Saturday, May 27, 2006

On Time...Awfully Late...and Not There Yet

Well, of course it's been a lot longer since my last post than I ever intended. In case you were on the edge of your seat, you have my apologies. I think what I need to do is to start actually making time to blog instead of what I've been doing: merely hoping to find time to blog. If I wait for the time to arrive, it slips by, as there's always something that seems more pressing (even if that "something" amounts to nothing more than trying to reduce my sleep debt).

The day after my last post, the new issue of Make magazine arrived in my mailbox. This, of course, thwarted my efforts to quickly get through that Scientific American special issue that I mentioned in my last post. I highly recommend picking up the Scientific American issue, as it's fascinating. But I recommend taking a look at Make, even more strongly. When the fourth issue came out, I didn't think it was possible to produce a better issue of a magazine. Since then, I've been astonished to find that the fifth and sixth issues have been just as good, if not better.

I have finally gotten through the Scientific American issue. I haven't fully read all of the articles, but at least I've read all of the ones that are most important to me and parts of all of the others.

This got me interested in picking up a book that I had long ago started reading and never got around to finishing. So this morning, as we were headed out Essex, MA to take care of some preparatory stuff for this year's Minis On Top, I grabbed the book from the shelf. The book in question is Stewart Brand's The Clock Of The Long Now. It's terrific stuff, very much worth a read, particularly if you're interested in what the future holds or in making a positive contribution to the future or just interested in knowing why you should start to take a longer view than what you're used to.

I finished the book in the car today, and I'd like to share an excerpt here because I think this is one of the loveliest stories I've come across in a very long time:
[The] island, Visingsö, in the Swedish lake Vättern, has a gorgeous mature oak forest whose origin came to light in 01980 when the Swedish Navy received a letter from the Forestry Department reporting that the requested ship lumber was now ready. It turned out that in 01829 the Swedish Parliament, recognizing that it takes one hundred fifty years for oaks to mature and anticipating that there would be a shortage of timbers for its navy in the 01990s, ordered twenty thousand trees to be planted and protected for the navy.

Note: The five-digit year format is a consequence of the long-view thought process that informs the book and inspires the Long Now Foundation. Reading what I read this morning has inspired me to put out a feeler to see whether there's a way for me to change the date format on my blog to conform to this format. If I get a satisfactory answer, you'll see it reflected in my blog entries in the future. (Actually, it will probably propagate throughout my blog.) If not, perhaps it's enough to simply go on record now as saying: I think this is a good idea, worthy of consideration.

Having finished reading the book this morning, I was reminded of something that I had read in it a few years ago on a much earlier page. It's something that I think is worthy of commentary, and so I'm going to comment on it:
When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by the year 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.

Frankly, I think this quotation, particularly the last sentence, may be among the most profound statements ever uttered. It's attributed to Daniel Hillis, 01993. Hillis now apparently goes by "Danny" instead of "Daniel" and he's one of the founding members of the Long Now Foundation. That quotation, along with the few sentences that follow, is credited with being the inspiration for the Foundation and its grand project: The Clock/Library of the Long Now.

Sadly, I think the quotation will largely be lost to time, as a great portion of its profundity was stripped from it as the calendar rolled over on 1/1/02000. Now, the future is perhaps more nebulous than ever before. Advances are happening at such a breakneck speed that it's almost impossible to make meaningful predictions beyond just a few years. Frankly, I think it's not only difficult to make meaningful predictions, but it's very nearly equally difficult to make hopeful predictions.

"The future" is ever closer (as it hurtles towards us faster than we can keep up), even while it is ever more distant (as it's so far beyond our grasp). To make long term predictions, it's helpful to have a sense of continuity. It's helpful to have confidence in the fairly reliable accuracy of near-term predictions. That is, it's easier to predict what will be there ten years down the road if we have a pretty good sense of what will be there two or five years down the road. Think back five years. Did you have any idea at all about what your assumptions about the state of your world would be today?

If we forget the larger geopolitical issues, and focus on just small-scale stuff, I'm still astonished at what the last few years has wrought.

As an example, I told Beth just a couple of years ago (three years at most) that if I ever become one of those guys who has meaningful conversations about the features of his cell phone, she should shoot me. I guess it was about a year ago that I noticed there was actually a magazine on the rack at the book store about cell phones.

I'm not in a position to look at job applications, but my suspicion is that if it hasn't happened yet, the following scenario will start to happen soon. I have a notion that someone will list "cell phones" as a hobby, to show that he/she has interests outside of work and that he/she is a well-rounded person. And I further have a notion that the hiring manager will know what "cell phones", listed as a hobby, actually means.

To me, these notions are deeply disturbing.

I still hold firm to my assertion that Beth should shoot me if I ever get there. But I suspect that my resistance of that societal trend will very soon make me seem very much like a premature dinosaur.

I still haven't gotten to where I wanted to get in this blog. But that's enough for tonight. See you soon, I hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment