john davies
notes from a small curate



    Exploring the Past

    Blue Coat School 28/1/2004

    Luke 1 57-79


    A computer pioneer, Andy Grove, head of the Intel Corporation, once said: "Digital information is forever. It doesn't deteriorate." But it seems he was badly wrong. A more recent article in Scientific American argued that "It is only slightly facetious to say that digital information lasts forever - or five years, whichever comes first."

    However reliable and easy to store digital information may be, people are now discovering that they can't reopen their old word-processor files or play the games they enjoyed ten years before. Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling refers to our time as "the Golden Age of dead media," where computers like Amiga, Amstrad, Commodore, Sinclair, have quickly became obsolete; and with them disks and tapes, which last less than 15 years before they degrade.

    If you think there's value in exploring the past, then this is worrying. Because it suggests that even ten years from now technology will have moved on so many times that you won't be able to access the files you're using today. So you won't be able to explore even your own past. It makes you ask, perhaps my life's not worth recording?

    Things used to be different. It's relatively easy to explore the pasts of ancient civilisations, where people progressed more slowly and took great care to record their lives by word of mouth or on more permanent kinds of media like rocks and stones or well-stored rolls of paper. If we take time and care to make sure that the next generation know who we are, then all that is important to us will live on. Because we can be sure that in the next generation there will be people who think there's value in exploring the past.

    I give thanks for people who think there's value in exploring the past. People like Zechariah, who knew the words of his ancestors, the promises they'd made about the future, and saw the signs that those promises were about to be fulfilled. And today, people who enjoy studying the old texts of religion and literature, medicine and law and social science, to see what they might teach us now. I give thanks for them because they help us to launch into the future with confidence and fresh ideas. I give thanks for you when you let your studies work that way for you.

    One interesting project I've discovered recently is called The Long Now Foundation. This group of scientists, engineers, artists & thinkers want to encourage all of us to take a long-term view of life: to think ahead, not just to the weekend, but to a future we can't yet see.

    They're building an enormous clock in the Nevada desert that ticks once a year, with a century hand which advances once every hundred years, and a cuckoo which comes out on the millennium. It's being designed to last for the next 10,000 years.

    They want to do all they can to help people centuries ahead of us who will be interested in exploring the past. So the clock will also have a library in it, a collection of all civilisation's greatest texts. And other things - time capsules, for instance, just like the time capsule planted in the lawn at Blue Coat when the building work began a couple of years ago. They invite us to send our own personal time capsules to them.

    These people know that the stories of those who have gone before us are worth recording, so that we and future generations can explore them, learn from them and grow. And they are equally sure that our story, the story of who we are now is worth recording and preserving too.


    Prayer

    If you were invited to fill a time capsule with items which describe your life, what would go in it....?

    We give thanks for the details of our lives which demonstrate who we are:
    - the photographs, the diary entries, the favourite cds and books, the holiday souvenirs, our autograph book....
    We give thanks that who we are now will fascinate people in the future;
    We pray that we will learn to enjoy exploring the past, and to live in ways which benefit those who come after us.


    Notes
    Talk based on various articles in The Long Now Foundation website.
    Also influenced by the writing of Long Now Foundation co-founder Stewart Brand, in The Clock of the Long Now - Time and Responsibility