It is important to say that the projection of a future underwater New York City is a work of my imagination. I joined Facebook in 2006 at age 23. I originally wrote this in 2011 one night after reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. At that time, I was trying to imagine the aftermath of privacy and climate change.
Today, most observers of these current events would conclude that the social media and climate situation is worse than ten years ago. In 2021, I researched recent sea-level rise projection rates. I could find nothing that looks 1,000 years ahead. A rough extrapolation of current rise projections beyond 2100 was not enough to bury all of the city. Yet many billions of dollars in damage seemed quite possible. I included sources below.
Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.
– Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 121-180 A.D.
The year is 3021.
New York City – the illustrious, unconquerable city of America – has fallen.
Not by the hands of men, but to the will of a more heartless, unsympathetic force: the Atlantic Ocean.
Skyscrapers that once housed mega-centers of commerce, finance, and media lay dormant beneath hundreds of feet of seawater. Wall Street, Times Square, 5th Avenue – their cosmopolitan wares along with the beautiful people, walking the city streets, are all but a story passed on through generations.
Ancient New York might be the new Ancient Egypt. Save for the spires jutting above the surface, Manhattan would be just another lost city like Atlantis. Travelers visit from around the globe to sail between the once majestic spires. Or, maybe the scene will look like just a bunch of hollowed-out buildings swallowed by the sea.
The difference? Our predecessors would know exactly how men raised the Chrysler Building. The construction of The Great Pyramids will remain an elusive mystery.
Where are we?
“Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring consulship, kingly power. Well then, the life of these people no longer exists at all. Again, remove to the times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their life too is gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of whole nations, and see how many after great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the elements.”
– Marcus Aurelius
In the year 3021, what remains of our existence are trillions of digital fragments — thoughts, photographs, and bits of information that survived the first primitive social networks. Anthropological digital researchers comb supermassive data libraries, accessing our web searches, microblogs, articles, images, and message accessed or transmitted by the people of our time.
What topics emerged to queries of the 2020s? What were we debating as true or false? What did we get right about how to live and treat our fellow human being? What did we get spectacularly wrong? What conclusions will be made about this period of human history moving into the 2nd millennium?
It is all there — black, white, and color.
There is no reason to get squeamish about privacy now. By the year 3000, we will have been gone for some time. What did we suppose would become of all this information poured into supercomputers day after day, year after year? That it would all someday just go away?
Our human story is unprecedented — who we are, what held our attention, our professed loves and rants and confessions. Our worst angels and better demons. And vice versa. So, too, must the analysis of our peculiar and historic moments be wholly unprecedented. We look back to times past and ponder aloud, “What were they thinking?” Future generations may never have to guess. I will consider this the next time Facebook asks innocently, “What’s on your mind?”
- The $119 Billion Sea Wall That Could Defend New York … or Not – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Mayor de Blasio Releases NPCC 2015 Report, Providing Climate Projections Through 2100 for the First Time
- NOAA Office for Coastal Management – Digital Coast
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