Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Meme bank

Late.  As both of my Twitter followers know, I just got a smartphone.  And I'm feeling dumber by the minute.  I'm constantly looking at the thing.  It seems so big because it contains so much stuff.  It is a thin swiss-army wafer that is the unification of gadgetry.  It's a camera, no, a post office, no, a geologic compass.  I still have to use wrenches to transport my body, knives and fire to keep it fed, but this small glowing object can do just about everything else.  If I don't know how to use that wrench, this phone will tell me.  If I need you to come get me, I'll call.  If I didn't know how to use a spoon, I could find out.  

We are humanity 2013, highly derived, suckled on information.  It has happened shockingly quickly.  I was astounded by texting in my mid-twenties, and I haven't had internet on my phone until last week.  Confused, fumbling with this thing, I've never felt so old.  It's fun to catch up with everyone and learn its place in my life.  I keep imagining what it must be like to grow up with this, to have no frame of reference for it.  I fear the coming incarnations of digitally gridded first world humans.  Our new overlords are born with contact lenses that transmit to mother's nanophone.  How shall they survive a solar flare?

It's not a new idea.  When mass extinctions happen, it is always the complicated who suffer most.  In the last one, it was stuff that could fly, and most of the stuff that walked.  Modern humans are bending the rules, but the rules are still there.  Earth could be wiped clean down to the mudskippers.  Life will go on millions of years hence, and social primates would probably emerge once again to play Angry Birds.  

It's night shift in the emergency room.  After work, nurse Katelyn reminds me that there is a vast underclass of people who are not wired, and are not reaping the glorious benefits of the digital age.  My first overwhelming reaction is 'that's a very good thing.'  To these children, Droid Doesn't, and it's nothing to mourn.  Whatever the unfortunate social implications, someone will be left who knows how to read the space around them for clues, how to forecast the weather by seeing clouds instead of relying on the nearest electrified tower.  How to find food that has no barcode.  How to keep an appointment.

We have an enormous, resilient human population.  From the top of 2013, we can see a huge maze of risks and problems that are very significant for our species.  Chances are that most of us will make it just fine.

But in the event of the only kind of apocalypse likely for our large networked society of human drones, the world will belong to a goatherd from Azerbaijan who has no use for electricity.  Haven't you ever seen someone in a remote place perform an amazing learned task?  Hone a knife?  Tie shoes?  Smoke out a beehive and weave a honey carrier out of leaves?  Unwired.  Rewound.  The Analog will inherit the Earth.

I think most people sense this in different ways.  We have Robinson Crusoe stories in many flavors.  Unabombers with cabinfulls of guns and canned goods.  Of course, there are apocalyptic cults and back to the Earth movements, but we also have things like the Svalbard Seed Bank funded by the Gates Foundation.  Even Monsanto paid for some of it.

But where is the human meme bank?  The poor?  The isolated?  The backward hipster dumpster divers who Will Not have a Facebook page?  Populations of humanity that globalization has marginalized?  Homeless urban survivalists?  Pygmies? The Amish?  No, chances are that if humanity experiences the worst, our heirs will be people you have never heard from - and never will.  

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