It’s Halloween today, which means there’s no better time to ponder this thought experiment: If the zombie apocalypse were going to happen today, what tech would you want with you to survive?
I spoke with Max Brooks about this because there is, perhaps, no person better prepared to answer that question. He wrote “World War Z” and “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead.” But this isn’t just metaphorical planning, in some ways. Brooks is also a fellow at the Modern War Institute and advises the military on how his fictional ideas translate into real-world readiness for whatever form the zombie apocalypse actually takes.
So for starters, I asked Brooks: What is the most essential gear? The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Max Brooks: It’s the kind that doesn’t break, or when it does, is easily fixable. We have a society that is engineered for comfort and not for resilience. That comfort is based on a global supply chain. In a zombie apocalypse, and even a real Apocalypse — in an earthquake, in a flood, in a fire, in a plague, in any real event that could happen — that global supply chain could be cut. Look around your house, think about all the things that keep you alive and think, “What can I fix myself, and what needs to have an expert come and fix it, and what needs a part that is made in China?”
Molly Wood: If you could invent a thing to help us survive the zombie apocalypse, what would that be?
Brooks: I’ve got a crazy, wild invention. It’s called a water purification filter. It is very simple. It uses something called a pump, which needs a power source called … your arm. You put one end into the stinking, fetid water of your neighbor’s fish pond, and then you put the other end into your canteen, and you pump it. And lo and behold, you have water that is so clean that you will not diarrhea yourself to death.
Wood: I read “World War Z,” and actually the “Zombie Survival Guide.” I constantly talk about things like, “I don’t want an electric car to be my only vehicle because what if the zombies are coming?” It’s a shorthand for all kinds of disasters that you could argue people all over the world are starting to experience as climate change becomes more and more of a reality. Do you think that there is value, even if we talk about it in this metaphorical way, in thinking about how we might survive a zombie apocalypse because it means all kinds of apocalypse?
Brooks: Yes, there’s tremendous value in being prepared for disasters. The first part of that disaster is knowing where the line is between personal responsibility and government help, because I think it’s silly and foolish to believe that when the lights go down and the water stops running that suddenly you’re going to be living in a post-apocalyptic world — that’s not going to happen. Likewise, it’s just as silly to believe that the moment the power goes out and the water stops running that [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is going to show up at your door five minutes later. You have to realize that as a citizen, we all have a duty and responsibility to take care of ourselves for as long as we possibly can to allow emergency services to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves.
Related audio: More clips from Molly Wood
After our main interview, I chatted with Brooks a little more on Skype about his upcoming book “Devolution,” in which he digs further into this idea that tech has made us very dependent on tech, so when the worst occurs and the monsters come, we go off the grid.
He also promised us he’d come back in May and talk more about the book. The Hollywood Reporter has an excerpt of the book from back in August, and apparently a movie is already in the works, because, well, a planned community created by a tech company where everyone gets eaten by prehistoric monsters is a little on the nose of people’s feelings about tech right now.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
The future of this podcast starts with you.
Every day, Molly Wood and the “Tech” team demystify the digital economy with stories that explore more than just “Big Tech.” We’re committed to covering topics that matter to you and the world around us, diving deep into how technology intersects with climate change, inequity, and disinformation.
As part of a nonprofit newsroom, we’re counting on listeners like you to keep this public service paywall-free and available to all.
Don’t miss this special