It’s the tenth of January, and I’m running late. Everyone else already has their New Year’s Predictions out, and I’m still muddling along, thinking about last year.
However, I’ve taken inspiration from John Michael Greer’s latest blog entry over on the Archdruid Report. In this blog he talks a bit about the year 2030. Of course, he is a thoroughgoing skeptic, having written a book, Apocalypse Not, in which he catalogues numerous End-Of-The-World scenarios that pepper human history back to Pharaohic Egypt and before. None of which, I might add (though I should not have to), has come to pass. He takes an equally jaundiced view of the growing significance of the date 2030 in the Doomer literary and philosophical genre, viewing it as merely the next date for publishers and writers to make a lot of money.
I think he’s wrong about this. Completely wrong. The year 2030 shall be the Big Enchilada, the Ship That Finally Comes In, the Promised Land, Hallelujah!
Unfortunately, in keeping with the rest of human history, our grand end as a species shall not be a tragic affair, but rather a pratfall. A whoopee cushion. A Vaudeville skit. A cosmic joke.
You see, as I was washing dishes by hand this evening, contemplating the future of technology and other human follies, I realized “planned obsolescence” was not invented in the 1950’s. It is, rather, the Everpresent Invisible Hand of History that has driven human civilization for as long as we’ve had clay tablets to write on, and sharp sticks to write on them with.
Consider: back in the 1700’s, let’s say 1730 for convenience, they really built houses to last in this country — they were built to last at least 300 years. By 1830, they were already cutting corners, and a nice, solid brick building was only good for 200 years. By 1930, housing had fallen to 100-year standards. A house built in 2000, of course, will be lucky to keep the rain out within 30 years. We can go back in time to Rome (a solid 2000-year standard in 30) or the pyramids of Egypt (warranted for 3000 years in 970 BC), and the clear pattern begins to emerge.
This is the pattern that gives evidence of a vast, unconscious human sense of our destiny as a species upon the earth, a global premonition of all the hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments of every human who has lived since our appearance some 200,000 years ago.
2030 will be the year that everything falls apart.
That’s right, everything. Absolutely everything. The year it literally falls apart.
Cheap asphalt shingles on houses in the US will crumble at exactly the same time that slate tiles placed on villas in Spain several centuries ago will crack and turn to mud in the rain. The latest Volt to come off the production line will fail to move on the same day that the last surviving Model T Ford refuses to turn over, and the last museum-preserved Roman chariot gives in to dry rot and loses both wheels. The Microsoft Windows Apocalypse edition of 2030 will be indistinguishable from the Mac OS X Meganterion release that same year, and both will fail to boot, even with patches (leading to the expression, “death by a thousand patches,” which will be utterly incomprehensible to future generations). Transistors will fail to transist, tube radios will blow smoke, and professional yodelers will contract terminal laryngitis. The bindings on new books will fall off before you get to the register at Barnes and Noble; that same week, the last living scholars of Greek, Latin, Old Norse, and Proust will suffer fatal heart attacks. Ink will fade, hand-crafted beer will turn into Budweiser, Coke will finally taste exactly like Pepsi. The bristles will fall out of every toothbrush in the world, Q-tips will unravel, and toilet paper will refuse to tear.
People will take to the streets to riot, but bricks will crumble to sand before they can be thrown at the police. The police will fire tear gas rounds that land at their own feet and release a few sporadic bursts of flatulence. Looters will find the store windows already fractured under their own weight, and the television sets they try to steal will drop their innards all the way home. Gunpowder will fail to ignite, and standing armies will beat their swords into small piles of rust and hurl deadly insults at each other.
It will be … a most unpleasant time.
Woe be unto those who rely upon electric toothbrushes, for their teeth shall remain fuzzy.
Woe be unto those who rely upon the microwave oven, for their pizza shall be forever cold.
Woe be unto those who live by the Internet, for they shall have to tell their stupid jokes to those who have heard them before.
Woe be unto the commuter, who shall have to walk home.
Woe be unto those with indoor plumbing, for toilets shall leak, and plungers shall fail to plunge, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
And so forth.
The died-in-the-wool Futurists like Ray Kurzweil or David Brin like to talk about The Singularity — a point in the future where the rate of increase in knowledge and technology becomes essentially infinite, and humans become immortal godlings of pure intellect, no longer dependent on this rough material world.
It would be nice if all that could show up in, say, 2029. Because in 2030, it all falls apart.