About two years ago, we shared with you a set of enhanced photographs that visualized the transformation of World-War-II-era Leningrad into contemporary St. Petersburg.
We recently came across a similar photographic experiment in picturing historical change. The temporal lapse is similar: this interactive series compares 1940s images of European sites that played an important role in World War II history with their contemporary counterparts. There is no stitching together of old with new in these images; instead, your mouse performs the magic of time travel, revealing the new in place of the old as you drag it to the right.
Nevertheless, these photos have the same effect of making visible, even tangible, the radical transformations that a locale can undergo in the fleeting span of a half century – while simultaneously highlighting the endurance of its sense of place.
What captures your imagination about the future of libraries?
That’s the question asked by The Knight Foundation in an open call for innovative library projects. There have been 680 proposals from around the country, and only a few days remain to give feedback and “Applaud” your favorites. We think our Manual for Civilization project fits well with The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge funding goal:
We view libraries as key for improving Americans’ ability to know about and to be involved with what takes place around them. The library has been a vital part of our communities for centuries—as keepers of public knowledge, spaces for human connection, educators for the next generations of learners. While habits are changing, those needs have not. We want to discover projects that help carry the values of libraries into the future.
Take a moment to read our proposal, comment, and click the Applause button to show your support for the Manual for Civilization. Many projects will be funded to fulfill the News Challenge’s aim of [accelerating] media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Your applause could help the Manual be one of them.
The Manual for Civilization is a crowd-curated library of the 3500 books most essential to sustain or rebuild civilization. Knight Foundation funds will help us complete our collection of books–including many rare, hard-to-find titles. It would also support live events to engage the community and online initiatives providing broader access to the project. Read more on the News Challenge website.
“The Holocene is over and welcome to the Anthropocene our very uniquely human geological era.” In March 02012 environmental activist and author Mark Lynas gave a sobering assessment of Earth in the Anthropocene.
Lynas offers a framework for tracking the health of our planet, outlining nine measurable “boundaries” that if crossed threaten the well-being of humans on Earth. And some already had been crossed in 02012. These systems go beyond climate and biodiversity to measures like ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosols, and excess nitrogen in agriculture.
Long Now members can watch this video here. The audio is free for everyone on the Seminar page and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.
From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):
We’ve raised the temperature of the Earth system, reduced the alkalinity of the oceans, altered the chemistry of the atmosphere, changed the reflectivity of the planet, hugely affected the distribution of freshwater, and killed off many of the species that share the planet with us. [...] Some of those global alterations made by humans may be approaching tipping points—thresholds—that could destabilize the whole Earth system.
Mark Lynas‘ books include Six Degrees (which Stewart Brand called one of the finest books written on climate), The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, and most recently Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power (02014). He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Decarbonising Energy, which focuses on sustainable energy to mitigate climate change.
The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.
Everyone can watch full video of the 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch this video in full—you must be logged in to the site—and the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.
What comes after the Internet? What is bigger than the web? What will produce more wealth than all the startups to date? The answer is a planetary super-organism comprised of 4 billion mobile phones, 80 quintillion transistor chips, a million miles of fiber optic cables, and 6 billion human minds all wired together. The whole thing acts like a single organism, with its own behavior and character — but at a scale we have little experience with.
This is more than just a metaphor. Kelly takes the idea of a global super-organism seriously by describing what we know about it so far, how it is growing, where its boundaries are, and what it will mean for us as individuals and collectively. Both the smallest one-person enterprises today, and the largest mega-corporations on Earth, will have to learn to how this Technium operates, and how to exploit it.
Tonight, October 15th 02014, former SALT Speaker Steven Johnson’s new TV series premieres on PBS. The show, “How We Got To Now”, is co-produced by PBS and BBC, and focuses on different themes showing how long cumulative efforts can result in massive systemic change. The first of the six episodes, “Clean”, focuses on how sanitary conditions evolved from concept to reality, and how this reality affects public health and entire industries.
Steven Johnson has worked on many different topics throughout his career, and he draws on all of these topics in this series. However, it is his study of the history of technology that anchors the show. One of Steven’s major contributions to this field is popularizing network-based approaches to understanding history and new technologies. For example, to understand the lightbulb, one needs to look beyond Thomas Edison and understand the environmental conditions, contemporaneous technologies, and networks of scientists corresponding across the globe. Once these factors are taken into account, innovation stops looking like “eureka moments” and instead becomes anchored in effective networks, collaborations, and the slow incubation of ideas. In the following animation, Steven Johnson explains this process and how it can help us think about technology and innovation now:
Check your local listings to watch “How We Got To Now”, and keep a look out for some Long Now references throughout the series.
On Monday, October 20th, Larry Harvey speaks for Long Now on “Why The Man Keeps Burning,” as part of our monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking. Each month the Seminar Primer gives you some background about the speaker, including links to learn even more.
