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Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization
April 17, 2010 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization - David Eagleman [video]
posted by MetaMonkey (65 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Would you mind posting a summary or otherwise putting this into context? I'm not watching 100 minutes of video to figure out what it is and whether I need to see it.
posted by Happydaz at 9:15 PM on April 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


Averting Collapse

Civilizations always think they're immortal, Eagleman noted, but they nearly always perish, leaving "nothing but ruins and scattered genetics." It takes luck and new technology to survive. We may be particularly lucky to have Internet technology to help manage the six requirements of a durable civilization:

1. "Try not to cough on one another." More humans have died from epidemics than from all famines and wars. Disease precipitated the fall of Greece, Rome, and the civilizations of the Americas. People used to bunch up around the infected, which pushed local disease into universal plague. Now we can head that off with Net telepresence, telemedicine, and medical alert networks. All businesses should develop a work-from-home capability for their workforce.

2. "Don't lose things." As proved by the destruction of the Alexandria Library and of the literature of Mayans and Minoans, "knowledge is hard won but easily lost." Plumbing disappeared for a thousand years when Rome fell. Inoculation was invented in China and India 700 years before Europeans rediscovered it. These days Michelangelo's David has been safely digitized in detail. Eagleman has direct access to all the literature he needs via PubMed, JSTOR, and Google Books. "Distribute, don't reinvent."

3. "Tell each other faster." Don't let natural disasters cascade. The Minoans perished for lack of the kind of tsunami alert system we now have. Countless Haitians in the recent earthquake were saved by Ushahidi.com, which aggregated cellphone field reports in real time.

4. "Mitigate tyranny." The USSR's collapse was made inevitable by state-controlled media and state-mandated mistakes such as Lysenkoism, which forced a wrong theory of wheat farming on 13 time zones, and starved millions. Now crowd-sourced cellphone users can sleuth out vote tampering. We should reward companies that stand up against censorship, as Google has done in China.

5. "Get more brains involved in solving problems." Undertapping human capital endangers the future. Open courseware from colleges is making higher education universally accessible. Crowd-sourced problem solving is being advanced by sites such as PatientsLikeMe, Foldit (protein folding), and Cstart (moon exploration). Perhaps the next step is "society sourcing."

6. "Try not to run out of energy." When energy expenditure outweighs energy return, collapse ensues. Email saves trees and trucking. Online shopping is a net energy gain, with UPS optimizing delivery routes and never turning left. We need to expand the ability to hold meetings and conferences online.

But if the Net is so crucial, what happens if the Net goes down? It may have to go down a few times before we learn how to defend it properly, before we catch on that civilization depends on it for survival.

-- by Stewart Brand
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on April 17, 2010 [44 favorites]


I myself have three easy steps:

1. Collect underpants
2. ?
3. Profit
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 PM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thanks, KokuRyu. I was pretty much done with the video when the echo-y voice kicked in for the primordial soup ingredient litany.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 PM on April 17, 2010


See #3: "Tell each other faster"
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 PM on April 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Try not to cough on one another."

Swap bio-virii for digital ones, try not to share too much.

"Don't lose things."

Inaccessible or incorrect data. What happens when the floppy disk dies? What if it's in another language? What if the basics that built it, from hardware to the knowledge behind it are lost?

"Tell each other faster."

Lies. Falsehood. Propaganda. Just takes one Voice Of Authority to go down before stop believing in things - even without outright bad data

"Mitigate tyranny."

Replace corporate control with state control - as long as you keep people happy they're not going to rock the boat, the last argument of kings still stands, he who has the guns makes the rules.

"Get more brains involved in solving problems."

Think motivation. What if they have a really good reason to keep the system going as it is? God or Gold can pay great minds better then guns.

"Try not to run out of energy."

Thermodynamics gets everyone in the end, and like above, don't ignore the massive investment in the current system.


Not that I don't think these are good ideas, they're pretty great, but my mind instantly went to the sci-fi paperback ways of going around them. Isn't thinking fun?
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 PM on April 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


4. "Mitigate tyranny." The USSR's collapse was made inevitable by state-controlled media and state-mandated mistakes such as Lysenkoism, which forced a wrong theory of wheat farming on 13 time zones, and starved millions. Now crowd-sourced cellphone users can sleuth out vote tampering. We should reward companies that stand up against censorship, as Google has done in China.

LOL. Good luck with that.

Also I seriously doubt UPS never turns left on any of it's routs.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why shoot so low, when for a measly eight steps you can colonize the galaxy?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:37 PM on April 17, 2010


Seminars on Long Term Thinking are always worth listening to.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:38 PM on April 17, 2010


i'll just wait for firaxis to come out with a patch.
posted by the aloha at 9:58 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Eagleman rocks. Sum: 40 tales from the afterlife was brilliant.
posted by special-k at 10:07 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


"safely digitized"
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 10:14 PM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


going from the Stewart Brand summary, i wonder if this is built to a significant degree on Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse
posted by angrycat at 10:14 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sum: 40 tales from the afterlife was brilliant: previously
posted by philip-random at 10:26 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


going from the Stewart Brand summary, i wonder if this is built to a significant degree on Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

I'm about half way through this talk, and it feels like a summary of several previous Long Now talks. Good stuff if you are new to the topic, but hardly groundbreaking.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:30 PM on April 17, 2010


If you have been on the subway or on any kind of mass transit, don't touch your face until you have sanitized your hands.

Make sure that you haven't left a fingerprint on your gun or your bullets.

Double check your partner's HIV status. Ask for recent test results. Double check them with the Health Department.

Don't sleep in a drunken stupor on railroad tracks while wearing armor.

Don't point laser pointers at police officers. If you do, duck.

Watch out for small children outside of your meth lab taking notes and pictures.

Don't mix the grape and the grain.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Embrace solipsism. Embrace yourself. But only if you actually exist. If you do not actually exist, ignore this.

Dance and sing. But dance and sing carefully. If you dance and sing carelessly you are dancing and singing for no reason.

Trust Chaos. If you do not trust Chaos then trust Chaos.

Remember that anything that someone says three times is true.
Remember that anything that someone says three times is true.
Remember that anything that someone says three times is true.

Watch TV commercials with the sound off.

Listen with your eyes closed.

Ignore this.
Ignore this.
Ignore this.
posted by Splunge at 10:44 PM on April 17, 2010 [15 favorites]


delmoi -- maybe not never, but they use a heuristic to minimize it -- source
posted by spiderskull at 11:00 PM on April 17, 2010


Disease precipitated the fall of Greece, Rome, and the civilizations of the Americas.

Baloney. The fall of Rome was a very complex process which took a very long time. There are a lot of things that contributed to it; it wasn't solely the result of a plague.

The fall of Greece? Depends on when you think that happened. I think it happened when Rome conquered the place -- and disease had nothing to do with it.

The Mayan collapse is subject of immense speculation and no one really knows the answer, but the best speculation I've heard of is that it was a side effect of the end of the Medieval Warm Period, which caused farming yields to collapse. The Inca and Aztec civilizations fell because they were conquered by the Spanish. The Anasazi collapse seems to have been the result of climate change.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:01 PM on April 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Mayan collapse is subject of immense speculation and no one really knows the answer

Bit of a derail, but the Mayans never really "collapsed", they just stopped maintaining their temple districts. There are millions of their descendants in Central America who have kept many traditions alive.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:08 PM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


What, precisely, is this Civilization he's proposing to save? To me, he's making an awfully tired case for Capitalist Globalism.

1. Right off the bat, he's saying to live alone in your apartment, living to work for corporate entities. Good luck unionizing when the media company you're slaving for controls the communication network between cubicles/homes. But at least you won't need healthcare! It's healthy to eliminate every bacteria and virus, right?!

