Do you look to the future too much?

Graham Jones
5 min readNov 18, 2023

It has been a strange week in the UK world of politics. A blast from the past — the former Prime Minister, David Cameron — was brought back into government as, apparently, he represents the future. If you caught the news, you could have been forgiven for thinking that they were showing an old videotape. But they weren’t.

While the changes to the UK Government were going on, I was in a meeting where people seemed to want to focus on what happened in the past. I got a little frustrated and suggested that “we cannot change the past, we can only influence the future”. I tried to get people to consider where we were headed with the project, rather than how we got to where we were.

I came out of that meeting and checked the news, only to discover that the new Dr Who of the future is the old Dr Who from the past…! The popular TV series, Dr Who, is currently celebrating 60 years of time travel, and is bringing back a previous doctor, the actor David Tennant, before the character transforms once again into a new person.

I’m baffled — what is the past or the future? I’ve got work colleagues looking at the past while I’m trying to focus on the future. I’ve got an iconic TV series playing about with the past and the future. And then I’ve got politicians from the past masquerading as the future. What is going on? Next, you’ll be telling me the Beatles have a new album out. Oh…!

Luckily, new research points the way to a solution to my confusion. The study, from the University of Toronto and Stanford, looked at the language in over 800,000 online reviews to discover which were the most persuasive. The researchers separated the reviews into those using words indicating the past, the present, or the future. It became clear that words in the present tense are the most persuasive. For instance, the study shows that when someone reviews a product with wording like “the experience IS great” it is more persuasive than when a review says, “the experience WAS great” or “the experience WILL BE great”.

From a basic psychological perspective, this makes good sense. The future is unknown, hence psychologically it presents something of a potential threat to us. Our survival instincts kick and make us somewhat fearful. The past is history, and even though our memories can provide a place of…

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Graham Jones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps business understand online customer behaviour http://www.grahamjones.co.uk