Burning Man started with humble beginnings in 01986 with 20 people on a beach. Twenty-eight years later, it’s one of the premiere arts festival in the country, with over 66,000 people attending annually, dozens of satellite events, and a vibrant international community. In one sense, Burning Man is an event that only happens for one week per year in a remote desert in Nevada. In another sense, it’s a massive global phenomenon that supports thousands of artists, causes, and technologies.
What sets Burning Man apart from other large-scale festivals is its focus on participation. The organizers set up the infrastructure of “Black Rock City” (including roads, portapotties, ice, DMV, medical, post offices, etc.) and then attendees become the citizens and bring life to the desert through hundreds of art pieces, mutant vehicles, and theme camps. This personal investment of time, money and creativity by participants far exceeds what the the festival organizers could do if they were planning the Burning Man event in the traditional sense.
How does something as outrageous as a temporary city of art built in the middle of the desert come about? It all began on a small beach in San Francisco and an “event” organized by Larry Harvey and a group of his artist, prankster friends. In 01986 the first wooden figure they built was only 8-feet tall. The attendees were all members of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, a group of artists and mischief makers also associated with Santarchy, urban exploration, and Art Cars. The beach version of Burning Man became an annual event, but was subsequently shutdown by local authorities.
Harvey and others made the decision to relocate the event to the dramatic but inhospitable environment of the Black Rock Desert in Pershing Country, Nevada. This changed the scale of the event and opened up a world of possibilities for Burning Man to become the festival it is today. It has grown in size, budget, ambition, and notoriety virtually every year since moving to Nevada. Along the way it went legit, fully permitted and coordination with county governments and the Bureau of Land Management.
And through it all Larry Harvey has been a part of steering and scaling up this arts oasis in the desert. He serves as Burning Man’s Chief Philosophical Officer and authored the Ten Principles in 02004, guidelines which reflect “the community’s ethos and culture” and assure Burning Man a reference point as it grows in Black Rock and all over the world. Harvey continues also as founding Board Member of the Burning Man Art Project and Chairman of the Board of the Black Rock Arts Foundation.
There have been rough spots along the way, as the man has grown from eight to over 100 feet and a 20 person party on the beach has become 60,000+ paying hundreds of dollars per ticket. Over the years much has changed and many issues have stirred concern in the community that the festival could be destroyed by some new policy or other development: “Scaling up will kill Burning Man.” “That new rule will kill Burning Man.” “The Bureau of Land Management will kill Burning Man.” “Selling tickets that way will kill Burning Man.” “Board infighting will kill Burning Man.” “Upscale turnkey camps will kill Burning Man.”
It turns out none of these things killed Burning Man, and Burning Man shows few signs of slowing down. The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) gives hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants every year to Burning Man projects as well as public art projects in San Francisco and around the world. The “regional burns” have created strong communities globally based around smaller satellite festivals which take cues from the Ten Principles.
A few examples of the art that BRAF has helped make possible:
Join us on Monday, October 20th at SFJAZZ Center as Larry Harvey, who has been there from the beginning to the present, tells the story of Burning Man and shows us how we can find long-term thinking in a reoccurring temporary city.
This Seminar is sold out, but there will be a walk-up line for released tickets.
This Sunday, October 12, The Interval hosts a special event to celebrate the posthumous release of Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius by Leonard Shlain. Leonardo’s Brain looks at the life, art and mind of 15th century Florentine polymath Leonardo da Vinci. Shlain’s book considers Da Vinci as a glimpse into the future of what our species can become; it was completed shortly before Dr. Shlain’s death in 02009.
The event will feature readings by Leonard Shlain’s three children who were instrumental in bringing his final book to publication: Kimberly Brooks, artist and founding editor of the Arts and Science Section of the Huffington Post; Jordan Shlain, doctor and founder of Healthloop.com; and Tiffany Shlain, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, founder of The Webby Awards and director of the show “The Future Starts Here.”
Dr. Shlain’s books including “Leonardo’s Brain” will be on sale throughout the day
NOTE: this is Fleet Week in San Francisco, with an air show featuring the Blue Angels on Sunday (12:30-4pm) prior to our 5pm program. The Marina and Fort Mason are great places to watch the show, before or after coming by The Interval.
Praise for Leonardo’s Brain and the work of Leonard Shlain:
“By exploring Leonardo da Vinci’s brain through the lens of contemporary neuroscience, Leonard Shlain not only celebrates da Vinci’s legendary creativity, he shows how we can integrate and strengthen both sides of our minds and tap into the amazing possibilities within ourselves.” —Arianna Huffington
“Shlain’s ability to synthesize not only information but also genuine wisdom across multiple and disparate disciplines was extraordinary.” —Al Gore
“This book is a gift from the heavens where Leonard Shlain is today and another bright example of his force and spirit shining through the prism of the mind of Leonardo da Vinci.” —Norman Lear
Many suggest we have entered the Anthropocene – a new geologic epoch ushered in by humanity’s own transformations of Earth’s climate, erosion patterns, extinctions, atmosphere and rock record. In such circumstances, we are challenged to adopt new ways of living, thinking and understanding our relationships with our planetary environment. To do so, anthropologist Richard Irvine has argued, we must first “be open to deep time.” We must, as Stewart Brand has urged, inhabit a longer “now.”