2. Seriously, STFU.

3. While I agree that certain technologies have ushered in some interesting phenomena, they have yet to improve the rate of constructive communication. Can't much tamper with human cognition, can you? Panic and misinformation will just propagate faster, too.

4. Google is a TNC, inherent in a multitude of locked-in internet technologies. They would be the type of centralized power to be wary of in the coming years, not any pesky, little "nation". We're talking mother-fuckin' Globalization, here.

5. Pfff. Human capital. Buy and sell people as units of the cloud, right? It'll get more people involved, sure; but it's pretty important to continue seeing them as individuals with a common goal, not as an anonymous energy supply. The more supply a company harnesses, the greater the potential output. It then becomes a battle to get units on the grid and channeled in to corporate supply-lines by whatever means necessary. Subliminal advertising no longer has to be subliminal, and you've successfully sold out humanity to a capital market.

6. I'm surprised he even pretends he's listening to himself. To use that (old wives tale) example of UPS never turning left to save energy is laughable. Sure, they don't have to wait at an occasional red light, but they must take three right turns for every left, not to mention the inevitable dead-end/one-way/no-option variable. This claim of his also suffers from the simple fact that it's observable. The disillusionment begins the first time you see a UPS truck turning left.

- - -

The thing is, his main bullet points are riddled with obtuse thinking, generalizations, and first-world thought patterns. What really gets me is that he perpetuates the sort of falsehoods he seems to be trying to prevent. This poor member of the intelligentsia probably thinks he's helping build a brighter future, too. That's a shame.
posted by pedmands at 11:12 PM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


7. Honor Odin, Father of Victory, and of the Slain, he who hung himself on the Yggdrasil the World Tree, pierced with his own spear. Venerate Odin, he who gave up an eye at Mímir's Well. Sacrifice a male of every species once every nine years at the Temple at Uppsala.

The hanging of a king or the hanging of a slave may be the only thing which will stave off Ragnarök, when Surtr and his fellow fire jötunn will set fire to the World.

Also, the lava? Don't piss on it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:30 PM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


The fall of Rome was a very complex process which took a very long time.

True. The "Fall of Rome" took longer than the history of the United States so far.

(Depending on how you define it, of course.)
posted by gimonca at 11:33 PM on April 17, 2010


That really depends on what you mean by "it".
posted by b1tr0t at 11:39 PM on April 17, 2010


That really depends on what you mean by "it".

In the case of the subject of the FPP, and in the generalized sense of "Society X collapsed", it means the somewhat spurious post hoc identity and cultural narrative thrust on a historical group of people.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 PM on April 17, 2010


delmoi -- maybe not never, but they use a heuristic to minimize it -- source

Compare and contrast:
☼ "I never kill anyone."
☁ "I use a heuristic to minimize the number of people I kill."
☔ "Seriously, I only kill, like, 10% of the people I meet."
☠ "Oh, what was your name again?"
posted by delmoi at 11:56 PM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


When was the last time civilization collapsed anyway? Roman civilization collapsed, but that was a process that took centuries, and was really about other cultures catching up, not anything intrinsic. The early history of the world is full of civilizations that failed, but there have been some long-standing cultures out there. The UK signed the Magna Carta 795 years ago. Japanese civilization has been around for a long, long time. Then there's China, which has been conquered multiple times, but each time kept it's civilization intact, and the invaders adopted their culture.

So my rules would be:

1) Live on an island.
2) Have a civilization that's advanced and attractive to invaders.
3) Try not to get invaded by monotheists.
posted by delmoi at 12:20 AM on April 18, 2010


When was the last time civilization collapsed anyway?

Most of Europe didn't look so hot between 1939-1945.
posted by philip-random at 12:27 AM on April 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


The speaker asserts that we don't think about the collapse of our civilizations.

