16 October 20XX
My Dear Lucilius:
This season must be the earliest and coldest snowstorm we have experienced in some years! My trails to the bees, the greenhouse, the pump house, and the outhouse have become small walled passages that I have to tamp down every day. Our power has become spotty to the point that I do not assume that it will come on at all (and am pleasantly surprised when it does).
I was reflecting on books again (I certainly have plenty of time to reflect, currently). Yes, I know I did this back in August, but that was when the world seemed somewhat at odds but was not yet definitely at odds. My thought, as I scanned my shelves and looked at the book in my hand (one of the old Loeb Classical Library books of Speeches of Isocrates), was that I was living through the effective end of human knowledge.
It sounds drastic, does it not? I sit here, surrounded by my books, conscious of the fact that I will probably never buy another one, and realize not only will I not buy another one – there may not be another one written for a long time indeed.
I suspect that the great libraries of the universities and cities still survive, but who goes to read in them now? And how long will they survive the ravages of time and weather or the simple use of books as fuel? And they are the survivors: all electronic knowledge is effectively locked away as firmly as if it were a dead language, waiting for the translation power of electricity and technology to free it.
If this goes on long enough, I wonder what sort of books will be written, if any are? Diaries I suspect, or perhaps histories. Survival societies do not make writing their first priority. And even then, what will they be written on? The current supply of paper and journals, while quite large (I suspect) if you can find it, will eventually run out. And then what? I have made paper once upon a time, but even that presupposes raw materials – newsprint, for example – to use as a base. Shall we fall back to writing on calf skin?
It is a terrifying and depressing thought to realize that the growth of human knowledge may have effectively stopped. We have always – or at least for close to 4,000 years – recorded something of what we did and what we believed. Not only are we now in danger of losing that knowledge, we are in danger of future generations knowing anything about us.
We simply dissolve into ash, Lucilius: if this situation is not remedied, our descendants will consider us the builders of God towers and flying boxes and know little else about us.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca