The Deeper I Stare Into the Internet, the More I See the World Going to Waste
We have a strange, sad way of leaving things behind.
Snoopy. Image: Google Maps
We have a strange, sad way of leaving things behind. Not just regular old things—spent notebooks, obsolete consumer electronics, whatever—but big things that happen to be old.
Decommissioned planes, forgotten infrastructure, shuttered SIGNIT hubs, the pock marks of resource-gathering, war, and wartime resource-gathering, all wasting. And it's never been easier to see.
They're hard to miss, these big, abandoned things. They're spread across the spectrum of "old" in various states of abandonment, decay, and disuse; there are many already, and always more being thrown on the pile.
No matter that we're living in a moment of intense archive fever, these relics and leftovers are physical reminders that we are, and always have been a culture of abandonment. And if there's one thing that's fundamentally changed how we see these very large, abandoned things, it's the web.
Cyberspace has become part of the geography of haunting
From aircraft boneyards in the Mojave Desert, to aborted highways in the Brazilian jungle, to gaping, exhausted open-pit mines from Cold War-era and present-day Russia, the detritus of war, infrastructure, and industry is laid bare to anyone connected to the internet. (Lest we forget that half the world's population still can't connect to it.)
There is a distinct pleasure to looking down on Earth, sure, but when looking down on Earth you're increasingly confronted with all manner of things painstakingly being laid to waste, well, what are we talking about being pleasurable again?
Image: Google Maps
Welcome to the new-old milieu, where phantoms stalk what seems like every last mile of the digital experience. As social historian and folklorist Owen Davies writes in The Haunted: "Cyberspace has become part of the geography of haunting."
Desert planes are arguably the most romanticized of these big, abandoned things. They're baked into most any modern Americana, with Snoopy, the experimental B-58 bomber variant seen at the very top of this post, as sort of the iconic aircraft left to being eaten, slowly but surely, by the whip and crack of the desert climate. That, or picked apart by roving scrappers. There Snoopy sits, just south of Edwards Air Force Base, battered. Wasting.
There are also full-on plane graveyards, like this one in Tucson, Arizona, seen immediately above. (And that's only part of it.) Just down the road is Pinal Airpark, another resting resting place for various other retired aircraft, including the CIA's secret airplane boneyard:
Speaking of big things abandoned by the US government, on the other side of the world are the skeletal remains of a cluster of radomes. Once used to intercept radio signals, they now waste atop the former NSA listening post at Teufelsberg, Berlin.
You don't even have to be standing on the hill to see the decay. You can be thousands of miles away—with public satellite imagery and, let's face it, Google Maps, you're right there, at the foot of this Burning Man-looking geodesic thing, and you swear you can hear the echoes of some forgotten back-room nuclear strategy discussion, picked right out of the air.
It's a ghost. That's really what we're confronting here, right? Ghosts in the machinery par excellence of the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch that began when the middlings of humans brought significant, even irreversible effects to bear on our planet's ecosystems.
"The internet throngs with ghosts," as Philip Ball writes in a recent Nautilus essay. "Here too the simulated traces of the dead may linger indefinitely. Here too pseudonymous identities are said to speak from beyond the grave. More even than the telephone and television, the internet, that invisible babble of voices, seems almost designed to house spirits, which after all are no more ethereal than our own cyberspace."
The Internet throngs with ghosts
And so we get big, disused things like this ghost bridge. You're looking at the Viaduct Petrobras, an abandoned 300-meter long strip of highway in the Brazilian jungle:
Or this ghost airstrip cutting across some godforsaken field:
Or the remnants of Mir Mine, in Russia. This will leave a mark for a very, very long time. Probably forever.
As will this open-pit mine, also in Russia. It's still active today:
Which brings us back to the Anthropocence, that new phase in geological time marked by the indelible scars of human action. When we carve, dig, bore, and tunnel into/through the ground, into the Earth's crust, we're effectively, in the long-long run, creating nothing but dead space.
Researchers behind a July paper published in the journal Anthropocene have a word for this subterranean meddling: anthroturbation, a riff on bioturbation, or how flora and fauna shake up soil and sediment.
"No other species has penetrated to such depths in the crust, or made such extensive deep subterranean changes," the authors write. "Out of sight, out of mind. It is a realm that ranges from difficult to impossible to gain access to or to experience directly."
Difficult, maybe. But not impossible.
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