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Using the designing and building of the Clock of the Long Now as a framework, this is a book about the practical use of long time perspective: how to get it, how to use it, how to keep it in and out of sight. Here are the central questions it inspires: How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare? Discipline in thought allows freedom. One needs the space and reliability to predict continuity to have the confidence not to be afraid of revolutions Taking the time to think of the future is more essential now than ever, as culture accelerates beyond its ability to be measured Probable things are vastly outnumbered by countless near-impossible eventualities. Reality is statistically forced to be extraordinary; fiction is not allowed this freedom This is a potent book that combines the chronicling of fantastic technology with equally visionary philosophical inquiry.
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Stewart Brand is the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog and Co-Evolution Quarterly. He is the author of The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT and How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. He is the Director of the Global Business Network in Emeryville, California. Stewart Brand lives on a tugboat in the San Francisco Bay.Review:
Zen master Taisen Deshimaru said that time is not a line, but a series of now-points. Stewart Brand challenges us to rethink the way we conceive of those now-points.
Brand cofounded Global Business Network, founded and edited the Whole Earth Catalog and has written several well received articles and books. His involvements in the Well and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are legendary, as is the company he keeps: Computer designer Danny Hillis, avant-garde musician Brian Eno, Institute of the Future spokesman Paul Saffo, Release 1.0 creator Esther Dyson and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor are all involved in Brand's Long Now Foundation.
The book's chapters are disconnected explorations of the book's subtitle: Time and Responsibility. Brand borrows the Greek definition of two kinds of time. Kairos, opportunity or the propitious moment, is the time of cleverness. Chronos, eternal or ongoing time, is the time of wisdom. The Long Now Foundation seeks to promote slower, better thinking of the chronos variety.
Brand argues that our kairotic lives have grown increasingly complex and hurried in this century. In the amped-up rush of "Internet time," we often fail to consider anything beyond the immediate now and think of the present in terms of today, this week, this product cycle. Brand would like to extend our thinking to the next 10,000 years, and he even adopts a new calendaring convention, in which 1999 becomes 01999. The Long Now Foundation is building a physical clock (a prototype is pictured in the book) to reflect a measure of the 10,000-year now. This clock-library is meant to be a cultural institution, but details of the mechanical clock are sketchy at best. Brand never describes exactly what the clock will be; rather, he suggests what form such a mechanical clock could take and theorizes about the societal improvements such a device could inspire. Included in his broad wish list: time capsules, digital archives, letters to the future.
Beyond these vague hypotheticals, Brand practices what he preaches. He says he doesn't want a short-term revolution but rather infinite responsibility, which requires serious reflection and careful planning. He invites readers to contribute their own clock ideas at www.longnow.org.
Thinking in terms of a 10,000-year now may pay off. Brand recounts how the Swedish Navy received a letter from the country's forestry department in 01980, informing the bureaucrats that the lumber they requested to build ships was ready. Apparently in 01829 the Swedish Parliament anticipated a future shortage of lumber, and, recognizing that it would take 150 years for oaks to mature, set about with long-range plans to deliver the wood. Although the Navy doesn't need many wooden ships these days, the new forests are good for the environment.
Of course, Brand is not alone in suggesting that we need to think about the future. But his call for sustained endeavor, long-term introspection and cultural dialogue is thought-provoking, even if his scattered musings aren't united by a common thread.
While the book's philosophical tone might not be the stuff best-sellers are made of, The Clock of the Long Now convincingly articulates the necessity of thinking about time in a new way and the importance of patience. After all, you can always improve things as long as you're prepared to wait.
– Diane Anderson Lehrer
Other New Titles of Interest
Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer Pioneer
By I. Bernard Cohen (MIT Press, $35)
An examination of the life of the Harvard professor who created the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator in 1944 – and helped launch the computer age. -- From The Industry Standard
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