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Heritage still has a part to play in the quest for the final frontier

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Man with clipboard: 'Excuse me sir, can you spare a moment? The lives of people yet unborn will be affected. Please take a deep breath and think hard about the future, then tell me what you think would be the best line of business for today's graduate to be in for the next 50 years. What will it be? Aerospace? Electronics? Computers? Energy?'

Respondent (immediately): 'None of those.'

Clipboard (surprised): 'Really? Come sir. Technology shares might have been taking a bit of a bashing recently but the world cannot do without networks.

Technology will surely be the infrastructure of the rest of this century. Come on, vote for a career in technology. The opportunity will not last forever.'

Respondent: 'Nope, not in a million years.'

Clipboard: 'Well, what would you advise a graduate to do then?'

Respondent: 'Well, if I were to start over again, I would not be hustled into some so-called 'leading edge' line of business.

No, I would be careful to make a shrewd, informed and farsighted choice. I'd train as a blacksmith, a silversmith, a thatcher or an organ builder.And if I couldn't get into any of those trades, I'd settle for archaeology.'

Clipboard: 'You cannot be serious! This is the 21st century.What about space - the final frontier, artificial intelligence, genetic mutation, computational fluid dynamics, the return of prefabrication and the energy crisis? Why are you banging on about blacksmithing and thatching? Nobody's made a living out of blacksmithing for 100 years!'

Respondent (goaded to anger): 'Oh yes they have, and they'll make an even better living out of it in a 100 years' time. The trouble with you, like most so-called 'modernists' is that you have the idea that the future is a place. A place that we can all get to if only we have enough advanced technology to clear away all the accumulated historical rubble that is blocking the way. What you don't understand is that what you dismiss as so much rubble is actually the destination of all the stuff that you extol as technology.

'Blacksmithing and thatching were advanced technologies once but, because the new is slippery stuff, always sliding away into the old, it won't keep.

Only when it engages with the past does the new become stable. I mentioned archaeology as one of my choices. State-of-the-art archaeology is deeply into advanced technology, gagging for more and more powerful computers and the kind of ground radars originally developed for oil exploration. There's your final frontier, a Roman town underneath a modern housing estate. You don't even have to get your hands dirty any more.

When it comes to site value and planning gain, the outline of an ancient Roman town beats a new office park any day.'

Clipboard: 'I know what you mean but I don't believe it. I really do not believe it. All this heritage stuff is trading on a false economy. The past doesn't bale the future out, it obstructs it and, as a consequence, the present expands uncontrollably. That is what is driving everybody mad with its sheer intractability - the intolerable, inescapable present, one problem after another and no solution from the future ever allowed through.'

Respondent: 'What solution does the future have to the transport crisis?'

Clipboard: 'Immobility. Living more like plants than animals.'

Respondent (triumphantly): 'Immobility! Immobility absolutely belongs to the past, not the future.

It was an old idea when my ancient Roman town was a thriving metropolis.'

Clipboard (exasperated): 'I really do not believe it.'

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