Baptists, Odin Worshippers, Ancient Mayans(?), 2012 nutjobs, year 2000 preparationists, Jehova's Witnesses, Scientologists, Hindus, Sci Fi fans, and a whole bunch of others seem like direct contradictions of this assertion.
posted by idiopath at 12:50 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obama's asteroid goal: tougher, riskier than moon:
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Landing a man on the moon was a towering achievement. Now the president has given NASA an even harder job, one with a certain Hollywood quality: sending astronauts to an asteroid, a giant speeding rock, just 15 years from now.

Space experts say such a voyage could take several months longer than a journey to the moon and entail far greater dangers.

"It is really the hardest thing we can do," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. [...]

Landing on an asteroid and giving it a well-timed nudge "would demonstrate once and for all that we're smarter than the dinosaurs and can avoid what they didn't," said White House science adviser John Holdren.
Your iPhone apps aren't going to save civilization, though they would make it much easier to form mobs of screaming, dying people. Civilization will be saved by Bruce Steve Willis Tyler.
posted by pracowity at 12:59 AM on April 18, 2010


When was the last time civilization collapsed anyway?

When did MTV first go on the air?
posted by loquacious at 1:06 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most of Europe didn't look so hot between 1939-1945.

Sure, but they came out the other end. WWI-II were something of an anomaly -- a point where war had become incredibly destructive and costly compared to the past, to the point where all out war with a peer nation really became infeasible. But people hadn't realized it yet. Even though the Nazi political movement, and fascism (officially) died Germany as a country is still around, so are all the other countries involved, although the Soviet Union had some problems down the road.
posted by delmoi at 1:11 AM on April 18, 2010


Sure, but they came out the other end.

They came out the other end as clients of a nation now hurtling toward theocracy, or the USSR.
posted by pompomtom at 1:32 AM on April 18, 2010


When did MTV first go on the air?

Wasn't their first video something like "Overprescription of Antibiotics Killed Civilization" by the Superbuggles?
posted by pracowity at 1:38 AM on April 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


"safely digitized"

LOL.
posted by rodgerd at 2:16 AM on April 18, 2010


Anytime "collapse of civilization" is paired with "six easy steps to avert" an angel loses its wings.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:45 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Step 7:

Do not allow your hubris to convince you of your power to subvert your collapse.
posted by Mikey-San at 2:50 AM on April 18, 2010


Step 0: Don't start a talk on civilization collapse by showing a picture of the WTC.
posted by surrendering monkey at 4:09 AM on April 18, 2010


But trust me on the sunscreen.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:28 AM on April 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Baptists, Odin Worshippers, Ancient Mayans(?), 2012 nutjobs, year 2000 preparationists, Jehova's Witnesses, Scientologists, Hindus, Sci Fi fans, and a whole bunch of others seem like direct contradictions of this assertion.

I wouldn't call what any of them do thinking
posted by Mick at 5:43 AM on April 18, 2010


Silly people. You save civilization by making it worth saving.
posted by JHarris at 6:01 AM on April 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


I imagine that the collapse of civilization will be a lot like the blizzards in DC this year. Which means it will be pretty fun if we stock up on liquor, have good sturdy boots, and don't mind foraging for food.
posted by little e at 6:35 AM on April 18, 2010


Always make sure you know where your towel is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The elephant in the room remains climatic change and that only seems to get worse with every technofix suggested.

These sort of techno pep talks always remind me of what happens when shortly after somebody says "It's OK, I know what I'm doing." Then we call the ambulance for them....

There is something intensely naive about the sort of attitude projected by these fluffy, happy, eye-glazed techno lemmings. It would be cute if they were a little rounder and fluffier. Instead, they are all bony and just projecting fluffiness.

(* glowers *)
posted by warbaby at 6:48 AM on April 18, 2010


to the point where all out war with a peer nation really became infeasible

It was going pretty feasibly for most of the Axis until they started deciding that "hit the big guy before he decides to hit you" was a bright idea. But I'd argue that the other lesson of WWII is that entire nations can decide to commit to doing infeasible things; public opinion isn't perfectly rational and political action doesn't perfectly reflect public opinion.

