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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, January 21, 2004
    How long is now?
     
    How long is now? Usually about a week, for most of us most of the time, writes Stewart Brand in The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, which has been engrossing me today:

    I think Eno is right: "now" consists of this week, slightly haunted by the ghost of last week.

    I could run with that .. and add that it also involves an anxious awareness of the looming shapes of next week. Brand, Eno and others in The Long Now Foundation are encouraging us to try learning how to stretch our concept of now ... way beyond a week. To ten thousand years.

    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.

    Advantages: in the current whirlwind of societal change, being able to find something solid to hold onto; in our present technological freefall, being able to find the ripcord on the reserve parachute.

    It's a good book. Brand describes aspects of the freefall we know we're in, the speed of change and all that; he talks about The Singularity, a concept out of astrophysics which answers the question, What happens if our technology just keeps accelerating? (everything collapses into a black hole where, as Stephen Hawking writes, "the laws of science and our ability to predict the future would break down."); promotes the Long Now as a way of restoring our place not at the culmination of history, nor at its beginning, but "in the middle of civilization's story", where we can live, move, breathe, grow in seasons and generations again.

    It will be interesting to get into later chapters which grapple with religious concepts of time and responsibility; though I'd like it to I suspect Christianity might not sit that easily with The Long Now idea, certainly less easily than Zen Buddhism whose adherents define their task as "Infinite gratitude for the past. Infinite service to the present. Infinite responsibility to the future."