Margaret Atwood just completed her latest work, Scribbler Moon, but neither you nor I will have the chance to read it. Contributing to artist Katie Paterson’s new project The Future Library, Atwood will be the first of a hundred writers – one every year – to contribute a work that will only be read in 2114.
Right now, a thousand trees are growing in Norway’s Nordmarka Forest as part of The Future Library. The trees will be tended until 2114, when they will be cut down and used to print an anthology of the works written for the project. Until then, the manuscripts will be kept in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo.
The project is a hopeful one. Of all the changes the future will bring, some are sure to affect the way books will be read. The technology of physical books might not even be part of everyday life, and The Future Library is including a printing press with the manuscripts to ensure the anthology can actually be printed. Atwood even thinks a paleo-anthropologist might be needed to decipher parts of her text. She says to the Guardian:
“We’re also dealing with the morphing of language over time. Which words that we use today will be different, archaic, obsolete? Which new words will have entered the language? We don’t know what footnotes we will need. Will they have computers? Will they call them something else? What will they think smartphones are? Will that word still exist?
But the project assumes that intergenerational human connection will last. In a society full of dystopian visions of the future, Paterson’s project imagines that a future will exist, and that it will be inhabited by humans who care about art and the past. The project’s next contributor, Britain’s David Mitchell, tells the Guardian that The Future Library is “a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago.” The Future Library is a gift, but it is also an expression of belief.