Some day, the big cosmological clock will stop ticking. Mozart’s Requiem, Shakespeare’s plays, the Sistine Chapel, Einstein’s theory of relativity, all of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, all of our libraries, museums, monuments, and buildings, even my name graffitied on my 6th grade locker will be forgotten and destroyed in our sun’s explosion. Everything we have worked so hard to create will be destroyed, the law of conservation of energy has no exceptions. These objects to which we have associated such deep significance are only arrangements of atoms in the larger scheme of the universe.
What happens to an object when it outlives its time period of significance? How can we preserve that? What does it mean? It seems as if everything we make has an expiration date if no one is around to interpret it anymore. Most items that outlast generations are forgotten in favor of novelty and contemporary objects, but a few of them are preserved in museums, libraries, and archives.
Museums, libraries, and archival buildings have always faced the challenge of forgetting. They become reservoirs of strength, of wisdom, and reminders of the continuity of the human existence in the face of our fast-paced lives. They urge us to slow down and appreciate objects and books instead of living in the Web. They remind us that all art was once contemporary, and the people who made it were just like us.
In our generation, where content is created with one click and physical objects seem to hinder us, the virtual world seems to rush past the physical one. Even considering our generational the bias towards the virtual, I always thought that having things as opposed to having thoughts provides a sense of permanence and longevity. This is the paradox of our times: trying to reconcile permanence with impermanence, and keeping those two ideas coexisting and contradicting each other. This urges a new take on what we consider permanent. The ubiquity of technology makes it easy to use it as a repository and a time machine, knowing that once it is online, it will be there “forever.” However, an entire generation has not lived and died with the internet yet, and we are still figuring out the consequences of storing everything digitally. and museums and libraries help us slow down.
Although museums and libraries seem futile in the future of the universe, they do not need to be. They might not be relevant to the universe, but they are relevant to us. They are a record of our existence, our past, present, and future—they are our graffiti in one of the universe’s corner. Just because the sun is going to die one day does not mean we should give in to hopelessness and cynicism.