The following transcript of Peter Schwartz’s Long Now talk on scenario planning has been edited for length and clarity.
With half-lives ranging from 30 to 24,000, or even 16 million years, the radioactive elements in nuclear waste defy our typical operating time frames. The questions around nuclear waste storage — how to keep it safe from those who might wish to weaponize it, where to store it, by what methods, for how long, and with what markings, if any, to warn humans who might stumble upon it thousands of years in the future — require long-term thinking.
These questions brought the anthropologist Vincent Ialenti to Finland’s Olkiluoto nuclear waste repository in 02012, where he began more than two years of field work with a team of experts seeking to answer them. …
On April 14th, 02020, The Long Now Foundation convened a Long Conversation¹ featuring members of our board and invited speakers. Over almost five hours of spirited discussion, participants reflected on the current moment, how it fits into our deeper future, and how we can address threats to civilization that are rare but ultimately predictable. The following are excerpts from the conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
“Digital storage is easy; digital preservation is hard.”
-Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now (01999)
In March of 02019, MySpace, the one-time de facto social media network before the rise of Facebook, announced that it had lost 12 years’ worth of users’ songs, photos, and videos during a data migration. In emails to angry users who demanded to know what happened to their data, the company admitted there was no way to recover it. A sizable chunk of internet history was lost forever.
MySpace’s data loss is a harbinger of what we at Long Now call a digital dark age. All of our digital platforms and systems, from the social media networks we post on every day, to the storage services we rely on to back up our most important files, to the infrastructures that power our digital world economy, are vulnerable to irretrievable data loss. Over time, file formats, applications, and operating systems go obsolete. Legacy systems become impenetrable. The migration of data to new systems risks breaking the chain of information transmission. …
By Danny Hillis
We humans are changing. We have become so intertwined with what we have created that we are no longer separate from it. We have outgrown the distinction between the natural and the artificial. We are what we make. We are our thoughts, whether they are created by our neurons, by our electronically augmented minds, by our technologically mediated social interactions, or by our machines themselves. We are our bodies, whether they are born in womb or test tube, our genes inherited or designed, organs augmented, repaired, transplanted, or manufactured. Our prosthetic enhancements are as simple as contact lenses and tattoos and as complex as robotic limbs and search engines. They are both functional and aesthetic. We are our perceptions, whether they are through our eyes and ears or our sensory-fused hyper-spectral sensors, processed as much by computers as by our own cortex. We are our institutions, cooperating super-organisms, entangled amalgams of people and machines with super-human intelligence, processing, sensing, deciding, acting. Our home planet is inhabited by both engineered organisms and evolved machines. Our very atmosphere is the emergent creation of forests, farms and factories. Our networks of commerce, power and communications are becoming as richly interconnected as ecologies and nervous systems. Empowered by the tools of the Enlightenment, connected by networked flows of freight and fuel and finance, by information and ideas, we are becoming something new. …
50 years ago, the Apollo 11 moon landing was televised live to some 600 million viewers back on planet Earth. One of them was future Long Now co-founder Brian Eno, then 21. He found himself underwhelmed by what he saw.
As installation begins at the Texas site for Long Now’s monumental 10,000 Year Clock, it’s worth taking a step back to examine the Clock’s larger artistic context and its place in the history of Land Art in the American West.
Long Now’s staff and many of the individuals working on the project and serving on our board have drawn inspiration for the 10,000 Year Clock, and its placement in the remote landscape of West Texas, from these Land Artists and their great works.
In Part I of our exploration of Land Art in the American West, we covered the birth of the movement in the 01960s and some of the seminal works created by Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt and James Turrell, which expanded the definition of art and opened up new possibilities for the location of artworks. Drawn to the desert for its long vistas, compelling terrain, beautiful light and dark night skies, these artists pushed through the boundaries of art in their day to create monumental works that explored the expansiveness of earth and time. …
In the hours after news broke that the Cathedral of Notre Dame suffered extensive fire damage, many found hope in a story that circulated on social media about a centuries-old protocol the fire department in Paris followed when battling the fire. The story originated with Twitter user Michael Slavitch, who claimed that firefighters prioritized saving the people and relics over preserving the wooden roof structure of Notre Dame because they knew that the materials needed to rebuild it lay waiting in the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, when large parts of the cathedral were desecrated and damaged, oak trees from Versailles were used to rebuild it. …
This is the third article in our series, Music, Time and Long-term Thinking. Two previous articles explored long-term thinking in several musical domains, with focus on three artists: Brian Eno, John Cage and Jem Finer. For this third entry, we open our field of interest to broadly survey projects with unique temporal approaches.
One of the easiest ways to explore temporality through music is to simply slow it down. Just as we would seem incredibly slow to a hummingbird, slowed-down recordings can make us feel like the world is slowing down, each moment resonating with new intensity.