Like they said in the Jurassic franchise, “Life will find a way.”
I like to watch documentary-style programs about the end of days, where computer generated images are spliced in with footage from actual abandoned places around the world, using real-life examples to illustrate what iconic buildings and monuments would look like without humans to maintain them. There’s a whole lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps our society functional, and if humans suddenly disappeared, all of that would stop. Estimates are given for how long before utilities collapse, safeguards fail, and the existing natural elements consume the landscape we know until it is unrecognizable. Bushes in the shape of buildings, set against a cacophony of wildlife punctuated by occasional disconnected phrases high in the canopy as wild parrots imprint their learned patter on future generations of chicks, sounds with out meaning, in a humanless world.
The ominous voiceover implied that I was supposed to be scared, or at least a little creeped-out, but I found it strangely comforting. No matter what crazy thing is happening in my life, it’s not something to stress about, because in the end, the plants win anyway. We have to manage not to destroy our own environment along the way, but assuming we stop short of making this mud-ball uninhabitable by all life forms, then we as individuals can’t really mess up that bad in the grand scheme of things, and as a flawed creature, that is greatly comforting to me.
Entropy always wins—you can try to keep it at bay, but once we stop mowing, the tidy landscaping will escape flower beds to pour over the streets, the roots will crack through the pavement, which will stay broken because there’s no one in the vines-shaped-like-the-capital-building to pass legislation to fix them, and the plants will win.
I live in a city and visit places that are green. Picturing the city overrun by nature is simultaneously humbling, knowing nothing we will create will last forever, and freeing, because making my bed is irrelevant if the building will one day be demolished and swallowed by nature. It puts things into perspective. When there’s a lumpy mound of green blanketing what once-was the White House, yesterday’s tweets will truly be meaningless. It’s somewhere between Zen and Nihilistic, but without me, the waves crash, the poets dream, the plants win, and my humble insignificance during this short life brings me peace.
But that doesn’t mean I play in traffic just because I’m going to die someday anyway. I try not to die. I’ve done very well on that one so far, if I do say do myself—haven’t died once yet.
In fact, we as a society study entropy in all it’s forms so we can do our best to slow it down. Ads chirp endlessly selling vitamins, potions, lotions and creams to try to slow down time’s effect on our health, we add top-coat sealant to try to make the wood and metal things we love more weather-resistant so they last longer, and we don’t take our cell phone swimming, at least not intentionally, without some kind of waterproofing. We can’t make our things unbreakable since that’s impossible, but we can predict damage, prevent what we can, slow down what we can’t prevent, and prepare, prepare, prepare. Insurance, emergency kits, routine maintenance—we do what we can, and when entropy knocks at the door anyway, we can either smile knowing we are ready, or cringe knowing we aren’t, but it’s broken anyway. Broken happens.
How’s your company’s digital storage? Not really thinking about it, right? It’s not impervious to time. The system is made of parts that will break because they are made of matter, matter breaks, and entropy will win; the question will be whether or not you are prepared when it happens. Did you have all the backups in place so nothing is lost? And do you have a maintenance contract with someone who knows the system, knows the next thing that’s likely to give out, and is standing-by to prevent disaster? If so, you’re prepared, and we can just embrace the freedom of knowing that your system will break eventually—it’s inevitable—but maybe not in our lifetime if we keep up on it.
Because our Engineers are humans, too, if humans suddenly ceased to exist and plants took over the world, digital storage systems would eventually break down like everything else. But if there’s no people left, that probably won’t be a big deal at the time, given that it’s the end of days and all.
Until then, we encourage our Engineers to take their vitamins. We like them, we want them to last as long as possible, and, you know, because entropy.