Cultures before us didn’t have the luxury to know, like we do, that they would someday become extinct. That one day their entire way of life, language, beliefs, etc. would be like a mystery. The people in the past didn’t know that some day the world as they knew it would end, but we do know that. Like Bethany Nowviskie states in “Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene,” we know that our time on this planet is limited, that we won’t be here forever. We know that some day there will be future anthropologists studying our culture, our languages.
When first discussing extinction, Nowviskie states “the problem is that of extinction—of multiple extinctions; heart-breaking extinctions; boring, quotidian, barely-noticed extinctions—both the absences that echo through centuries, and the disposable erosions of our lossy everyday.” In this statement, Nowviskie sheds light on the fact that we have experienced different kinds of extinctions in our lifetime. We have witnessed certain animals becoming extinct in our lifetimes; we have discovered organisms that disappeared millions of years ago. There have been extinctions that have greatly affected the world we live in, and extinctions of data that barely cause a ripple. Countless information gone that we can never discover or retrieve.
Do we want to limit that loss of information for future inhabitants of Earth? Should we focus on archiving the knowledge that we have as a culture? If human kind as we know it becomes extinct, what will happen to the internet and the countless archives we’ve created? These are pretty big question to grapple with, and obviously, some that we may never have the answer to. So, I’ll focus on what I think it means for our current studies in DH. I think that we have to discover a balance between archiving our information while still innovating and furthering our knowledge. It can be easy to sigh in resignation and say “well, it won’t mean anything eventually.” However, we study humanities to understand cultures throughout time. We want to learn about the various civilizations; we want to understand them. As we live and study in this very digital, very “permanent” age, it is important to remember that.
We can’t be resigned to the fact that we won’t always be here. Even the technologies we use continually evolve and become obsolete. In the podcast episode “Tree Free,” there is a woman whose job it is to turn information on obsolete technologies into something we will be able to access for years to come. Her job is seemingly endless as new technologies replace old continually. We value the knowledge we learn from people who lived long ago, and I hope that someday others will value the work that we do. Austin, Betsy, and I should explore the loss of humanity in the imagined future of World of Tomorrow in our Scalar project because some day someone might see it and think, “Hey. Maybe this whole cloning and transferring consciousness is not such a great idea.” Who knows, really? And I think that’s the point.