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How Can We Create a Manual For Civilization?

Posted on Wednesday, June 7th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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“WHAT BOOKS would you want to restart civilization from scratch?”

The Long Now Foundation has been involved in and inspired by projects centered on that question since launching in 01996. (See, for example, The Rosetta Project, Westinghouse Time Capsules, The Human Document Project, The Survivor Library, The Toaster Project, The Crypt of Civilization, and the Voyager Record.) For years, Executive Director Alexander Rose has been in discussions on how to create a record of humanity and technology for our descendants. In 02014, Long Now began building it.

The Manual For Civilization is working toward a living, crowd-curated library of 3,500 books put forward by the Long Now community and on display at The Interval. To stack the shelves, we solicited book recommendations from Long Now members and supporters, special guest curators like Long Now founders Stewart Brand and Brian Eno, past Seminar speakers like George Dyson and Neal Stephenson, subject experts Maria Popova and Violet Blue, and volunteer curators like Alan Beatts, Michael Pujals, and Heath Rezabek.

Neal Stephenson selecting books for The Manual For Civilization


The physical collection in The Interval grounds the catalog, and also provided the size constraint of the number of books. But the Long Now community is global, and the reality is that few Long Now members have had the opportunity to peruse our Bay Area-bound library.

Today, we’re getting ready to digitalize the Manual so that the library can be shared with the world. We are partnering with the Internet Archive, who have created a special collection for the Manual, and, for the first time, we are sharing a selection of the titles in our collection as a temporary browse-only catalog on Libib (currently showing about 800 of the currently 1400 selections). To help make this digitalization effort happen, we will need to raise approximately $100,000 to scan all the books and post them online making the library accessible to everyone. If you are interested in helping support this effort, please contact nick@longnow.org.

The Origins of the Manual (01751-02014)

“Final Steps in Shaping a Goblet,” from Diderot’s Encyclopedie.


Framing the library’s focus as “restarting civilization” may seem apocalyptic or predictive on its face, but that is not the intention. Rather, the hope is to create a curatorial principle that inspires valuable conversation that reframes how we think about where civilization has come so far, where it might go in the future, and what tools are necessary to get it there.

In that sense, The Manual For Civilization is the latest in a centuries-long genealogy of ambitious projects to catalog and, crucially, democratize the most essential human knowledge. Inherent in each project—from Denis Diderot’s famous Encyclopedie to Long Now Co-Founder Stewart Brand’s countercultural bible Whole Earth Catalog to The Manual—is a theory of civilization. There is also, as will be discussed further below, a bias depending on which curatorial principle is emphasized and of course, who does that curation.

“Figurative system of human knowledge” from the Encyclopedie. Knowledge was divided into branches of memory, reason and imagination.


When Diderot began editing the Encyclopedie in 01751, the ideas of the Enlightenment held sway only amongst learned philosophes. Power rested in the hands of the clerics. Diderot considered the Encyclopedie as a deliberate attempt to “change the way people think” by democratizing the ideals of the Enlightenment. Controversially, the Encyclopedie’s central organizing principle was based on reason, rather than the authority of the church. In the entry for encyclopedia, he wrote:

The goal of an encyclopedia is to assemble all the knowledge scattered on the surface of the earth, to demonstrate the general system to the people with whom we live, & to transmit it to the people who will come after us, so that the works of centuries past is not useless to the centuries which follow, that our descendants, by becoming more learned, may become more virtuous & happier, & that we do not die without having merited being part of the human race.

Diderot would continue editing the Encyclopedie over the next fifteen years, amassing thousands of entries and enlisting the help of some of the Enlightenment’s most brilliant minds as contributors, including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. Diderot’s 35 volumes constituted a:

tremendous storehouse of fact and propaganda that swept Europe and taught it what ‘reason,’ rights,’ ‘authority,’ ‘government,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ and related social principles are or should be. The work was subversive in its tendency, not in its advocacy: it took for granted toleration, the march of mind exemplified by science, and the the good of the whole people….The eleven volumes of plates were in themselves a revolutionary force, for they made public what had  previously been kept secret by the guilds, and they supported the philosophe doctrine that the dissemination of knowledge was the high road to emancipation.

Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog divided knowledge into sections based on whole systems thinking.


Two hundred years later, while reflecting on the legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog (01968), Stewart Brand wrote that the Catalog and the Encyclopedie shared a similar aim: to hand “the tools of a whole civilization to its citizens.” Like the Encyclopedie, Brand wrote, the Whole Earth Catalog sought to decentralize authority and redistribute it to individuals through access to knowledge, or tools. Diderot’s Encyclopedie, wrote Brand, “was the leading tool of the Enlightenment.”

Though the first commune-bound readers of the Whole Earth Catalog— those “bands of adventurous malcontents who were setting out to reinvent civilization”— did not exactly restart civilization, their process held “surprising value.” Brand wrote that as the decades passed, the Catalog’s true legacy was glimpsed in the personal computer revolution that followed, which was informed by the same process:

The personal-computer revolution was a direct result of that value system. It was initiated and carried to fruition by youthful longhairs, on purpose, with striking consistency between what was intended and what was accomplished. The impulse was to decentralize authority—to undermine the high priests and air-conditioned mainframes of information technology and hand their power to absolutely everybody.

“Here are the tools to make your life better. And to make the world better,” Brand wrote in his foreword to the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog (01994)—the last edition published. “That they’re the same tools is our theory of civilization.”

A Merry Prankster tarot card of Stewart Brand linking the curatorial principles of the Catalog to the formation of the World Wide Web.


In the inaugural Whole Earth Catalog, Brand declared that “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” But we are as gods only because of our ancestors’ diligence. The promise of a technologically advancing future is predicated on millennia of accumulated knowledge. Civilization has taken a lot of work to build, and it demands a great deal of know-how to sustain. And as modern life increasingly encourages specialization, familiarity across that accumulated knowledge’s breadth can wane. Our ability to collaborate is a strength, but beyond a point we risk losing comprehension of the infrastructure—both physical and intellectual—that supports our modern lives. How can we retain that knowledge?

Stewart Brand at The Interval as the Manual For Civilization is constructed.


These questions inspired Long Now to build The Manual For Civilization. In developing the experience of The Interval, we integrated the Manual of Civilization book collection into the design layout as two floors of bookshelves that would face outward in The Interval space. The first floor shelves would be open and accessible for browsing, and the upper shelves would be accessible by staff, reached from the front by a tall ladder, or from the opposite side, since the shelves are open to the Long Now office above.

The Interval at Long Now in San Francisco.


As the opening date of The Interval approached in the summer of 02014, we knew we had a lot of empty shelves to fill, but had already started assembling the catalog as well as physical copies of books. In one pre-opening party, we had a bucket brigade of supporters passing physical books in the door, up the spiral staircase, to people on ladders who arranged the books on shelves, about 1,000 volumes that evening!

Kevin Kelly, with Alexander Rose, selects books from his personal library for The Manual For Civilization


We’ve had over 2,500 submissions and recommendations to the collection so far, with approximately 1,400 approved for inclusion in The Manual by our director Alexander Rose. Currently, 1,007 physical books reside in the Manual’s bookshelves. 861 titles from the collection are available to view on Libib.

Our plan is to solicit more book lists and recommendations until the list grows to about 5,000 from which we will edit the collection down to the 3,500 or so volumes that can fit on the shelves. We began the collection by using four broad categories to structure the collection:

  • Long-term Thinking, Past and Future: these include books on history as well as futurism and many books by Long Now speakers.
  • Rigorous Science Fiction: especially works that build richly imagined possible worlds to help us think about the future.
  • The Cultural Canon: great works of literature, poetry, philosophy, religion.
  • Mechanics of Civilization: “how-to” books for critical skills and technology, for example books on navigation, growing and gathering food, midwifery, forging tools.

Beyond these categories, we are exploring other ways to organize and catalog the collection, and to locate books on shelves. With any scheme though, we want to preserve the experience and delight of serendipitous discovery, of going to the bookshelf to look for one thing, and discovering three or four other things you are curious about.

