This is less to do with progress than one might expect.
A hundred years previously, it was always thought that technology, innovation and science would naturally continue to contribute to the demands and needs of society, to create an utopian world, barely recognisable from the world of the past.
That was shortsighted.
What we failed to factor in to our forecasts was the lack of resilience of those very things upon which we had set our hopes. In the early years of the twenty-third century, that particular oversight became painfully clear. Global warming, the raising of the sea level and 200 years of famine and ice-age – the all-too predictable catastrophes that, for decades, we had chosen to debate, ignore and gloss over, rather than act upon, dealt a catastrophic blow to scientific and technological endeavour. The people of the world had far more pressing needs – food, warmth and shelter.
The world was plunged into darkness – technology and infrastructure fell into disarray; industry fell silent; communication ceased.
Remarkably, we survived: even more remarkably, so did knowledge.
The tiny remnant of humanity that pulled through was wiser, less arrogant and far more willing to learn from its mistakes than its predecessors ever deigned to be: it had to be – the task that lay ahead was monumental in every sense. The knowledge that had survived along with humanity was more distant memory than understanding, but humanity was tough, and gradually, over centuries, the world that once was, rose from the wastelands, eventually rivalling then surpassing the world that had gone before. This world however, was subtly different – it was a world more in touch with the planet, with a humanity more aware of their place in the natural order… but something was wrong, very wrong.
Whilst humanity had survived, evolved and triumphed, the life that shared the fragile planet had struggled. It had long been supposed that nature always finds a way, but the truth of the matter was that nature was failing. Gene pools, decimated by centuries of interbreeding, had become pitifully small; habitats had been destroyed; food chains annihilated; populations stretched beyond their means – natural life was rapidly nearing total extinction.
Such a tragedy was not the disaster that would have faced humankind in its previous incarnation – humans had long ago freed themselves from any need to rely upon the natural life of the planet: the loss of the entire planetary biomass would be appalling, but still people would continue their lives much the same, even so, people were more enlightened now than ever they had been in the past – it was intolerable that such a thing should be permitted, and so it was that the full weight of humanity’s knowledge and inventiveness was applied to the problem: how to save a natural world that, after aeons in existence, was now on the brink of the ultimate disaster?
And humanity could not save it.
Every attempt, every innovation, every intervention proved utterly futile, and humankind watched in horror as the world became bare and devoid of life.
But humankind still bore hope. It became the curator and custodian of the dying things that remained, cataloguing, selecting, sampling and saving all that could possibly be salvaged – a record of all that could be recorded, stored for both posterity and the fervent hope that – one day – technology and knowledge would be sufficiently advanced to bring back all that had once been.
It is 3014, and out deepest fears have been realised – it is unlikely we can ever resurrect the dead…
But there is something we can do.
Life – in whatever form – is energy, and we have taken energy, moulded it and shaped it using the immense wealth of knowledge our ancestors gathered about their dying world. We have created from it the essence of what once was, albeit in a very different form to the flesh and blood, fibres and cells that once filled the earth.
And we have given our creations of light and logic a world of their own where they flourish and multiply, in every way perfect – both in form and behaviour, with only one caveat… they do not live as we do. Now, a thousand years since the continent of Africa resounded with the rumble of elephants, we can walk amongst electronic herds, we can wander the virtual rainforests, once swept away by the oceans, we can experience the sights, sounds and drama in a three-dimensional wonderland – a second life that we are now denied in reality.
And, who knows? Maybe one day, we can bring it all back.
Lord, here comes the flood
We will say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.
Peter Gabriel – Here Comes The Flood