The Technium

Future Fossil of the Technium

Last year I posted an ode to the Anthropocene — the period in Earth’s long history when humans are the dominant geological force. That would be the last 20,000 years or so. One anthropocenic question brought up by Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist from the University of Leicester, is, as he puts it, “What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks?.”  He speculates that we’ll leave fossil cities as the debris of our civilization is pressed into rock.


Reader Brett Lovgren was reminded on this on a walk along Wassenaar Beach in the Netherlands a few weeks ago. He tells me: “We were on a field trip  with my son’s 2nd grade class from the American School of the Hague.  His science teacher had them identifying the shells, jellyfish and seaweed that wash up on the beach. The kids found this bit of barnacle encrusted plastic cup.  It made me feel like an archaeologist from the future discovering a layer of the Technium.”

  • Clem Weidenbenner

    Technology as human birth control.

    Evidence of a strong negative correlation between a region’s level of technology and its birth rate is abundant. However this correlation alone only suggests that what technology wants is fewer people. Another piece of evidence comes in the form of an accidental experiment of sorts. Take a technologically advanced population, deprive it of its technologies – for a period of days – and watch what develops.

    Nine months ago the remnants of Hurricane Ike worked their way up through the Mississippi Valley dumping lots of rain and spawning many local storms of notable force. Now I don’t want to downplay the devestation this storm brought in the US South, those damages were incredible. But I do want to indicate that high winds and other storm related forces caused significant damage in Columbus, OH which resulted in power outages ranging from hours to more than a week in some parts of the city. Now, nine months later, the city is experiencing a bit of a baby boom.

    Without electricity the technium loses most of its power (pun almost unavoidable). Without the distraction of our toys, we turn to each other. The means for artificial birth control certainly exist in Columbus, yet there it is. Turn out the lights and order up some diapers.

    What technology wants is our full attention – to the demise of our fecundity.

    • @Clem: Yet at the same time the one thing that almost every historian agrees about technology was that it increased childhood longevity, and thus “wants” more people. It depresses fertility but increases survivalhood. So it is more complicated than simply the number of people.

  • Clem Weidenbenner

    Agreed – and one might also argue there are technologies that help some couples conceive, so it isn’t all black and white.

    And so long as we’re stirring the pot, there are technologies that greatly facilitate our ability to kill each other. Do atomic weapons “want” more people?