So I wonder: could it be that nuclear waste repository projects – long approached by environmentalists and critical intellectuals with skepticism – are developing among the best tools for re-thinking humanity’s place within the deeper history of our environment? Could opening ourselves … to deep, geologic, planetary timescales inspire positive change in our ways of living on a damaged planet?
Anthropologist Vincent Ialenti conducted two years of fieldwork among a Finnish team of experts in the process of developing a long-term geological repository for high-level nuclear waste. In a triptych of posts on NPR’s 13.7 blog, he reflects on the state of mind that is prompted when you begin asking the kinds of questions that nuclear waste experts confront in their work.
Describing the way an awareness of deep time scales began to seep into his own thinking as he immersed himself in the world these nuclear waste experts inhabit, Ialenti suggests that this kind of ‘attunement’ to long-term geologic processes may broaden and deepen our experience of our world.
In fact, Ialenti writes, this consideration of the long term is crucial in this Anthropocene age. In light of the irreversible impact we humans make and have made on our planet, we must begin to think about how that impact will reverberate throughout the millennia to come. This does not entail turning a blind eye to the concerns of the present moment, Ialenti cautions. But
What it does mean, though, is that we must have the backbone to look these enormous spans of time in the eye. We must have the courage to accept our responsibility as our planet’s – and our descendants’ – caretakers, millennium in and millennium out, without cowering before the magnitude of our challenge.
Tuesday September 16, 02014 – San Francisco
Natural genomes are nearly impossible to figure out, Endy began, because they were evolved, not designed. Everything is context dependent, tangled, and often unique. So most biotech efforts become herculean. It cost $25 million to develop a way to biosynthesize the malaria drug artemisinin, for example. Yet the field has so much promise that most of what biotechnology can do hasn’t even been imagined yet.
How could the nearly-impossible be made easy? Could biology become programmable? Endy asked Lynn Conway, the legendary inventer of efficient chip design and manufacturing, how to proceed. She said, “Go meta.” If the recrafting of DNA is viewed from a meta perspective, the standard engineering cycle—Design, Build, Test, Design better, etc.—requires a framework of DNA Synthesis, using Standards, understood with Abstraction, leading to better Synthesis, etc.
“In 2003 at MIT,” Endy said, “we didn’t know how to teach it, but we thought that maybe working with students we could figure out how to learn it.” It would be learning-by-building. So began a student project to engineer a biological oscillator—a genetic blinker—which led next year to several teams creating new life forms, which led to the burgeoning iGEM phenomenon. Tom Knight came up with the idea of standard genetic parts, like Lego blocks, now called BioBricks. Randy Rettberg declared that cooperation had to be the essence of the work, both within teams (which would compete) and among all the participants to develop the vast collaborative enterprise that became the iGEM universe—students creating new BioBricks (now 10,000+) and meeting at the annual Jamboree in Boston (this year there are 2,500 competitors from 32 countries). “iGEM” stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine.
Playfulness helps, Endy said. Homo faber needs homo ludens—man-the-player makes a better man-the-maker. In 2009 ten teenagers with $25,000 in sixteen weeks developed the ability to create E. coli in a variety of colors. They called it E. chromi. What could you do with pigmented intestinal microbes? “The students were nerding out.” They talked to designers and came up with the idea of using colors in poop for diagnosis. By 2049, they proposed, there could be a “Scatalog” for color matching of various ailments such as colon cancer. “It would be more pleasant than colonoscopy.”
The rationale for BioBricks is that “standardization enables coordination of labor among parties and over time.” For the system to work well depends on total access to the tools. “I want free-to-use language for programming life,” said Endy. The stated goal of the iGEM revolutionaries is “to benefit all people and the planet.” After ten years there are now over 20,000 of them all over the world guiding the leading edges of biotechnology in that direction.
During the Q&A, Endy told a story from his graduate engineering seminar at Dartmouth. The students were excited that the famed engineer and scientist Arthur Kantrowitz was going to lead a session on sustainability. They were shocked when he told them, “‘Sustainability‘ is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever encountered. My job today is to explain two things to you. One, pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Two, optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
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On October 01, 02014 we successfully concluded our ‘brickstarter’ fundraiser for The Interval at Long Now. The money raised goes toward the construction costs of our newly renovated headquarters as well as funding a pair of robots that will soon be installed in the space. We reached our initial goal and even surpassed our stretch goal, ending up at over $590,000 after nearly two years of fundraising.
This project was a crowdfunding triumph. We were supported by a global community of Long Now members and fans. We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible: our donors, partners and staff.
We also want to thank our customers who have made The Interval’s first three months in business such a success. We hope they appreciate our commitment to excellence in serving fine coffee, cocktails and spirits in a unique, stimulating environment surrounded by artifacts of Long Now’s projects.
The Interval is now open to all from 10AM to midnight every day. This is only the beginning. What a beginning!
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