"Manual for Civilization" - Long Now Brussels meetup - November 02010
posted November 2, 2010 2:01 PM   RSS | iCal | +googleCal

Thu November 4 at 7:00 PM, FoAM Belgium
Koolmijnenkaai 30, 1080 Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Belgium (Map & Directions)
All the details are available here.
Sometimes in the course of human history civilizations suffer cataclysmic breakdown. When this occurs vital knowledge and skills may pass beyond recall. (For an interesting survey of collapsed civilizations see Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed".)

Much that we take for granted today would most likely not be here were it not for the work of ancient monastics and scholars who rescued bits and pieces from the wreckage of earlier societies. During the Cold War humanity narrowly escaped catastrophe on more than one occasion. Our iPhones may not save us. What are we doing for future generations?

Gregory Benford's book, "Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia" (which is unfortunately out of print but readily available secondhand) provides a thought-provoking study of the problem of communicating to far-distant generations.

Time is no friend to information. Books rot, libraries burn, and it's simply impractical to carve every word into stone. One approach - popular in the 20th century - is the time capsule. Basically, the idea is to stick a bunch of stuff that might be useful one day into an air-tight vault, seal it up, and record the location for future generations. (For more info, see the International Time Capsule Society website. )

We've spent the past few decades frenetically storing our information on electronic media. While there may be some chance that 1500 years from now paper books stored in a time capsule may be readable what is the likelihood of people still using Microsoft Office? The information age has given us great freedom and flexibility in many ways but if the power grid goes down future generations are pretty much screwed. Unfortunately, in the case that our civilization were to collapse the power grid would probably be the first thing to go. What would
future archaeologists make of our era, if they only had access to our analog artifacts?

As I was thinking about this topic I was reminded of a Long Now blog posting from this past spring. I suggest that you have a look at Alexander Rose's Manual for Civilization post.

For the November meetup we will discuss this question: What information would be useful to future generations trying to rebuild and how could we preserve the message?
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