What will the fu­ture think of us?

A Star2 deputy ed­i­tor vis­its an­cient Angkor Wat and comes away with ques­tions about how our In­sta­gram-happy present will be judged in the fu­ture.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - By ERIC IAN CHAN

IT’S a ter­ri­ble cliche to say that vis­it­ing the tem­ple ru­ins of Siem Reap in Cam­bo­dia is a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so I won’t, even though it is. What the visit gave me that lasted af­ter the awe and be­wil­der­ment had faded is a lot of ques­tions, about our fu­ture.

Angkor Wat and the sur­round­ing an­cient tem­ples have been on my bucket list for a long time, and be­ing able to ac­tu­ally tick them off the list was ex­cit­ing.

This World Her­itage site, built in the 12th cen­tury, is packed ev­ery day with tourists des­per­ately try­ing to frame them­selves with the tem­ple in the back­ground to cre­ate In­sta­gram posts that will be liked by thou­sands.

Walk­ing past the stone pil­lars of the an­cient struc­ture and through dark­ened walk­ways flanked by dec­o­rated bas-re­liefs, I won­dered what Angkor Wat looked like when it was new. Did any­one at the time imag­ine that their sur­round­ings would be looked on with so much in­trigue and fas­ci­na­tion cen­turies later?

I over­heard a guide ex­plain­ing the function of the tem­ple to a tour group. He re­peat­edly used words like “most likely”, “per­haps” and “prob­a­bly” when he was de­scrib­ing how early vis­i­tors to the tem­ple used the place. I un­der­stood the word use: No one may ever know the daily rit­u­als of the past, but based on the avail­able ev­i­dence, this is what we know so far.

A lot of re­search has been done at Angkor Wat and the neigh­bour­ing tem­ples. Re­searchers are try­ing to piece to­gether the his­tory of th­ese mag­nif­i­cent struc­tures us­ing state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy. They have found a lot of data on the function of the place and how the peo­ple who set­tled near the struc­tures in­ter­acted with the tem­ples.

Still, de­spite all the in­for­ma­tion, the per­sonal lives of in­di­vid­u­als on a daily ba­sis may never be known. In fact, it may be quite im­pos­si­ble to know this un­less some form of doc­u­men­ta­tion is found.

Hu­man his­tory is based on, among other things, arte­facts, build­ings and writ­ten doc­u­men­ta­tion. Will our present-day build­ings and lit­er­a­ture give an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of us in the fu­ture?

Our mod­ern build­ings are a lot stur­dier com­pared with an­cient tem­ples. Our re­in­forced and for­ti­fied struc­tures have a very good chance of last­ing a mil­len­nia and be­com­ing ob­jects of study in the fu­ture. My ques­tion is: How would our malls, shops, and sky­scrapers re­flect us as a so­ci­ety?

We per­haps doc­u­ment our daily lives more than any gen­er­a­tion be­fore. Our so­cial me­dia posts, our chats and our blogs are dili­gently up­dated. We find joy in im­mor­tal­is­ing ev­ery­thing from ma­jor prob­lems to daily minu­tia on our favourite dig­i­tal plat­form.

Sup­pos­ing all this data sur­vives, and is jux­ta­posed with the build­ings and struc­tures that are still in­tact, what would fu­ture peo­ple think of us?

Would the build­ings, monuments and art­works of to­day say that we are “per­haps” an op­ti­mistic so­ci­ety, ready and ea­ger to make his­tory?

Would our dig­i­tal foot­print – some­how re­trieved in the year 3017 – tell fu­ture an­thro­pol­o­gists that we are “most likely” en­grossed with tak­ing pic­tures of our pets, our food and our­selves, “prob­a­bly” ob­sessed with celebri­ties and “per­haps” hooked on look­ing at sound­less an­i­mated pic­tures?

Touche is a monthly col­umn in which team Star2 shares its thoughts.

— DAVID SIM/ Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Sun­rise at the Angkor Wat Tem­ple in Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia.

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