The Long Now

I didn’t realise just how many ways there are of telling the time until I read Jay Griffith’s A Sideways Look at Time  a few years ago. She drew attention to the way in which the clock came to tower over our lives with an oppressive power which meant that this has dominated the  way of telling the time in our culture. She contrasted this with different ways time is told in cultures that have not fallen under the spell of Captain Clock. For example, she tells of the scent calendars of the Andaman Islands which uses the smell of the flowers and trees to tell the time. She demonstrates how our sense of time separated from our sense of nature. She quotes a conversation with Mateo Jicca, an Arakmbut leader in Peru who complains that “your (westernised) people are all planification and punctuality. In the cities everything has to be at the hour, punto, precise. By contrast, here in the mountains we give things time, sin limitari, without limits.”

His criticism rings alarm bells. It perhaps is true that we squeeze things into our plans, rather than giving things/people the time they need. But then there is a rush isn’t there? We only have “now”, or “just a minute”. We think that “time is running away with us” and that time is scarce as the sands of time run out on us. Why can’t “now” be longer? Why can’t we take longer? Why can’t we be more generous with our time? Refreshingly, there are those who want to give us pause for thought – seconds out.

clock of the long now (prototype)
The 10,000 Year Clock (above) is part of the Long Now Project. It challenges our obsession with immediacy. The clock is designed as a symbol for long term thinking, and is being built inside a mountain in the Sierra Diablo Mountain Range in West Texas. Danny Hillis is the clockfather. He wanted to design a clock that will keep time for 10,000 years and that:

  • ticks once a year
  • will generate a different chime sequence each day for 10,000 years
  • where the century hand moves once every one hundred years
  • and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium

Introducing the idea of the clock, Danny Hillis said:

I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sue that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.

The first prototype of the clock began working on December 31st 1999 in time to display the transition to the year 2000, shown as moving from 01999 to 02000 (because it’s a 10000 year clock). The chime struck twice.

The requirements for the clock include ensuring future generations can keep the clock working with nothing more advanced than Bronze Age tools, and should not contain valuable parts that can be looted. The clock is a shy clock which hides its face. The time it displays is the time asked for by the last visitor. It’s a clock that is locked away, that takes the visitor a day’s pilgrimage to reach. It’s a clock that knows that it will be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Stewart Brand, a founding member of the Long Now Foundation,

“Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well-engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic to the public discourse. Ideally it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.”

The photo is by piglicker.

One thought on “The Long Now

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s