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Lewis Dartnell, fellow of astrobiology at the University of Leicester, asked himself a difficult question. If tomorrow we woke up and all the technologies we had come to depend on had ceased to exist, what knowledge would we need to re-build them from scratch?
The book that came out of his research, called ‘The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch’, explores the history and inner workings of many of the facets of our modern society. Using the idea of a ‘technological apocalypse’ as a thought experiment, it forces us to consider our dependence on the systems and technologies that we take for granted every day.
When we invited Lewis to come and talk at the first Fixfest at LSE in October this year, he raised the important point that knowledge has become highly specialised. Given the number of people that are involved in the various stages of production of any single item, from the design, to the mining of the raw minerals used, to the assembly, a repairer seeking to understand that item must be multi-skilled, curious, and eager to learn.
In this interview, Lewis talks to us about how people might be inspired to become more curious in the world around them. We also put Lewis’ thought experiment to members of our community at a recent Restart Party in Tower Hamlets. While some seemed to be thrilled at the idea of a world without computers, for others, the prospect was panic-inducing. Imagining the unimaginable raises important questions about the real problems facing our word today. Would we want to recreate the world exactly as it is? What would we change, and how would we change it?
[feature image by Paul Stuart]