Germany as a country is still around, so are all the other countries involved

It helps that the modern big guys believed that "rebuild the loser in your own image" was a better victory plan than "salt the earth". Let's just hope that everybody sticks with that belief in the future, despite discovering in the present that that "rebuilding" can be hard-to-impossible. We've got much worse forms of "salt" today.
posted by roystgnr at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Step 7:

Shop smart. Shop Smart.
posted by The Whelk at 7:37 AM on April 18, 2010


...and yes the technocrat Utopianism is strong in this one. Why who technocrats always assume everyone is a rational actor working in good faith?
posted by The Whelk at 7:38 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Landing on an asteroid and giving it a well-timed nudge "would demonstrate once and for all that we're smarter than the dinosaurs and can avoid what they didn't," said White House science adviser John Holdren.

I read that as "White House science adviser [sic] John Hodgman," because that is exactly something he would say.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2010


7 - "don't shit where you sleep" - that might sound like simple snark, but consider the carbon dioxide we're pumping into the air, to use just one example
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 AM on April 18, 2010


Baloney. . . The Inca and Aztec civilizations fell because they were conquered by the Spanish.

The Spanish conquered the Incas, but they only had a couple hundred people to do that and their horses could barely handle the stairs on the trails, so they couldn't have been that much help.

The Incas had potentially millions of people and an empire that reached from Ecuador to Chile. They also had metallurgy. Plus it's not like it's easy to run up and down those mountains. Even if the Spanish didn't have horses, it shouldn't have been so easy to take the Incas out.

The Andes had been hit by a series of epidemics which, by some estimates, wiped out a ratio of 93:1 people. The king and his appointed heir had both abruptly died (probably from smallpox, although it could have been an indigenous disease) from something infectious before a back-up heir could be named, which lead to the civil war between Huascar in Quito and Atahualpa in Cuzco. This meant at the time Pizarro landed on the West Coast, famine was wide spread (loss of farm workers, most males off fighting the civil war), disease was rampant (think about what it'd do to your society if suddenly 93 of the people around you were dead), and it was relatively easy to march in. Disease definitely weakened the empire.

There are plenty of sources for this, but 1491 is one of the better researched books. It's got a whole unit on why disease made it so easy for the Europeans to take over in the Americas, not just in South America but in New England too.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:53 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Silly people. You save civilization by making it worth saving.

I laughed because it's true. And then I felt compelled to dig up this Hakim Bey quote:

What we dislike about civilization can be deduced from the following progression: the "Agricultural Revolution"; the emergence of caste; the City & its cult of hieratic control ("Babylon"); slavery; dogma; imperialism ("Rome"). The suppression of sexuality in "work" under the aegis of "authority." "The Empire never ended."

Of course, Bey does go on elsewhere about "Culture" being the thing worth savoring and saving.
posted by philip-random at 9:06 AM on April 18, 2010


Achievement Unlocked: a conversation that references both Hakim Bey and Micheal Bay.

checks off item on "conversational scavenger hunt" list
posted by idiopath at 9:16 AM on April 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


> Bit of a derail, but the Mayans never really "collapsed", they just stopped maintaining their
> temple districts. There are millions of their descendants in Central America who have kept
> many traditions alive.

I grant you these are different things: 1. the collapse of a civilization (meaning abandonment and depopulation of everything resembling a city); 2. the collapse of a culture (a major rift in cultural continuity, as between the Aegean/Anatolian bronze age palace cultures and the succeeding isolated village cultures of the Ancient Dark Age); and 3. the collapse of a population (meaning generalized die-off of a large percentage of everybody). But "civilization" specifically means "citification" (Eng. city directly translates Lat. civis) and 1, which happened to the classic Maya beyond any doubt, is a pretty dramatic event that matches most people's notion of collapse--even if pre-collapse traditions were maintained in some form by non-urban communities that managed to squeeze through the bottleneck.

