Brian Eno, "The Long Now"

We seem trapped in the Short Now. The present generation enjoys the greatest power in history, but it appears to have the shortest vision in history. That combination is lethal.

Brian told the origins of his realizations about the "small here" versus the "big here" and the "short now" versus the "long now."  He noted that the Big Here is pretty well popularized now, with exotic restaurants everywhere, "world" music, globalization, and routine photos of the whole earth.  Instant world news and the internet has led to increased empathy worldwide.

But empathy in space has not been matched by empathy in time.  If anything, empathy for people to come has decreased.  We seem trapped in the Short Now.  The present generation enjoys the greatest power in history, but it appears to have the shortest vision in history. That combination is lethal.

Danny Hillis proposed that there's a bug in our thinking about these matters---about long-term responsibility.  We need to figure out what the bug is and how to fix it.  We're still in an early, fumbling phase of doing that, like the period before the Royal Society in 18th-century England began to figure out science.

Tim O'Reilly gave an example of the kind of precept that can emerge from taking the longer-term seriously.  These days shoppers are often checking out goods (trying on clothes, etc.) in regular retail stores but then going online to buy the same goods at some killer discount price.  Convenient for the shopper, terrible for the shops, who are going out of business, hurting communities in the process.  The aggregate of lots of local, short-term advantage-taking is large-scale, long-term harm.  Hence Tim's proposed precept, now spreading on the internet: "Buy where you shop." I.e. When you shop online, buy there. When you shop in shops, buy there.  Four simple words that serve as a reminder to head off accumulative harm.

Leighton Read observed that imagining the future is an acquired skill, and comes in stages.  An infant can't imagine the next bottle, or plan for it.  A teenager can at most imagine the next six months, and only on a good day; on a rowdy Saturday night, Sunday morning is too remote to grasp.  For us adults the distant future is still unimaginable.  One thing that Leighton likes about the 10,000-year Clock project is that it lets you imagine a particular part of the very remote future---the Clock ticking away in its mountain---and then you can widen your scope from there, to include climate change over centuries, for example.

Alexander Rose suggested that we should collect examples where a small effort in the present pays off huge in the long term.  Tim O'Reilly would like to see us develop a taxonomy of such practices.

Brian's talk Friday night at Fort Mason was a smashing affair.  Some 750 people were pried into the Herbst Pavillion, while 400-500 had to be turned away.  Eno evidently attracts the sweetest, brightest people---everyone was polite and helpful and patient.  The only publicity for the lecture had been email forwarded among friends and posted on blogs, plus one radio show (Michael Krasny's "Forum").

--Stewart Brand

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The Long Now Foundation is a nonprofit established in 01996 to foster long-term thinking. Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.

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