I am going to leave on a trip in a couple hours, so I’m doing kind-of a fun silly blog post today.
On Facebook, I recently asked people to give me their favorite podcast episodes, and one of the ones suggested was called “Ten Thousand Years,” by 99% Invisible. The podcast was about how the government buried nuclear waste in the New Mexico desert, and then called together a number of different types of people to try to figure out how to communicate to future generations that this was a dangerous place. Not future generations as in 100 or 200 years from now, but 10,000 years from now.
Of course this was quite the task, as all languages we speak now will be obsolete in 10,000 years, and symbols change meaning over time too.
The weirdest idea by far, though, was this one:
Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these “ray cats,” the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away.
Of course, this immediately had my mind spinning. Wouldn’t that make the greatest story ever? You have this town, 10,000 years in the future, with only the vaguest concepts of what happened in the 1900s/2000s. But there are these ancient songs about cats changing color, and some weird backwards people actually believe that cats changing color signifies danger. The idiots!
And then someone digs a new well or something, and the cat changes color, and all the old-wives-fable believers flee town, and all the modern people who don’t believe in such hogwash drink the water and slowly die of radiation poisoning.
Okay, maybe that wouldn’t be such a great story. But it got me thinking about what the world will look like in 10,000 years. And making some predictions.
First, I don’t know if human nature even allows us to believe that the world will be around that long. The Christian people I talk to are always convinced Jesus will come back before even 1000 more years pass, and many non-Christian people think we’ll destroy our species, in one way or another, within the next several hundred or thousand years as well.
But if we do make it, here’s what I think will happen.
First, I don’t think the way we live now will continue much more than a couple thousand more years at the very most.
I think world population is going to decrease drastically. Wait, decrease? Shouldn’t we be concerned with overpopulation?
Well, here’s the rub. Bringing down the birthrate is actually fairly simple. If you give women birth control and educational opportunities, they often choose to have fewer children. This has happened all over the world.
But. No one has figured out how to bring birth rates back up.
So what I see is the world slowly having fewer and fewer people. We won’t have the wo/manpower, then, to necessarily maintain the infrastructure we’ve created. Or massive amounts of people to exploit into making us all the gadgets/etc we want. So the technology-driven consumeristic world will slowly fade, and people will go back to the countryside in order to survive.
(I’m actually loosly basing this urban-to-rural prediction on the shift from the urbanized Roman Empire to the rural-based Middle Ages. One of my professors seemed to think that this was mostly based on population demographics. The Romans just didn’t have many children.)
Oh. Similar note. I think the ideologies that promote big families are the cultures that are going to survive into the distant future. So like, the Bill Gothard homeschoolers are going to take over America. I mean not really. But maybe.
Of course, 10,000 years is plenty of time for the world to become ruralized again and then become urbanized again and then become ruralized again. So who knows at what point we’ll be in 10,000 years.
However, I don’t necessarily think that people 10,000 years from now will have technology that’s the same, or even as good as, what we have today.
We think of tech as this thing that keeps building on itself and getting better and better, right?
But what happens if society gets to a point where we’re focused on survival more than keeping the infrastructure going. I could easily see the tech knowledge we have today being lost. Mostly because most of our tech knowledge is stored on tech.
So, say, an archaeologist digs up a laptop and a manual typewriter. She can take the typewriter apart and figure out how it works, but if she can’t plug the laptop in there is no way to see how it works.
I also think there is going to be a massive digital dark age. So I don’t think they’ll know much about what this age was even like.
Enough of my ramblings. If you want to know what’s been spinning in my head for the past couple of days, it’s these ideas.
What do you think the world will be like in 10,000 years?
Fascinating. And perhaps not altogether a bad thing, the de-digitalization. 😀
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“I don’t know what weapons will be used in World War lll, but I do know World War lV will be fought with spears and clubs”! -Einstein
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Wars SHOULD be fought man to man. I daresay, women would choose not to fight, unless someone were threatening her children.
I’m with the Christians who think this world will be unrecognizable, if it even exists, 10,000 years from now. But I really liked the idea you posted that folklore, mythology, religion and the like are ways to carry messages through the ages. Don’t all cultures have some variant of the “flood” story? And how else could the story of creation and the fall and all those things have come down to us. Noah didn’t just bring us the genetic stuff with which to continue the human race, he brought us all the knowledge he had of the past…We don’t really have any knowledge of this world that’s older tahn about six thousand years, aside from the best guesses of archeologists….fairy tales.
And I agree with your rise and fall of technology theory. It really wouldn’t take a whole lot to wipe out the technological culture…a massive EMP burst could take out everything. A severe disruption in our magnetic field could allow much of the sun’s radiation to get to us and wipe it all out in a moment. The generation we have coming up won’t know how to operate a non-computerized car, wash dishes without a dishwasher, sew their own clothes…and what’s more, the tools we need to survive without technology will nonexistant. Horses and mules will become extremely valuable once we no longer have tractors. Who can plow a field without a tractor? Who can plant a garden without a rototiller? Who can sew a seam without a needle?….it’s pretty scary if you think about it.
I”m hoping Jesus returns in MY lifetime (i.e. the next 20 years).
