Thoughts on Posthistory

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

I have this morbid fascination with the extinction of the human race, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I still find myself entranced in apocalyptic thought experiments. Today I’m thinking about posthistory.

Prehistory is defined as any time before humans started keeping records. Therefore, posthistory would be anytime after we stop recording our history. Now, barring a Fahrenheit 451 situation, humanity probably isn’t going to experience a Dark Ages so severe that we keep no records of any kind. We’ll probably keep writing certificates of sale and love letters until we all die of Airborne Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

However, consider the records we keep at this point in time. Right now we’re converting our music, movies and even our books to delicate, electronically powered gadgets that become obsolete 6 months after they hit the market. When our power goes out and our technology becomes obsolete, what do we leave future archaeologists to uncover? Picture future cockroach-derived creatures on the cusp of sentience, reenacting the opening of 2001: A Space Odyessy with a Zune poking out of the sand, its contents and purpose lost to the sands of time.

(Oh man, I guess we’ve already condemned future Cockroach Paleontologists to clean up and decipher one hell of a mess. How can they piece together the history of the earth when we went ahead, dug everything up, and scattered them in museums that expose them to the elements and will eventually crumble with us? You think creationism is bad in 21st Century America; imagine a future where all the evidence has been tampered with by unknown agents. Pat yourself on the back– you are the Intelligent Designer!)

So, in between the time of the Good Ol’ Days when you had physical books and music records, and the time when we hit Peak Everything and start retreating into the woods to live a feral life, there may be a huge gap of knowledge that is simply lost.

Actually, now that I think about it, paper books are just as useless as a laptop, since paper books simply can’t last a million years. Ditto our Jimi Hendrix vinyls, our huge skyscrapers, and our Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Tube Men. Maybe our grand experiment of a species, aside from some scant pristine fossils, will leave little decipherable record of our lives and times.

Anyway, I hope you have a nice day!


8 Responses to “Thoughts on Posthistory”

  1. 1 ansonburlingame
    January 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm


    And thus the man painting a picture on the wall of his cave was wasting his time, as was or are the great artists, writers, thinkers, etc for the last ….. years.

    Yes, man as a species will perish. So did Rome. Nothing will follow man as nothing of any worth followed Rome, so why bother.

    On the other hand if we all stay inside our next 24 hours emotionally, there is great beauty and joy to behold and cherish, as well as some pain to remind us what real joy is all about.

    Happy New Year.


    • January 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      I didn’t say anything was a “waste of time.” You’re putting words in my mouth. Just because something is finite doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother.

      • 3 ansonburlingame
        January 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm


        As you said, “Maybe our grand experiment of a species, aside from some scant pristine fossils, will leave little decipherable record of our lives and times.”

        So I ask, why bother, and suggested an answer to my own question.


  2. January 4, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Sorry, I thought you was accusing me of nihilism. You’ll have to wait until February for that. 🙂

  3. January 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I have long thought that it would be a good thing to make a full report on what was found at all major archaeological sites, have it translated onto baked-clay tablets, and bury it at the site, along with baked-clay facsimiles of the artifacts (prominently marked “FORGERY”, so as not to confuse future archaeologists and to discourage pothunters).

  4. January 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Kaje – a few (maybe 20 – which is ‘few’ at my age) years ago, the Library of Congress did an extensive study of how to archive its collection. Every available technology was considered. One major issue, as you have described, is the short latency of modern technology. The ‘reading’ equipment would also have to be archived and maintained – fat chance. Some modern media is too impermanent: the electronically-written (vs mass-produced ‘pressed’) CD-ROM develops errors at an excessive rate for LoC. Their ultimate solution: if it’s paper (the most common item), stabilize it (as needed) and archive unchanged. Paper, in this application, is better than a laptop. Those cave painters were not prescient, but I give them credit for excellent results. – Jim

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