In the modern world we’re never more than a glance away from a digital display of today’s date or the time to the nearest second. The use of GPS devices in cars or even in our own pockets with smartphones has all but eroded the art of map-reading and navigation. This is all exceedingly convenient, of course, but I think that many of us in developed nations are feeling increasingly disconnected from the fundamental principles and processes that support our lives, sensing that our basic skills are atrophying and perhaps feeling anxious of being a little too reliant on the magic of modern technology.
So let’s try a thought experiment. If you’re forced back to the absolute basics, how could you use simple observations to tell the time, reconstruct the calendar and work out your location anywhere on planet Earth? Being able to tell the time enables a society to regulate and synchronize its civic activities—marketplace trade or congregation (perhaps for religious purposes) are all choreographed to the beat of the hour. The reason the calendar was devised in the first place was to ensure successful agricultural practices, and thus sufficient food for the population, and accurate navigation is crucial to prevent getting yourself lost in the wilderness.
Our modern world is by no means invincible – plenty of civilisations have collapsed and disappeared in the past. So what are the greatest hazards to our way of life, how likely are they to happen – and what chances would survivors have for rebooting humanity?
My double-page spread appeared in The Sun newspaper today, including a run-down of the most likely doomsday events and a quiz on the knowledge post-apocalyptic survivors would need to thrive. You can read it on-line here.
I appeared this week on The Guardian science podcast, chatting with Alok Jha about The Knowledge and how to orchestrate the recovery of civilisation after an apocalypse. The 15 minute interview starts from the 21:50 time-stamp. Listen here
If you’re in a hurry, or only have time to read one quick article before the modern world crashes and the internet goes down, make it this one. I wrote a 10 step quick guide for surviving and rebuilding after the apocalypse for UK men’s mag Esquire. Don’t panic, and think like you’re abroad… Read the full article here
My op-ed for the New York Times appeared on page SR8 of the Sunday print edition. ‘Civilization’s Starter Kit‘ begins with my own incompetence at all things pragmatic, and indeed how useless most people today are when it comes to repairing or maintaining the everyday devices or appliances that we take for granted. How many of us have any real understanding of how the objects in our pocket were made, or even where the food we eat has come from or how to make clothes from scratch. I think that because of this there is a growing feeling of disconnect among all of us in the developed world today from the basic processes and principles that provide for us. But what if this life-support system of modern civilisation were to collapse? What starter kit would you need to rebuild it all from the basics? Read the full feature here.
The Big Issue printed an interview with me, entitled So You’ve Survived The End Of The World: What Now? It runs through your top priorities after the apocalypse, from how to survive in the immediate aftermath, to reinstate agriculture and smelting your own metals. The illustration here, gives the position of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is located in the Norwegian high arctic and so serves as a natural freezer for the genetic diversity needed to restart farming. Read the full article here.