Why would anyone build a Clock inside a mountain with the hope that it will ring for 10,000 years? Part of the answer: just so people will ask this question, and having asked it, prompt themselves to conjure with notions of generations and millennia. If you have a Clock ticking for 10,000 years what kinds of generational-scale questions and projects will it suggest? If a Clock can keep going for ten millennia, shouldn’t we make sure our civilization does as well? If the Clock keeps going after we are personally long dead, why not attempt other projects that require future generations to finish? The larger question is, as virologist Jonas Salk once asked, “Are we being good ancestors?”
The Clock’s inventor introduced the idea of the Clock (in 1995) with this context:I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.
I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.
That’s Danny Hillis, a polymath inventor, computer engineer, and designer, inventor and prime genius of the Clock. He and Stewart Brand, a cultural pioneer and trained biologist, launched a non-profit foundation to build at least the first Clock. Fellow traveler and rock musician Brian Eno named the organization The Long Now Foundation to indicate the expanded sense of time the Clock provokes – not the short now of next quarter, next week, or the next five minutes, but the “long now” of centuries.