What will our stuff say about us?

Following on from last week’s post about creating meaning and identity with stuff, I thought I’d briefly write today about what our stuff could say about us.

When we look at past peoples, like the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans or even Neanderthals, we tend to build a picture of who they were by the stuff that they owned and the things that they made. We look at the golden statues and coliseums of the Romans and we assume that they were a people of surplus, at times at least. We look at the weaponry, decorations and coins of the Anglo-Saxons and we see various influences from Scandinavia and Europe, so we assume that they were people of commerce or victims of conquest. And we look at the cave drawings and spearheads of prehistoric humanity, and we assume that they were a people of community, one that relied heavily on nature for survival. But say that we were looking back at ourselves, at this generation, from a thousand years in the future. What would our stuff say about us?

When I ponder that question, I like to think about how our society would be represented in future museums. Will there be dioramas of teenagers fixated on their mobile phones? Or of people sitting in fast-food restaurants, eating burgers and chips? Would there be an iPad in a display case, with a caption explaining that we were a people of sophisticated technology. Or would there be an iWatch in the display-case instead, commenting on how we were a society which created needless technologies and ignored the major issues of our day, like poverty, famine and climate change?

When we get to the point that our generation is a ‘time period’, I would imagine that the world will be a very different place, much like comparing today to the Romans. I’m sure that there will be plenty to marvel at but, at the same time, I’m sure that there will be plenty to criticise. The curators of tomorrow (well, maybe of the next few centuries), will probably be giving us a bit of a mixed press. Sure, we’ve cured countless diseases, but we’ve also developed nuclear weapons capable of ending the world as we know it. But then nobody’s perfect, the Egyptians built great pyramids, but killed thousands of slaves in the process.

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