If aliens arrived on earth a few thousand years after our mass extinction and used only youtube videos to reconstruct the human race, how would they perceive us?
Our understanding of human history is the narrative of our lineage, extracted from artefacts forged in the past . Yet while an ancient cave painting provides a fascinating insight into the birth of human creativity, in 40000 BC those paintings were nothing more than graffiti. The inherent need to attach a backstory to the present elevated Caveman Banksy to the godfather of visual expression, despite how modest his actual intentions may have been.
Documenting our evolving cultural, historical and social spectrum is increasingly moving from the realms of the physical to the digital. We are collectively pumping out and sharing almost 300 hours of new youtube footage every hour. And unlike static, classical art forms like painting, woodwork and carvings that capture a specific point in time without betraying the nature of its creation, video accounts of human misfortune, terrible song covers and deconstructing the space-time continuum leave very little ambiguity as to what we think we know and who we are.
Biology means we aren’t able to control how what we create and leave behind shapes our story in the eyes of our predecessors. This stands true despite our future brothers and sisters sharing common needs, desires and the same geological platform (Earth). So how would an extra-terrestrial species with a completely different physiological makeup and no frame of cultural reference interpret the billions of hours worth of our world catalogued on youtube? At the end of a 5 million light year journey to our planet, what conclusions would they draw about us after watching jackass, singing dogs, Ted Talks and Gangham Style? What judgements would they pass in their quest to comprehend who and what we were? Would they even classify us as intelligent life?
We are all responsible for the cultural footprint we leave behind. The complexity and nuances of what we watch, listen to and create will one day be compressed into a single paragraph or footnote describing human knowledge and endeavour in the early second millennia (2000-2100). So how would we want this paragraph to be written? What conclusions would we want the future to draw about us based on the audio visual documentation we leave behind?