Late-stage capitalism; post-truth; climate apocalypse; permanent crisis – for years now, we have been told that we’re living an end of an era.

Well, if this – whatever this is – is ending, what comes next?

That depends on who you are talking to, and it ranges from extinction to a tech-fueled utopia. Opinions vary all across the board, and are unfortunately concentrated in the extreme corners, as seems typical for this age.

While we’ve long heard that an end of an era is on us, increasingly, we also feel that viscerally; whether it’s anxiety when bushfires are where they shouldn’t be, or when your house floods twice in a decade from a “100-year flood”, or when the looming promise / threat of AI imminently automating away a bunch of human activities hits a bit too close to home, we increasingly not just think but feel we are living through the end of an era.

Those feelings have, however, been difficult to put into words.

This is because we don’t really have a language for it. Human beings need words to describe how we feel – once we can verbalize something, we can better think about it and get comfortable with it, but crucially words also allow us to engage with others.

Thinking happens as much or more together as it does alone, so the ability to communicate concepts is critical.

Where do we find those words?

One possibility was offered by Alvin Toffler, when he decades ago wrote of future shock. Future Shock is the disorientation and psychological stress experienced due to rapid, overwhelming change; an increasingly relevant concept. It underscores the human cost of living in a world where rapid change is the norm.

Then there is BANI, a term I have written about a number of times. Standing for Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible, it offers a framework to understand the complexities of the modern world – including some of how it feels. It speaks to the fragility of seemingly robust systems, the pervasive anxiety in society, the unpredictable nature of cause and effect, and the impossibility of comprehending our increasingly complex systems.

Engaging with the BANI concept helps us navigate a world where straightforward solutions are rare, and predictability is a thing of the past. It encourages us to seek resilience in our systems, empathy in our collective anxiety, flexibility in our expectations, and patience in our understanding.

As much as the Anxiety in BANI feels familiar to us, there is often more to the feeling, and it’s not a perfect match.

What many feel, we didn’t have a word for.

Until now.

Vesperance was coined some months ago by a human-AI team of GPT-4 and Redditor ‘Maskofman‘, and it comes from combining “vesper,” meaning evening, with “esperance,” a French word denoting hope, expectation, or desire. I only recently discovered it, and it felt not only right but also useful.

The suggested formal definition is: Vesperance (n): The solitary emotion of wistful recognition of the present as a fading era, tinged with anticipation for an unrecognizable, transformative future.

The narrative that the co-authors came up with is haunting, yet beautiful:

Vesperance is that bittersweet moment when you’re driving through your quiet college town, windows down, and the air feels thick with possibility. It’s the golden hour of an era, and you’re acutely aware that you’re riding the last rays of a setting sun. You look around and see the world in the simplicity of the now, cognizant of the tectonic shifts on the horizon. And in that instant, you’re both a poet and a prophet. You feel a sense of loss for this beautiful, imperfect world that doesn’t even know it’s already a memory. Yet, there’s a thrill, a pulse of electric anticipation for the unfathomable future that’s rushing toward you. Vesperance is the emotional echo in that liminal space, where the nostalgia for what’s behind you is tinged with the exhilarating unknown of what lies ahead. It’s not just an emotion; it’s a narrative, a story where you’re both the reader and the protagonist, caught in the poignant pause between chapters, unable to resist turning the page.

It elegantly captures a dual-feeling – the melancholic recognition of the present slipping away and the anticipation of an unknown future.

The last train departing the station

This is the emotional essence of a twilight hour; the sun sets on what we know, even as we await the first star of what we are yet to discover.

Having a word for it gives us shared language.

In a world where people talk past each other far too often, any shared threads like this are precious. If for no other reason, I hope we can adopt it to share one more concept.

By embracing vesperance, we acknowledge the complex interplay of nostalgia and hope, loss and excitement, as we stand at the threshold of change. This concept serves as a reminder to cherish the present even as we look forward to the future, thus fostering a balanced emotional response to the inevitability of change.

The beauty of vesperance is that it affords all of us – whether we are doomers convinced that humanity is headed for extinction, or tech utopians who believe quite the opposite – a common word for the feeling we will share.

It provides a narrative framework to our emotional responses to these transformations. Even though it is connected to the feeling of hope, it is agnostic of what lies on the other side; we can share the feeling irrespective of our views of the future. At the same time, even the darkest doomers try hard to find a reason to be hopeful, because hope is important to us humans.

There is, of course, a certain irony that a machine helped create a word that perhaps best describes the epoch its presence helped bring about.

While foresight traditionally focuses on strategic thinking about the future, Vesperance, Future Shock, and BANI add an essential emotional dimension. These concepts allow us to articulate some of the more recent and less comfortable feelings about the future, fostering emotional awareness that complements our strategic planning. This emotional literacy is crucial in building resilience and hope as we face an uncertain future.

In understanding and embracing concepts like Vesperance, Future Shock, and BANI, we find a more holistic approach to the future. Acknowledging our emotional reactions to change is as important as strategizing for the future.

What is more, our feelings about the future significantly influence our preparations for it – or lack of them.

By verbalizing and understanding these emotions, we become not only more comfortable with the unknown but also more empowered to shape it.

Who else feels some vesperance?

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