Long Now Projects

August 2nd, 2004 6:16 AM

I’m reading The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility: The Ideas Behind the World’s Slowest Computer, and it’s fantastic. A very quick read, roughly 200 pages, broken into many short essays. I encourage all of you to seek out a copy and read this book.

For my own future reference, I need to write down a connection. The book, as is its purpose being a Long Now book, discusses the notion of becoming a part of a project that will go on much longer than your own life. Projects that may not even begin to succeed or have much practical use until well after your own death. A very difficult notion for me to come to terms with (as I imagine would be the case with most westerners), but it’s certainly growing on me. Reading the book, I immediately thought of a passage from KSR’s The Years of Rice and Salt:

They stopped before a group of women and men who were sitting in a circle chipping away at sandstone blocks, making large flat bricks, it seemed, perfectly shaped and polished. Hanea pointed at them and explained: “These are devotional stones, for the top of Chomolungma. Have you heard of this project?”


“Well, you know, Chomolungma was the highest mountain in the world, but the top was destroyed by Muslim artillery during the Long War. So, now there is a project started, very slow of course, to replace the top of the mountain. Bricks like these are taken there, and then climbers who ascend Chomolungma carry one bring along with their lifegas canisters, and leave it on the summit for stonemasons to work into the new summit pyramid.”

Budur stared at the dressed blocks of stone, smaller than several of the boulders decorating the courtyard garden. She was invited to pick one up, and did so; it was about as heavy as three or four books in her arms.

“It will take a lot of these?”

Many thousands. It is a very long-term project.” Hanea smiled. “A hundred years, a thousand years? It depends on how many climbers there are who want to carry one up the mountain. A considerable mass of stone was blasted away. But a good idea, yes? A symbol of a more general restoration of the world.

[0553109200, p542]

There’s something amazing and somehow comforting about the audaciousness required to undertake projects of this scale. The Long Now encourages thinking 10,000 years into the future (writing the year as 02004, for example, “at first frivolously, then seriously” [0465007805, p92]), and with that scale in mind, the scope of world-changing becomes immense and frightening and magical.


I forget whether I read or listened to this (it seems it was in a tape of a discussion between a bunch of the WHATGH (sp?) developers on a radio show, but I really can’t recall)

but this reminds me of one of their comments about the current mindset of the world, he entered in with a story about a college in england that had been built some 3 - 400 years ago, and today the giant beems made of entire trees that are used to hold up the main hall are disenigrating. And how the president of the school was dismayed becuase no such trees really existed in any such a size anymore, and those that do are enourmously expensive, it seemed as though the college would loose the main hall to time. So, I guess he was bitching about this when the groundskeeper was like “well you know… when they built this place they planted a big grove of ash on the lands to replace this beems when they eventualy rotted”. And I guess they had, and the trees were there, and were used to craft the new beams.

But the guys point was that we don’t think like that anymore, we don’t think as though our projects have any future, any existance outside our own, that we have an idea in our society that when we die our projects fade like others memories of who we were. Where in fact with the proper planning such structures can last centuries but if it’s going to really last you have to prepare for what might happen to it.

anyways, I wish I had a link to the web fead of the radioshow (which by this time I’m pretty sure it must have been)


Posted by: Anders on August 2nd, 2004 9:48 PM

I blogged this at the end of June. The talk was given by Brian Eno as a seminar for the Long Now Foundation. The Oxford example is amazing, and worth a lot of thought.

Posted by: kasei on August 3rd, 2004 3:23 AM

I suppose that would be why the stories seem to fit together. hahaha… well that kind of solidifys things.

thanks Anders

Posted by: Anders on August 3rd, 2004 9:36 AM