Saturday, September 11, 2004

Long Now

On the Internet, Sterling is amassing a roll call of their once-honored personal computer names: Altair, Amiga, Amstrad, Apples I, II and III, Apple Lisa, Apricot, Atari, AT&T, Commodore, CompuPro, Cromemco, Epson, Franklin, Grid, IBM PCjr, IBM XT, Kaypro, Morrow, NEC PC-8081, NorthStar, Osborne, Sinclair, Tandy, Wang, Xerox Star, Yamaha CX5M. Buried with them are whole clans of programming languages, operating systems, storage formats, and countless rotting applications in an infinite variety of mutually incompatible versions. Everything written on them was written on the wind, leaving not a trace.
Stewart Brand, from the Purpose Statement for Long Now's Library Project.

Long Now is a foundation that was established in 01966; the group adds a zero to the front of the establishment year and to all contemporary dates because its goal is to think, and plan, for into the future: 10,000 years. The zero leaves room for the future, reminds us of it, and asks us to think about it and to work towards it. Long Now seeks to counter Here Now thinking, short term thinking. In thinking long, they've established two main projects; one that has to do with preservation (The Library Project), another that has to with planning for the future (The Clock Project).

James Wolcott referenced Long Now in a post about the current presidential election, which is mired on the documentary minutiae of where Bush and Kerry were 30 years ago, and whether what they were doing matches precisely to what their biographies claim. Nor are the campaigns themselves talking much about the future. The future, for both campaigns is now. Both candidates, between swipes at one another, profess to be candidates of optomism who bring hope for the future, but neither seems willing to discuss the future, or to plan for what will sustain us in the future. But really campaigns are essentially cynical operations. They lofty rhetoric is a patina stretched thin over a relentlessy negative message about the opposition.

So like Wolcott, I found the visit to Long Now to be refreshing, especially for me, the library project. How do we record and preserve the works and records of our day so that the future can learn from both our triumphs and mistakes? And the question for Long Now isn't philosophical, it's also practical. They're not just imagining a library that will be there in 10,000 years from now, they're working to build it. Now that's optomism.

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