Via humorous webcomic XKCD. 


We also hope to open up the discussion so that we can have an ongoing conversation about which books are in and out of the collection at any point in time, and why. With any curatorial principle comes a bias. This bias is problematic, but can be mitigated in a variety of ways. Wikipedia, for example, makes it possible for anybody to edit and contribute to its catalog. In the case of the Manual, we are committed to evolving our curatorial principle over time, the hope being that as we move through the Long Now, this living collection is responsive, adaptive and open.

We’ve already had a few valuable learning experiences. When the Manual launched, Long Now member and Brainpickings founder Maria Popova contemplated Stewart Brand’s selections for the Manual, and had “only one lament:”

One would’ve hoped that a lens on rebuilding human civilization would transcend the hegemony of the white male slant and would, at minimum, include a more equal gender balance of perspectives — of Brand’s 76 books, only one is written by a woman, one features a female co-author, and one is edited by a woman. It’s rather heartbreaking to see that someone as visionary as Brand doesn’t consider literature by women worthy of representing humanity in the long run. Let’s hope the Long Now balances the equation a bit more fairly as they move forward with the remaining entries in their 3,500-book collaborative library.

Long Now member Maria Popova.


Long Now immediately reached out to Popova and invited her to contribute her own list for the Manual. In selecting it, she found it especially challenging to reconcile the curatorial constraints of the Manual with her desire to offer a diverse and balanced representation of essential human knowledge:

I faced a disquieting and inevitable realization: The predicament of diversity is like a Russian nesting doll — once we crack one layer, there’s always another, a fractal-like subdivision that begins at the infinite and approaches the infinitesimal, getting exponentially granular with each layer, but can never be fully finished. If we take, for instance, the “women problem” — to paraphrase Margaret Atwood — then what about Black women? Black queer women? Non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women of Jewish descent? And on and on. Due to that infinite fractal progression, no attempt to “solve” diversity — especially no thirty-item list — could ever hope to be complete. The same goes for other variables like genre or subject: For every aficionado of fiction, there’s one of drama, then 17th-century drama, then 17th-century Italian drama, and so on.

The inherent biases in catalogs like the Manual must be acknowledged, and ideally mitigated through open conversation, if such catalogs are to persist over the long term. Over time, we believe that the conversation about what goes into Manual will become as rich and interesting as the collection in the Manual itself.

FURTHER READING

Watch Jimmy Wales’ 02006 SALT Talk on Wikipedia and the future of free culture.

Watch Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle’s 02011 SALT Talk on universal access to all knowledge.

Selections for The Manual For Civilization from members of the Long Now community:

Projects that inspired the Manual For Civilization:

  • The Rosetta Project: A multi-millennial micro-etched disk with a record of thousands of the world’s languages.
  • Westinghouse Time Capsules: Two time capsules (they actually coined the term for this project) by Westinghouse buried at Worlds Fair sites, one in 01939 and the other 01965 to be recovered in 5000 years.  They also did the very smart thing of making a “Book of Record” and an above ground duplicate of the contents on display.
  • The Human Document Project: A German project to create a record of humanity that will last one million years.
  • Crypt of Civilization: An airtight chamber located at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. The crypt consists of preserved artifacts scheduled to be opened in the year 8113 AD.
  • The Voyager Record: The Voyager Golden Records are phonograph records that were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977. They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or far future humans, who may find them.
  • Georgia Guidestones: The four granite Guidestones are covered in inscriptions written in 8 major languages that describe the tenets of their imagined Age of Reason.
  • Doomsday Chests by Noah Raford
  • The Forever Book an idea by Kevin Kelly
  • Global Village Construction Set
  • History of Humanity” project
  • The Library of Utility
  • The Memory of Mankind project
  • The Great Pyramid project
  • Digital Clay Tablets
  • Arnano sapphire and glass data storage

Content that has been discussed to be used for these projects:

