Book: The Clock Of The Long Now: Time and Responsibility

“How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?”

Long Now Foundation is a group of people focused on long-term thinking. “The clock of the long now,” an origin story of the 10000-year-old clock, being built in the Nevada desert.

I had the opportunity to hear about the 10000-year-old clock for the first time at our Automattic Grand meet up. Alexander Rose (Director of Long Now foundation ) has described the mechanism and importance of thinking in the long-term. That is him in the cover photo.

Why the clock?

The clock is a symbol of the time scale, an endeavor focused on the long term.

“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.”

It will also be a heck of an Indiana-Jones-esque artifact after 10 000 years.

What is up with this long term thinking you keep mentioning?

We have something called the recency bias – urgent, fresh information tends to outweigh the timeless and essential. That is why the news is called “News” and not “Importants”.

“The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,”

Long time ago, this made some sense. The pace at which information disseminated was much slower. “News” could have been week-old important information worth getting.

But the Internet changed all that. “News” is often a TV interview about a tweet reacting to another tweet about an article.

The flywheel of “fresh news” has been spinning so fast that nobody tends to look at decade-long projects anymore. It’s all about here and now and the last 30 seconds.

I thought Social Media is the culprit. It is very refreshing to read a book from the 2000’s describing this problem and using fashion, with its season-based cycle as the example of a pace that is way too fast.

As a sidetone, I think this is what has been appealing to me in my use of Quora. There is no timeline and no race to dominate the current “news cycle”. Just thoughtful answers and time put into quality and not immediacy.

Keep it up, old man!

One could make an argument, that “this is just the world now. It’s fast, and you have to keep up”.

But that thinking leads to a dangerous assumption:

Living in the now incentivizes cannibalising your long – term investments for short term returns. If everything we care about is the next 3 hours, let’s burn the forests to pay for convenience and deal with consequences later.

“If you make decisions that remove decision-making process from future generations, you are doing it wrong”

But some consequences are impossible to deal with later. On the other hand, the long-term perspective will incentivize “good” behavior, even for selfish reasons.

“In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.”

My favorite nerdy quote from the book is:

“We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.”

The question that stuck with me is:

“What can I build now that will last?”

My highlights

  • How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?
  • What we propose is both a mechanism and a myth.
  • 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.
  • Manifestations of the overall project could range from fortune cookies to theme parks.
  • “The greatest good for the greatest number” means the longest good, because the majority of people affected is always yet to come.
  • The worst of destructive selfishness is not Me! but Me! Right now!
  • Braking time must match awareness time.
  • Kairos is the time of cleverness, chronos the time of wisdom.
  • According to a rule of thumb among engineers, any tenfold quantitative change is a qualitative change, a fundamentally new situation rather than a simple extrapolation.
  • “What people mean by the word technology,” says computer designer Alan Kay, “is anything invented since they were born.”
  • Later doublings in an exponential sequence, we come to realize, are absolutely ferocious. The changes no longer feel quantitative or qualitative but cataclysmic;
  • Among some enthusiasts there is even a consensus date for what they call the techno-rapture—2035 C.E., give or take a few years.
  • The word freefall is a pretty good descriptor for our times. It conveys the thrill of danger, the speeded-up rush, the glorious freedom, and the fall.
  • “More and more I find I want to be living in a Big Here and a Long Now.”
  • The shortest now is performed in a poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”
  • When it returns in 4377 C.E., will anyone mention the name “Hale-Bopp”?
  • Note: Is it possible to send a time capsule or a signal to return to earth?
  • it would be awesome to talk to future foklk
  • time activated message
  • The trick is learning how to treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week. Such tricks confer advantage.
  • Fashion/art • Commerce • Infrastructure • Governance • Culture • Nature
  • In the Soviet Union government tried to ignore the constraints of culture and nature while forcing a Five-Year-Plan infrastructure pace on commerce and art. Thus cutting itself off from both support and innovation, the USSR was doomed.
  • The job of fashion and art is to be froth: quick, irrelevant, engaging, self-preoccupied, and cruel. Try this! No, no, try this!
  • Note: Oh god, its even worse now that we have social media
  • the occasional good idea or practice that sifts down to improve deeper levels, such as governance becoming responsive to opinion polls, or culture gradually accepting multiculturalism as structure instead of grist for entertainment.
  • Education is intellectual infrastructure; so is science. Very high yield, but delayed payback.
  • “In some sense, we’ve run out of our story, which was the story of taking power over nature. It’s not that we’ve finished that, but we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, and we don’t know what the next story is after that.”
  • After an encounter with the Clock a visitor should be able to declare with feeling, “Whew. Time! And me in it.”
  • Clock/Library could provide, for a fee, time-mail service across generations forward.
  • Shinto complex in Japan known as the Ise Shrine.
  • “We don’t do eternity.”
  • To make the energy flow only one way he devised Grimthorpe’s double three-legged gravity escapement (Denison was later Lord Grimthorpe).
  • He would use an unreliable but accurate timer (solar alignment) to adjust an inaccurate but reliable timer (pendulum), creating a phase-locked loop.
  • Starting anew with a clean slate has been one of the most harmful ideas in history. It treats previous knowledge as an impediment and imagines that only present knowledge deployed in theoretical purity can make real the wondrous new vision.
  • Here’s the real fear. Thanks to proliferating optical-fiber land lines worldwide and the arrival of low-Earth-orbit data satellite systems such as Teledesic, we are in the process of building one vast global computer. (“The network is the computer,” proclaims Sun Microsystems.) This world computer could easily become the Legacy System from Hell that holds civilization hostage:
  • Digital storage is easy; digital preservation is hard. Preservation means keeping the stored information catalogued, accessible, and usable on current media, which requires constant effort and expense.
  • “The default condition of paper is persistence, if not interrupted; the default condition of electronic signals is interruption, if not periodically renewed.”
  • Lanier recommends employing artificial intelligences to keep the artifacts exercised through decades and centuries of forced contemporaneity,
  • We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.
  • old underground limestone quarry at Les Baux, France, now a tourist attraction.
  • Time capsules, by the way, are a splendid and common future-oriented practice—hundreds of thousands have been buried—yet some 70 percent are completely lost track of almost immediately.
  • I am convinced that people behave better when they think they have free will. They take responsibility more and they think about their choices more. So I believe in free will,” said Herman Kahn.
  • suppose I could defend myself with Arthur Herman’s wonderful book, The Idea of Decline in Western History. He says that in Europe high-minded cultural pessimism began with the failure of the French Revolution and culminated in Nazi Germany. It was tremendously destructive. It still is.
  • In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.
  • To produce the benefits of more cooperation in the world, Axelrod proves, all you need to do is lengthen the shadow of the future—that is, ensure more durable relationships. Thus marriage is common to every society, because trusting partners have an advantage over lone wolves.
  • The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,
  • You need the space of continuity to have the confidence not to be afraid of revolutions.

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