The Last Library
One will imagine someday that just as the germ seeds of the earth have been slowly brought to Svalbard Global Seed Vault and placed in protective custody, so to will the great knowledge gathered in the libraries of the world be placed in secret places beyond the reach of our war machines. Who will maintain such an extravagance? Will special printing presses be set up to continue the project of the last library’s secret mission, a monkish caste of librarians to walk the sacred halls of knowledge, dust the shelves and books, keep the paper tightly wrapped away from the elements?
One day the physical paper libraries of the world will disappear, and on that day when the earth is forever paperless, when the last tree cut down for paper use is no more we will be dependent on the exigencies of our last records of the human endeavor that began with Gutenberg’s press. We will need a special place, a cathedral of knowledge for the last books, dependent as we are on the new digital world. We would of course arm these savants of the Last Library with both defenses and tools necessary to defend themselves and the books in their charge.
But we will need to defend ourselves against the integral accident of knowledge. For there may come a moment when the Sun’s great festival of flares suddenly overtakes an unsuspecting earth and every last electronic device melts before the hidden rays of that oblivion. All the stored data destroyed with all of human knowledge lost among the debris of dead machines and data storage devices. Or from some unforeseen holocaust or asteroid or nuclear or other natural or man made disaster.
What would happen then? Would the world unite to open up the great library vaults sunken into the depths, or hidden in some asteroid belt to the rest of humankind. Or would there be a war of knowledge to come? The Great Wars of Knowledge!!! Seekers after lost tomes, mendicants of the sciences. Would their be a yearly pilgrimage to the monks silent Shangri-La, tributes and offerings to the protectors of ancient Papyrus?
We who are externalizing more and more of our mental capacities into vast arrays of machines – giant data storage systems, losing both our minds and memories to these machinic devices, what will come of us? Will the cold impersonal gods of AI save us when the Sun flares wild? Would we in a generation forget ourselves? Our culture and sciences erased from the mind through lack of knowledge? Would the few, the elite, the rich and powerful horde the last library to themselves? Or would those lonely librarians who have sacrificed love and family to save the knowledge of human kind, would they defend it to the last woman and man from the warring hordes? Would they wait for the vestiges of this great transition to work its way out of the dark ages of knowledge, return to the people little by little as new shamans, holders to the ancient ways of knowledge and reteach humans whose memory of such things is now gone to remember? A new anamnesis?
(Of course this need not happen if we prepare… famous last words!)