Kevin Kelly has turned me on to a number of interesting ideas. He wrote on his blog about the arrival of a third geological era called the Anthropocene and he led me to think about new fossil cities.
The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term. It was coined to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. Ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer coined the term and since it has been popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen. He considers the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere. But the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.
Kelly coined his own term, the technium, in his book What Technology Wants as part of his explanation of how technology has altered the planet.
In it, he views technology as a natural system going through something similar to biological evolution. He believes that if we map the behavior of our technology, we can see where technology is headed, or as he terms it, “what technology wants.”
He does see that ultimately our megacities – built from metal, brick, glass and stone mined from the earth – will eventually return to the earth, to be reprocessed into new minerals.
Kelly also pointed me to Jan Zalasiewicz’s book, The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks which looks at how all the products of the technium might one day be fossilized.
He is writing about a thought experiment one hundred million years into the future. It is long after the human race we know becomes extinct. If someone visits the Earth at that point and tries to piece together the brief but dramatic story of our time on Earth, what will they be able to decipher about the history of humanity from the traces we will leave in the rock strata?
What kind of fossils will humans leave behind? Cities, cars, plastic cups and bones will tell what story?