This Too Is Hypermississippian Hyperhydroengineering
Monday, March 22, 2010
For World Water Day, we offer the well-viraled OK Go video This Too Shall Pass and its dizzyingly intricate Rube Goldberg machine.
Rube Goldberg machines have long fascinated us not only because they're always eye-poppingly fun to watch but also because they're marvelous abstractions of monumental water infrastructure. If you think of those metallic balls and bowling balls as singular droplets or even molecules of water, and those swinging golf clubs and falling dominos as energy transiting through a system, then you can see how OK Go's DIY rig approximates a hydroengineer's titanic contraptions.
Instead of a terraformer's assembly kit of levees, dams, canals, channels, weirs, spillways, pumps, artificial reservoirs and hydraulic thingamajigs, these darlings of YouTube have Chinese soup spoons, ramps, tires, LEGOs and plenty of thingamabobs and whatnots, all hacked and whacked into an incomprehensible but precise configuration (or at least functionally precise during the take used for the video).
That thrill we get from seeing this toy Super-Versailles unravel surely compares to the excitement one gets (or supposed to get) from imagining a droplet's dizzying and often gravity-defying journey through an intercontinental mesh of concrete linearity and mammoth geometries.
The only thing in the video that's probably without parallel in the real world is the crowd cheering ecstatically at the end. In the real world, there should also be a crowd permanently encamped alongside our Super-Versailleses, hooting and hollering as the precious liquid passes by, maybe even sacrificing some virgins within these hallowed precints. The infrastructural gods must be appeased, lest we want our cities and civilization to shrivel up and die.
And perhaps someday, our water infrastructure will actually be the one approximating a Rube Goldberg machine, that is, when climate change has reconfigured, irrespective of population distribution, the spatial and temporal geography of our fresh water resource, thus forcing all nations to envelop the entire surface of the earth with a Coruscantian Super-Versailles, wherein the supersaturated African rain forests feed the taps of Sydneysiders or Greenland waters the anti-sandstorm greenbelt of China.
So mindbogglingly complex and gargantuan is this Super-Versailles that it will always be in a state of disrepair, always pockmarked with micro-disasters. Rather than wholly and expensively replace aged robo-watersheds, these weak portions will just be roughly patched up and augmented with diversions and bypasses. Elsewhere the hydrologically marginalized will augment the system with their own fractological DIY hacks. Entropy will only increase, and soon, there will indeed be buckets filled with Amazonian waters flying through the air from city to city.