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?