Long Now
Fostering Long-term Thinking

The story of which institutions have lasted the longest throughout history, and why

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The following transcript of Alexander Rose’s Long Now talk has been edited for length and clarity.

I want to lead you through some of the research that I’ve been doing on a meta-level around long-lived institutions, as well as some observations of the ways various systems have lasted for hundreds of thousands of years.


The Earth will keep changing. The nature of that change is up to us.

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Antarctic Sea Ice Melt — 02019 (Source: Maxar)

The Ancient Greeks had two different words for time. The first, chronos, is time as we think of it now: marching forward, ceaselessly creating our past, present, and future. The second, kairos, is time in the opportune sense: the ideal moment to act, as captured by the phrase, “It’s time.”

My work, like many other photographers, has been a dedicated search for kairos — finding that ideal confluence of place and time that helps to tell a particular story. For me, that story has focused on the manmade world. In 02013, I launched Daily Overview, which features compositions created from satellite imagery focused on the places on the planet where humans have left their mark. Partnerships with some of the world’s best satellite imaging companies gave me access to libraries from which I could compose a visual compendium of the world we are creating. It’s a world that we are harvesting, mining, exploring, and powering. …


Futurist Peter Schwartz distills the lessons learned from his work in scenario planning for organizations.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The following transcript of Peter Schwartz’s Long Now talk on scenario planning has been edited for length and clarity.


An interview with Vincent Ialenti, author of Deep Time Reckoning

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Inside Finland’s Olkiluoto nuclear waste repository, 1,500 feet underground. Photo Credit: Peter Guenzel

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. …


Resurrection comes in many forms…

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Changmiania liaoningensis, buried while sleeping by a prehistoric volcano. Image Source.

Although the sensitive can feel it in all seasons, Autumn seems to thin the veil between the living and the dead. Writing from the dying cusp of summer and the longer bardo marking humankind’s uneasy passage into a new world age (a transit paradoxically defined by floating signifiers and eroded, fluid categories), the time seems right to survey five new discoveries from paleontology, zoology, and neuroscience that offer up an opportunity to contemplate the difference between the dead, and merely dormant.

We start 125 million years ago in the unbelievably fossiliferous Liaoning Province of China, one of the world’s finest lagerstätten (an area of unusually rich floral or faunal deposits — such as Canada’s famous Burgess Shale, which captured the transition into the first bloom of complex, hard-shelled, eye-bearing life; or the Solnhofen Limestone in Germany, from which flew the “Urvogel” feathered dinosaur Archaeopteryx, one of the most significant fossil finds in scientific history). Liaoning’s Lujiatan Beds just offered up a pair of perfectly-preserved herbivorous small dinosaurs, named Changmiania or “Sleeping Beauty” for how they were discovered buried in repose within their burrows by what was apparently volcanic ash, a kind of prehistoric…


A Cognitive Toolkit for Good Ancestors

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Illustration: Tom Lee at Rocket Visual

Human beings have an astonishing evolutionary gift: agile imaginations that can shift in an instant from thinking on a scale of seconds to a scale of years or even centuries. Our minds constantly dance across multiple time horizons. One moment we can be making a quickfire response to a text and the next thinking about saving for our pensions or planting an acorn in the ground for posterity. We are experts at the temporal pirouette. Whether we are fully making use of this gift is, however, another matter.

The need to draw on our capacity to think long-term has never been more urgent, whether in areas such as public health care (like planning for the next pandemic on the horizon), to deal with technological risks (such as from AI-controlled lethal autonomous weapons), or to confront the threats of an ecological crisis where nations sit around international conference tables, bickering about their near-term interests, while the planet burns and species disappear. At the same time, businesses can barely see past the next quarterly report, we are addicted to 24/7 instant news, and find it hard to resist the Buy Now button. …


Insights from 14 of the world’s foremost long-term thinkers

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Long Conversation speakers (from top left): Stewart Brand, Esther Dyson, David Eagleman, Ping fu, Katherine Fulton, Danny Hillis, Kevin Kelly, Ramez Naam, Alexander Rose, Paul Saffo, Peter Schwartz, Tiffany Shlain, Bina Venkataraman, and Geoffrey West.

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.


An Interview with Jane Metcalfe, Founder and CEO of NEO.LIFE

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One of our upcoming Seminar speakers is Jane Metcalfe,¹ the founder and CEO of NEO.LIFE, a media and events company she created in 02017 to explore the rapid developments at the intersection of technology and biology, and how those forces are shaping the future of our species. (Metcalfe is the former president and co-founder of WIRED magazine.)

NEO.LIFE has just published a book, NEO.LIFE: …


Tickets to the Moon. Teleporting inanimate objects. A woman on the roster of an NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLS team. These are the Long Bets and Predictions made about the year 02020.

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The year 02020, like 02000 before it and 02050 after it, has long captivated the popular imagination as a kind of shorthand for “the future.” …


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“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. …

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