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Powerful and thought-provoking
on 17 March 1999
This book really gets you thinking in a new way: going beyond your own petty life and petty concerns to think about the far past and the far future. So you think computer disks are so cool? Egyptian pyramids have a better record of surviving down the ages - already some of our data media are disintegrating and we don't have any working equpment to read them! When you call something the "way of the future," Benford points out, you need to think about exactly how far in the future you are looking.
Time capsules? We go to so much trouble to send trivial junk into the future...sometimes for only a few decades. A future archaeologist would probably learn more from mining our landfills, as we do from digging in ancient garbage heaps.
Benford also distinguishes between serious, scientific efforts to send a message to aliens (eg the plaques/records on the Pioneer space probes) and the "Kilroy was here" impulse ("Send your name on a CD-ROM to the stars!") being marketed so heavily. The latter, he notes, amounts to graffiti, worthless in the end except to someone's ego.
Finally, there are sections on saving the environment and biodiversity, to make sure we HAVE a future. Benford strikes a balance between the in situ/ex situ (conservation/zoos) approaches to saving species and the Puritan/technology prophet approaches to solving the greenhouse effect, a balance that is desperately needed when most so-called experts seem to be passionate ideologues one way or the other.
This book draws broadly on numerous disciplines and from a lot of research but leaves you really thinking in the end, and perhaps rethinking some of your assumptions about the future.