  • The Gingery books are great first pass on how to re-start manufacturing technology
  • wikiHow has a lot of great info and it is continuously updated.  The entry on how to deliver a baby seems like a particularly handy one…
  • The Foxfire Books on homespun technology seem to have a slightly less industrial take than the Gingery books, and are pretty comprehensive
  • The Let’s Say You’ve Gone Back in Time poster to help you restart civilization by Ryan North the creator of the awesome Dinosaur Comics
  • The Way Things Work by David Macaulay.  This is a fantastic book, but it might leave people thinking that all technology is powered by woolly mammoths and angels.
  • The Harvard Classics originally known as Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf are often referred to as an item that should go into a record like this.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica People often suggest using the latest version that is now out of copyright.  I believe this is the 13th edition but so far I have only found digital copies of the 11th.
  • The Domesday book: The Domesday Book is the record of the great survey of England completed in 1086.  It would be interesting to find surveys and census’ from around the world
  • The Mormon Genealogical Data:  This is also held in a bunker outside Salt Lake City Utah, but it might be nice to have a record of gene lines for a future civilization to better understand its past.
  • The Top 100 Project Gutenberg books: If you are concerned with archiving works in copyright this is a great source to find texts that are free to use.
  • The Internet Archive: An archive of complete snapshots of the web as well as thousands of books and videos.  Incidentally you would also get all of our scanned page content from the Rosetta Project with this.
  • Wikipedia: The text only version of this is actually not that large, and could be archived fairly easily.  Also one of the few sources that is beginning to get filled out in many languages and is also not held under a copyright.
  • How to field dress a deer: PDF pocket version from Penn State College of Agricultural Science (living in Northern California, I think this one will be especially handy).
  • The Toaster Project
  • The Panlex Project of cross linked language dictionaries
  • The Survivor Library

 

How Hard Would It Be To Restart Civilization From Scratch?

Posted on Monday, April 24th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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Via TED.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire civilization to build a toaster.

That’s what Designer Thomas Thwaites learned when he set himself the challenge of building his own, from start to Pop Tarts. He smelted ore, coaxed plastic out of oil, and toiled towards a prototype that worked for a total of thirty seconds.

Long Now board member Kevin Kelly, in a 02014 SALT Talk on the technium, said that Thwaites’ project reveals the deeply interconnected and dependent nature of the technologies that make up our modern world:

A technology such as the mouse is made up of hundreds of technologies, and they themselves are requiring hundreds of other technologies to support it. These technologies form networks in the sense that they are all self-supporting. To make a saw, you need a hammer to hammer the saw blade. To have a hammer, you need a saw to cut the wood. The more complex the technology, the more self-supporting and self-dependent it is. You might think of any complex invention as a network of dependent and self-sustaining different technologies.

British astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, who spoke at The Interval in 02015  and provided his expertise for the Manual for Civilization, uses thought experiments grounded in global catastrophe to explore the depth of our dependence on these technologies—and their dependence on one another. If the world as we know it were to end tomorrow, he asks, what would be necessary to rebuild key features of civilization like agriculture, communication, transportation, and medicine? How far could such a post-apocalyptic society get?

Dartnell’s technological thought experiments tackle such questions as: how do you get into a can without a can opener? Via YouTube.

A recent Darnell thought experiment, published in Aeon, broaches one of the technologies modern civilization depends on most, but whose resources are fast depleting: fossil fuels.

It’s easy to underestimate our current dependence on fossil fuels. In everyday life, their most visible use is the petrol or diesel pumped into the vehicles that fill our roads, and the coal and natural gas which fire the power stations that electrify our modern lives. But we also rely on a range of different industrial materials, and in most cases, high temperatures are required to transform the stuff we dig out of the ground or harvest from the landscape into something useful. You can’t smelt metal, make glass, roast the ingredients of concrete, or synthesise artificial fertiliser without a lot of heat. It is fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – that provide most of this thermal energy.

So, Dartnell asks:

Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?

Charcoal production in Brazil. Photo by Franz Lanting/Getty. Via Aeon.

