What does the future smell like?

When you imagine the future - what does it smell like?

When you imagine the future - what does it smell like?

Burning recycled plastic, garlicky deep fried genetically-modified vegetables, stagnant pools of guano baking in the furnaces of a futuristic power plant, freshly poured organic concrete - these may or may not be some of the distinctive new smells that you might experience in the future.

I ask this unusual question because researchers The Netherlands are conducting a project in Search of Lost Scents from history.

'In the growing field of smell research, scientists, artists, historians and cultural heritage specialists are coming together to work on what is perhaps the trickiest sense to preserve. Some are working on trying to conserve the smells of our times — especially those which may not exist in a few decades. Others, like Dr. Verbeek, who has a Ph.D. in the history of art, are working on reviving and reconstructing some of the lost scents.'

'Many scents that are already vanishing include mothballs, burning piles of leaves in autumn, typewriter ribbons, early formulas of sunscreen and the lingering smell of cigarettes. And unlike, for instance, colour or music, smell isn’t broken as easily into universally accepted components. Though technology has made it easier to isolate the chemical compounds of a smell, odours are also highly context dependent. There are functionally an infinite number of scents that could be preserved.'

Old books, paper money, ID books and Old Spice are all smells that are on the brink of possibly going extinct in the future.

If you can research smells from the past you can also imagine scents from the future.

Burning joints and tyres, drying spray paint on the sides of a sunbaked train, tear gas. cordite and the putrid and shocking exhaust fumes from an accelerating police Casspir may well form part of the smell landscape of a dystopian South African future; one which will make this a very real scenario which many will go out of their way to avoid.


What Does History Smell Like?
Researchers are finding ways to preserve scents that are disappearing. Others are recreating ones from centuries ago.