> 7 - "don't shit where you sleep" - that might sound like simple snark, but consider the
> carbon dioxide we're pumping into the air, to use just one example
> posted by pyramid termite at 11:42 AM on April 18 [+] [!]

I.e. don't sleep with 6.8 billion other meerkats just like you. If you, like, have any choice in the matter...
posted by jfuller at 10:18 AM on April 18, 2010


When was the last time civilization collapsed anyway?

When did MTV first go on the air?


The day I was born. Coincidence?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:27 AM on April 18, 2010


YOU KILLED THE RADIO STAR!
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 AM on April 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


delmoi: "Also I seriously doubt UPS never turns left on any of it's routs."

It's an exaggeration to say that they never turn left ... what they do is optimize their routes, with the knowledge that turning right takes less time than turning left. So they avoid left turns, but not completely, or when making a single left turn would keep them from driving around in a huge circle or doing something else similarly stupid.

When they first started doing this it was a big deal, but now we see this sort of optimization-by-machine all over the place. It happens when you punch a Start and End address into Google Maps, or even into your dashboard GPS; there are lots of ways you could use to get from A to B, but there's a lot of calculations involved in figuring out the one that's closest to optimal.

And even then the machine-optimized route isn't always that good compared to what a skilled human could do. Path optimization nearly always boils down to a Hard Problem. (They virtually always reduce down to some variant of the Traveling Salesman.) The machine is typically better than a naive human, but rarely better than a very experienced one who has put a lot of thought into the problem. Hence, while your GPS may seem satisfactory when you're going to a place you've never been to, its directions probably seem inefficient during your morning commute, which you've already optimized to death using lots of factors that the GPS isn't aware of.

Still, route optimizations like UPS's are useful because they make the routes less sensitive to the whims of the driver behind the wheel of the truck that day. That means you can shuffle employees around more and be reasonably confident that they'll at least achieve some baseline efficiency. At the end of the day, it's really about making employees more interchangeable.

UPS is my favorite example of metrics gone awry, though. Ever since UPS started using those little tablet terminals to record the delivery times on packages, I've noticed an interesting behavior: frequently a package will come up online as "Delivered" hours before it actually arrives on my doorstep. I'm pretty confident this is because there's some "ontime percent" metric that employees are being rated on, and they're gaming the system by just scanning all of their packages — or at least the ones that don't require an actual signature, or maybe the ones going to residential addresses where they don't think the discrepancy will be noticed — while they're still on the truck at the beginning of their shift/route. It's clever, but it's exactly what you should expect to happen if they're creating an incentive using a metric that's not externally verified.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 AM on April 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


Just to be clear: I didn't say that I didn't think they tried to reduce the number of left hand turns, but to say they never is, of course, absurd. It's the kind of sloppy statement that indicates sloppy thinking, IMO. Of course, I don't know if it's just the person summarizing or in the actual video.
posted by delmoi at 3:05 PM on April 18, 2010


I heard this on the Long Now podcast and while it was interesting it also consisted largely of INTERNET!!!1111, which is unconvincing after so short a trial period.
posted by DU at 5:13 PM on April 18, 2010


Stewart Brand: These days Michelangelo's David has been safely digitized in detail.

mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: "safely digitized"

I think this is one hurdle we're about to pass, if we haven't already. Storage and bandwidth is cheap, archival formats (ZIP almost everywhere) and image formats (JPEG, GIF, PNG) have become de facto standards, which are probably here to stay. I might be wrong, but I would guess that a single hard drive today would be more than enough to store all the great written and painted works throughout history, with room to spare. If some thousand people worldwide all stored these works (think Mankind's.Greatest.Hits.10000BC-2010AD.EBOOK.torrent), they would be safe from harm barring some world-wide calamity.

