Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Long Now Foundation

I first read mention of the Long Now Foundation in Wired magazine, and jotted the name in my notebook.  Time passed and eventually I got around to visiting their website.  The conspiracy theorist in me hoped for a cabal of sorcerers experimenting with cryogenic freezing chambers and plans for world domination.

Instead, I found something much weirder. 

The website states, "The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years."

Whaaat? Yeah, dude, in 10,000 years I'll be long dead and probably just getting out of Purgatory.

Do the Math
And what's with the 01996? We won't need that extra digit on our dates for another 7,988 years.  Way in the future.

But that's kind of their point.  These folks are thinking about the future.  The rest of us are watching Hunger Games and worrying about the price of gasoline.  To us, the future will be some wretched dystopia where everyone is muddy and zombies try to eat us.

The Long Now site refers to an excellent article by Michael Chabon where he writes about how people don't believe in the future anymore.  The future is out of style, and out of our thoughts.  Once writer William Gibson told us the future was already here, he gave up writing near-future science fiction and started telling us stories about the present.

Star Trek better happen
I always depended on Star Trek for the future.  Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision told us we'll be exploring the galaxy quadrant by quadrant, meeting all sorts of aliens, and playing poker with our shipmates when we aren't on duty.  Hey, sign me up.

But Star Trek isn't on television anymore, and the last Trek movie didn't feel like the future--it was more like Star Wars, a fast-paced series of events that took place in a galaxy far away.

Enter the Long Now Foundation.  In an effort to get people thinking about the future, they're building a giant clock inside a mountain in Texas.  A clock designed to run 10,000 years, in a place where very few people will ever see it.  Frankly, it's one of the crazier ideas I've run across, even on the Internet.  At least when people built giant clocks in the past, they put them up in towers where everyone could see and hear them.

I think the money for the giant clock would be better spent feeding hungry people who are starving right now and don't care what time it is.  On the other hand, if a collection of wealthy eccentrics want to get people thinking about the future, this is one whacky way to do it.

After all, they got me thinking.

I'm hungry.  What time is it?

(To be fair, Long Now has a Rosetta Stone language preservation project that sounds very worthy, and much less crazy than the giant, hidden clock.)

(The pic is of Big Ben, in London.  A clock that people could both see and hear, built in an age where lots of folks could not afford their own clocks or watches.  The pic is from:

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