What are We Leaving Behind for Future Anthropologists?

Ever since I took an Anthropology 101 class in my sophomore year of high school, I always wondered what people in the future would be able to learn about us if something catastrophic happened and we all disappeared.

Anthropology is the study of development of human societies and their cultures. Anthropologists learn these things by deducting conclusions from what ancient peoples left behind. They look at everything from their houses, the places they went to entertain themselves, how they obtained their food, and even the trash they left behind to learn as much as they could.

I began trying to do the same thing, changing my perspective so I was objectifying everything I saw while driving down the street, browsing the internet or even talking to people at work. (keep in mind that all of these observations were made where I live and could be different depending on region).

I asked myself: What are some things future anthropologists be able to learn about our society, 500 years from now?

The answer is simple. Just look around you!

We love to document things

We document just about everything. There isn’t a single employer who doesn’t have some sort of information about their employees documented somewhere, whether it’s physical or on a computer. Our dentists, doctors, and therapists all have a file for us, containing everything they need to know to provide the best care possible. Most food and service jobs have documentation for their waste, their inventory and some places even document how often they deposit money to the bank.

We even document things in our personal lives. How much weight we’ve lost, how much we spend day to day, the maintenance records for our cars (take CarFax for example). Even scrapbooking and social media are just much more involved ways to document things.

So. Much. Caffeine.

Take a walk around downtown. It doesn’t matter where you live, just take a walk and count. How many coffee or tea places do you see? How many gas stations convince stores, pharmacies, food trucks or vending machines are selling energy drinks? How many restaurants are there that have caffeinated soft drinks?

Our society relies heavily on caffeine, so much so that you can even find it in medication and our foods. It doesn’t take that much to notice this aspect of our society.  

We love to eat.

Let’s take another walk around downtown. This time count how many places serve food (aside from grocery stores). I don’t just mean restaurants. Look at movie theaters, stadiums, coffee shops, vending machines, food trucks, and venues. They all serve food. Why? Because we eat it!

Not to mention how common it is to have an important meeting over dinner or just meet up with some friends for brunch.

We’re very wasteful.

I have one word: Landfills.

We literally dig giant holes in the ground to throw our trash in, not to mention the other places our trash ends up (*cough, cough* the ocean *cough*). Sit in a park for a little bit. How many trash cans can you count? Keep track of how many single-use plastics you’ve used in a day, or watch your local barista for an hour and see how many cups, lids, straws, milk containers, and other things they throw away.

Look for the articles in magazines that explain what our trash is doing to the wildlife and our environment.

We’re just wasteful, and you can see it everything we do.

Most innovation is centered around our convenience.

We don’t like to be inconvenienced, and as our technology advances, the necessity to inconveniencing ourselves diminishes. Washer and dryers are being made so that they have two doors; you can open the second door as the load is washing to toss in clothes you forgot. All so that you don’t have to press the stop button, wait for it to unlock, put your forgotten clothing item in, and then press the start button.

Our cars have keyless entries and keyless start. Our laptops are being made with longer battery lives, more features and easier way to access things so we don’t have to mess with it too much. TVs were developed to have remotes, and now our remotes have voice commands.

We even have tiny computers we can put in each room of our houses and hook up to all of our other household computers so that we can play music, lock doors, turn on lights, set alarms, order groceries and so, so much more all by saying “Alexa, [insert action here].”

All of these things can be deduced by the tech we leave behind. Think about it for a little bit. What amazing advances in common technology have been made that are solely to ease inconvenience in our day to day lives?

We are very health focused, but not healthy.

Most people try to see the doctor and dentist at least once every six months (the evidence is in our documentation). We have health magazines, scales in every bathroom, and countless websites to help us ‘eat and exercise right’. Our Grocery stores have stickers that say “balance what you eat, drink and do” on the insides of their fridges and there are gyms on what seems to be every other street corner. Log onto Netflix and look at all of the documentaries on sugar, weight gain and eating healthy.

However, our documentation also shows that the majority of people are overweight, and that weight-related health problems are on the rise. Most of our advertisements are for unhealthy foods, and our receipts show that we often opt for convenience rather than health. A lot of our foods are advertised as “low fat/sodium/sugar/cholesterol/carbs/ etc,” but even the nutrition labels betray those claims.

Our society tries to focus on our health, but we’re not healthy.