Of course, that latter point is something we need to worry about too. I assume almost all of the classical works have been reprinted and republished (Out of copyright, basically printing money), so we just need to ensure that the works are spread out thick and wide. If something happens that renders all printed works unusable, I assume we're all dead anyway. (Not that it should keep us from trying to figure out even more robust storage methods. Tablets made out of synthetic diamonds?)
posted by ymgve at 6:49 PM on April 18, 2010


I am a man after the crash. I have found a box (a multi terabyte hard drive) that contains the complete library of previous humankind. I use a rock to bash it open. I use the platters as armor or jewelry.

I find the magnets that are in it. I pull them out and are surprised by their strength. They are magic.

I use the shiny platters and the magnets to convince others that I am a shaman.

The world continues to go to shit.

But I get to be in charge until I die. When a younger person stabs me with a spear made from the cover of a full tower case.

He calls himself Alienware. But he doesn't know what it means.
posted by Splunge at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


Unfortunately the AOL tribe starts a war. They decimate the Alienware tribe by throwing thousands of sharpened plastic disks from a distance. The disks all are marked with the glyphs of the AOL tribe:

Free 10,000 Hours. AOL.

The AOL tribe reigns supreme.

They have an unending supply of weapons. The Alienware tribe is broken.

The UNIX tribe watches this bloodshed. And the laugh. Oh they do laugh!
posted by Splunge at 7:50 PM on April 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Never travel without porn and whiskey.
posted by nola at 9:06 PM on April 18, 2010


Never travel without porn and whiskey.

Ah, but if you have a stack of sharpened AOL disks ...
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:26 AM on April 19, 2010


mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: "safely digitized"

I think this is one hurdle we're about to pass, if we haven't already.


The original Domesday Book is almost 1000 years old and you can still read it if you have Latin and can parse the orthography, neither of which are huge barriers.

The "Domesday Book" made in the early 1980s is usable if you have a laserdisc player and a BBC Model B.

image formats (JPEG, GIF, PNG) have become de facto standards,

Except in mid to high end cameras, where the "standards" are (with the honourable exception of Pentax) ever-shifting proprietary RAW file formats.
posted by rodgerd at 2:25 AM on April 19, 2010


Ariel: You ever heard of the Masada? For two years, 900 Jews held their own against 15,000 Roman soldiers. They chose death before enslavement. The Romans? Where are they now?

Tony Soprano: You're looking at them, asshole.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:15 AM on April 19, 2010


The "Domesday Book" made in the early 1980s is usable if you have a laserdisc player and a BBC Model B.

Ugh, that's just a ridiculous statement. First of all, it's totally false:
However, the BBC later announced that the CAMiLEON project (a partnership between the University of Leeds and University of Michigan) had developed a system capable of accessing the discs using emulation techniques. CAMiLEON copied the video footage from one of the extant Domesday laserdiscs. Another team, working for the UK National Archives (who hold the original Domesday Book) tracked down the original 1-inch videotape masters of the project. These were digitised and archived to Digital Betacam.

A version of one of the discs was created that runs on a Windows PC. This version was reverse-engineered from an original Domesday Community disc and incorporates images from the videotape masters. It was initially available only via a terminal at the National Archives headquarters in Kew, Surrey but was published on the web in July 2004. This version was taken off-line early in 2008 when its programmer, Adrian Pearce, suddenly died.
So, this particular work can be used on a regular windows PC. Interestingly, the main problem with releasing the book seems to be legal, rather then technical
In addition to preserving the project, untangling the copyright issues also presents a significant challenge. In addition to copyright surrounding the many contributions made by the estimated 1 million people who took part in the project, there are also copyright issues that relate to the technologies employed. It is likely that the Domesday Project will not be completely free of copyright restrictions until at least 2090.
Anyway, there's no reason to think that these devices will be unusable in the future, all of these machines that were built once can be built again, and the media can be analyzed to determine the wavelength of light needed to read it, etc. I think this belief is sort of a symptom of thinking of technology as "magical", and also inherently linked with a particular time, rather then just "stuff" that people put together, which can be done at any point in time if you know how to do it.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 AM on April 20, 2010


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