Dartnell’s answer is: “maybe – but it would be extremely difficult.” Our best bet, he concludes, may be a combination of burning wood for fuel and using renewable energy for electricity, which would only work if the population were sufficiently small in size. But, Dartnell says, there’s a catch:

These options all presuppose that our survivors are able to construct efficient steam turbines, CHP stations and internal combustion engines. We know how to do all that, of course – but in the event of a civilisational collapse, who is to say that the knowledge won’t be lost? And if it is, what are the chances that our descendants could reconstruct it?

The question of what knowledge is essential to sustain or rebuild civilization inspired the Long Now to start the Manual For Civilization. Alexander Rose, Executive Director of Long Now, believes there’s more to the problem than just knowing how to remake a technology like steam turbines.

The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, located in Segovia, Spain and built in 112 AD. Via Wikipedia.

“After the fall of the great Egyptian, Mayan, and Roman empires we had evidence and examples of their engineering achievements all around us,” he said. “But aqueducts or senate buildings are worthless without a society around them to maintain, contextualize, and protect them.”

You can read Lewis Dartnell’s Aeon article on rebooting civilization without fossil fuels in full here. Dartnell’s latest book, The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm, is available here.  For more information on his thought experiment on the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our world works and how you could reboot civilization from scratch visit www.the-knowledge.org

 

George Dyson’s Selections for The Manual for Civilization

Posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 02017 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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George Dyson selects books from his library, photo by Alexander Rose

Some time ago I stopped in to visit the author George Dyson at his shop and home north of Seattle to walk through his book collection and get his suggestions for our collection of books called the Manual for Civilization. We’ve done similar personal library tours with Kevin Kelly, Megan and Rick Prelinger, Neal Stephenson, and Stewart Brand as we work to complete our list of the most essential books to sustain or rebuild civilization.

Dyson is the technological historian behind books such as Darwin Among the Machines, Project Orion, and Turing’s Cathedral.  He is also a world authority in building traditional (and non-traditional) Aleut kayaks, and it was at his boat building shop where we met up.  One end of his shop is all books on traditional boat building and general fabrication techniques. After making a series of selections there we drove over to his home where just about every room was lined with books on various technologies.  Each book he pulled off the shelves elicited a story, sometimes short, sometimes long, and the books ranged from incredibly detailed technical manuals, to the fiction of Jules Verne, or early computer and cybernetic theory.  

Books on boat-building featured prominently in Dyson’s collection, photo by Alexander Rose

One could easily see his library as a type of stand alone Manual for Civilization, and getting his top picks to add to our collection certainly filled out some corners that we had never even considered.  We have already begun collecting these titles and look forward to adding them all to our physical and digital collections over time.

Note: Many of the books on Dyson’s list are available for free on the Internet Archive. We have provided links to those editions where possible, and to Amazon otherwise:

George Dyson has spoken at Long Now on three occasions. In 02004, he explored the long-term prospects for mega-scale computing. The following year, he was joined by his father, the pioneering physicist Freeman Dyson, and his sister, the technologist and Long Now board member Esther Dyson, to discuss the difficulty of making accurate long-term predictions. It marked the first time the Dysons were on stage together. Most recently, in 02013, Dyson spoke on the origins of our digital universe and its effects on our perception of time.

Lewis Dartnell at The Interval: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch on March 24 02015

Posted on Saturday, March 21st, 02015 by Mikl Em
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The Knowledge paperback by Lewis Dartnell

Tuesday, March 24, 02015
Lewis Dartnell
(University of Leicester / European Space Agency)

The Knowledge: Rebuilding Our World From Scratch
at The Interval

Tickets on sale now
advanced tickets suggested

This Tuesday in San Francisco Long Now welcomes British astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell to our Conversations at The Interval series to discuss his latest book The Knowledge. This book is a guide to rebuilding key features of civilization like agriculture, communication, transportation and medicine in the aftermath of a global catastrophe.

The Knowledge will be on sale at the talk, and Lewis will sign books and chat more with the audience afterwards

Far from a doomsday prediction, Dartnell’s book reveals the potential resiliency of humanity if we approach challenges with an awareness of the natural sciences and understanding of how contemporary technology works. The Knowledge brings a lot of this fundamentally useful information into one place; and it’s bibliography points to deeper resources for a wide range of subjects. Lewis has previously shared his expertise with Long Now for our Manual for Civilization project.

