Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Let's talk terms for a moment: The word "biosphere" technically refers to the entire region of Earth where life can exist. Biosphere is also more casually used, however, to describe any self-contained, sealed, man-made biological environment. In that sense, a biosphere is typically created for the purposes of scientific research. Think Biosphere 2 in the U.S. state of Arizona, or the titular edifice in the Pauly Shore comedy Bio-Dome.
(Does anyone remember that movie? Does anyone remember Pauly Shore? We're probably all better off living in ignorance of both. Pretend we didn't mention either of them.)
At any rate, the best-known aspect of the long existence of Biosphere 2 — owned and operated by the University of Arizona since 2011 — is the two-year "mission" undertaken from September 26, 1991 to September 26, 1993. For the duration of that period, eight individuals (one of whom was a medical doctor) lived inside Biosphere 2 without exiting the structure or, for the most part, directly interacting with the outside world.
This is probably about as close as humankind has ever come to a practical illustration of the figurative idiom "living under a rock," most often to describe a condition of general ignorance of the events and individuals of a certain period in time. The "biospherians" had nominal contact with outsiders in the sense of being displayed to tourists (both casual and scientific) during much of their mission like animals in a zoo.
There was also limited communication with those directly monitoring their experience from without. The team occasionally debated with its handlers about whether to boost their supply of key resources such as oxygen and food. In a very real sense, on the other hand, those on the inside were cut off and isolated from the world beyond their immediate confines.
(In early 2020, the documentary film Spaceship Earth reconnected with crewmembers to bring their story briefly back to the forefront of cultural consciousness. Fine, we'll stop talking parenthetically about movies no one saw.)
All of that is to illustrate the hypothetical situation that we envisioned when we asked 2022 Salary Survey participants to imagine a research team emerging from an artificial biosphere in late 2021 after entering near the end of 2018. The scenario is that they haven't had any contact at all with the outside world. What do you tell those poor cloistered souls first about all the differences that have taken hold since their last interface with, well, everything?
Here's what we learned:
Q: You are the first person to greet a team of test subjects who have been cut off from all interaction with the outside world while living in a biosphere for the past three years. What do you tell them first?
Welcome back! There's a pandemic out here that has killed 4.5 million people so far. — 29.3 percent
Welcome back! The Earth is on fire a lot of the time now (especially in California), which periodically fills the air with heavy smoke and makes it less safe to breathe. —14.8 percent
Welcome back! Donald Trump got impeached. Twice! But that is not why he is no longer President of the United States. — 15.5 percent
Welcome back! We just learned from a whistleblower that Facebook prioritizes profits over the public good. No, really. Hey, it's not funny! — 10.5 percent
Welcome back! The Game of Thrones ending was kind of meh, but wait until you find out about Ted Lasso. — 8.2 percent
Did you hear the one about Captain Kirk's new five-year mission? — 6.3 percent
Get out of the way, suckers! I got next. — 15.4 percent
The COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, the biggest thing to impact the planet since 2018, and the largest single group of survey respondents just went with the obvious answer. You'll note of course, that our number is off. The Omicron variant wasn't even on the radar when we fired up the Salary Survey. It's sobering to note that the global toll of the pandemic has now risen above 6.2 million dead.
After that, it's a dead heat between two other options: Former President Donald J. Trump was impeached twice, but crucially never convicted. It took an election to bring about his ejection from the highest office in the land, with the Republicans in the Senate maintaining enough control of impeachment proceedings to, Pontius Pilate-like, wash their hands of any responsibility to hold the president accountable for his actions.
Nearly as many survey respondents would forgo their opportunity to tell the new biospherians — and let's be honest, The New Biospherians, in the words of humorist Dave Barry, would be a great name for a rock band — anything at all as would report to them tidings of Trump. These folks just want to leave it all behind and get inside somewhere where the days are more predictable.
One of the things that such folks would surely be fleeing is the newly heightened tendency of Earth to catch fire and burn, something that almost as many others would choose to the be the initial reveal about the planetary present. Smaller groups of survey respondents would bring the biospherians up to speed about the evils of Facebook (which got swept under the rug about as suddenly as they were revealed), the state of top streaming series, and the new exploits of William Shatner.