi-focally, with a foot in each of the short and long term. That sounds about right to me. Love the photos (from four camera/lens combos to boot) and the captions
Seeing as how most of my readers are wittier than I am, it would be silly for me to reduce the site’s comment quality by writing them myself. 😉
Also that ‘bi-focal’ living you’re talking about doesn’t really work for a monotasker such as myself. I’m either going to have two feet in the future or two feet in the now. Currently, I’m in mid-air as I leap from the legacy side to the immediacy side.