The Clock of the Long Now - time and responsibility

Stewart Brand
The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand book jacket

This book is about a Clock, a Library and a way of thinking. Stewart Brand quotes Danny Hillis, who conceived the Clock: “I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out once a millenium.”

He also wanted the cuckoo to come out 10 times, meaning a clock that would run for at least 10,000 years. An antidote to modern civilization’s short attention span, the Clock and its Library are one way of helping us think long-term — and less destructively. Written in 1999, this book explains why and how.

This is a book that aimed to re-frame the way we think about time in much the same way as photographs of our planet changed the way people thought about the environment. The proposal to build a Clock that would help do that lies at the heart of the book.

Civilization as measured by how long mankind has been farming, rather than just gathering, is about 10,000 years old. That’s about 400 generations. Brand’s argument is that we learn to treat that as last week and the next 10,000 years as next week.

This is a book that has had some traction. The Clock is currently being built. You can track its progress at the Long Now Foundation’s website.