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Thank goodness to the Amish keeping the past alive for the rest of the world to see and learn from. I am not Amish, but the Amish have some values worth considering- what I mostly value in my perceptions of Amish are simplicity and survival. I don’t know enough to say much more.
I think this is a wonderful post- quite thought provoking, and one of your most unbiased, unpretentious, and smart/intellectual pieces so far.
I just want to toss a few thoughts out there:
A) On Nuclear waste in NM and how to communicate the dangerous location to a foreign population in 10,000 years… It raises the following questions:
1) Will there be a mass extinction between now and 10,000 years?
2) Will life as we know it resurface in the event of a mass extinction?
Under the possibility of a mass extinction, and intelligent life re-emerging, presuming the conditions (post world-wide catastrophic event) would be favorable for life as we know it:
Nonacademic life will emerge before intelligent life capable of “visually interpreting” danger ahead in the nuclear waste radiation emitting zone. Life would have to re-emerge fundamentally. We know that radiation kills cells, but it takes a high dosage. Viruses and some bacteria can thrive in radiation. Viruses and some bacteria are a type of life that could potentially emerge and survive in the radiation emission zone. Fundamental life would potentially emerge in a fashion that is adapted to the radiation. Fundamental life is smart- incredibly intelligent and quite resilient! It senses and adapts at a rate that is alarming to human perception. We humans almost can’t keep up (bacteria resistance)!
If one wanted to predict that the aforementioned possibility of post-extinction re-emerged fundamental life somehow conquering the potential of limiting intellectual life and the dangerous effects of radiation on human life, therefore predicting that the radiation will be dangerous for all stages of new life, then one might want to propose a different version of the same communication problem question. If we’d want to keep new life safe from the radiation emission zone, maybe we would want to consider a physical “anti-radiation” barrier to trap the radiation emission. But, how would we communicate that? …We end up with the same “communication problem.”
I don’t think we can predict the plethora of possible effects of life re-emerging in a radiation emission zone. Radioactive decay and the half-life of the chemicals involved and the prediction of when their lethal business would come to a timely close would be the center of attention. You’d have to predict the time, and somehow communicate the space was no longer a danger at that time. You’d have not only communicate danger, but communicate safety and indicate a time, which is much more complicated.
B) On technology, deviating from it and wanting it again someday (for lack of better reference to your words). A solution to preserving technology could be:
1) Consider Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Norwegian’s are saving a copy of important seeds to sustain human and ecological diversity survival in the even of world-wide catastrophe. Maybe we need to call them up and ask how they communicate to hypothetical survivors that there is a seed bank beneath the ground behind those cement walls leading to the basement; that it’s a survival zone (other than the doors being an indicator of welcoming/enter-able space)?
*Is it true that the Great Roman knowledge stored in books was burned? The first time history intrigued me was when I learned about the Greeks and Romans, realizing that the the human experience isn’t always progressively improving, that humans today and their intellect aren’t superior_it’s humbling (I think it’s wise of you to consider that the future of technology isn’t always going to be improving throughout the future).
Back on subject, and considering a Vault as a means to preserve technology. The biggest threat of the Security of Technology today is technology itself (viruses). Not considering a mass extinction of human life, but in effort to preserve technology through a world-wide wipe-out somehow extinguishing data, a solution in that event to help conserve technology could be paper copies of transcribed fundamental and elite IT data could could be stored in a safe barrier like a vault, safe from physical damage.
However, some kids learn technology via reductionism- they tinker around with it, taking it apart to view its lesser but connectable parts to perceive how it works. Hardware has potential to be relearned if presented (so maybe it could be in the vault?) But, software data is all stored on the inside of a computer and is accessible when turned on. Could software data be backed up on paper with 1s and 0s? I don’t know- I don’t have a software/hardware education. But, largely the brains behind computers is math. So, really, to have technology again, we largely need math. And who knows- if Calculus can be “invented” or intellectually imagined at a timely developmental sweet spot in the evolution of the human experience by two separate people in different locations of the world, then there is potential that technology will resurface if lost and there isn’t a dire need sustain our current model of “thriving” life. I wish technology didn’t rule our lives though. There are pros and cons in each Age- none are perfect, and I would trade some of the quality-of-life characteristics of the Dark ages for some of the qualities of life today. My world-dream is for our culture to improve; to learn from history and incorporate the differing strengths of various ages known to man and create a society that is more peaceful and health-promoting. But, that’s a dream because everybody’s sum of opinions differ.
On nuclear waste specifically, I see two possible outcomes:
1. Humanity keeps developing. In which case, everyone fundamentally knows that we buried radioactive waste in this era, and they should be on the lookout for it. Even if the records have been lost, they’ll have archaeology and Geiger counters, or something equivalent.
2. Humanity nukes or un-reproduces its way back to the Stone Age. In which case, lifespans will be dramatically shortened anyway whether by disease or radiation, and living an area like Fukushima or Yucca Mountain won’t significantly affect lifespans.
Barring an extreme Hiroshima or Chernobyl-style dosage, cancers from radiation exposure often take decades to develop…if people are dying of dysentery or malaria long before they get cancer, no one would really know the difference.
Now this is an interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought of that.