The Knowledge is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society… full of optimism about human ingenuity”
  — The Wall Street Journal

The videos below show two examples of tips you’ll find in The Knowledge. The first draws on insights into how our world works today (manufacturing) to reveal an ideal solution. There are many ways to open a can, but this is probably the best. The second is more sophisticated: how to use a scavenged battery to drive electrolysis and isolate useful elements like oxygen and chlorine. That requires a better understanding of chemistry than you will get studying TV plotlines, but it’s mostly high school level science. And it hints that the best solutions actually create more tools to help us more rapidly recover.


Often Dartnell’s advice relies on a combination of scientific knowledge and scavenged resources. Both industrial detritus (a golf cart battery) and common household items (steel wool) are useful in resuscitating features of modern society. This kind of ingenuity is familiar in pop culture: television shows in particular from MacGyver to Breaking Bad feature protagonists whose expertise with the periodic table and access to a junkyard or various consumer packaged goods help save the day time after time. It’s the same principle: when the stakes are high we are capable of ingenuity, even if we aren’t geniuses.

We hope you can join us for Lewis Dartnell’s talk at The Interval on March 24, 02015

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell hardcover

Growing A Book For One Hundred Years

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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It started with a seed planted in the mind of Scottish artist Katie Paterson when she made the connection between tree rings and chapters of books. Now several years in the making, Paterson’s vision will unfold over the next century in her artwork Future Library–an ambitious and evolving piece that will outlive Paterson and most of us living today.

Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
In the summer of 02014, Paterson and her team planted 1,000 Norwegian Spruce saplings in the forest Normarka, situated just outside of Oslo. The site is about a 25-minute walk from a metro station, yet according to Paterson, feels deep within the forest and has no city sounds.

Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
These trees will supply the paper for an anthology of books to be printed in a hundred years’ time, when the saplings are fully grown. In the meantime, one writer every year will be invited to add a new text to the collection of unpublished, unread manuscripts held in trust at the New Public Deichmanske Library in Bjørvika until their publication date in 02114. The text can take on any length, form, and genre. The only request is to have the work submitted by manuscript within one year of invitation. As the trees grow, so does the collection. Katie Paterson explained:

The idea to grow trees to print books arose for me through making a connection with tree rings to chapters – the material nature of paper, pulp and books, and imagining the writer’s thoughts infusing themselves, ‘becoming’ the trees. Almost as if the trees absorb the writer’s words like air or water, and the tree rings become chapters, spaced out over the years to come…This artwork will bring together the work of preeminent writers, thinkers and philosophers of this and future generations. It is an artwork that belongs not only to us and the City of Oslo now, but to these who are not yet born.

With the forest planted, the next key part of the Future Library is designing the Silent Room to house the unpublished texts in the New Deichmanske Library, which will open in 02018. In collaboration with the library’s architects Lund Hagem and Atelier Oslo, Paterson is specially constructing this room from the cut-down trees recently cleared for the Future Library saplings.

Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
The Silent Room will be located on the top floor of the library – the floor that houses the library’s special collection of books and archives. The small, intimate room will be geared for one or two people; it will face the forest, awaiting the growth of the trees and providing a view of where, in essence, the books are developing. The other aspect of the texts–the unpublished manuscripts–will be contained here with only the authors’ names, the title of their work and the year visible to visiting patrons. Katie Paterson explained:

The atmosphere is key in our design, aiming to create a sense of quietude, peacefulness, a contemplative space which can allow the imagination to journey to the forest, the trees, the writing, the deep time, the invisible connections, the mystery.

As is the case with any long-term project, questions of trust dominate the design of Paterson’s Future Library. Planning a project with a timescale of 100 years provides many challenges, such as the consideration of tree types, native Norwegian pests, climate, or potential fires; communicating across time; ensuring access to a printing press (one will be stored in Oslo and workshops will be held for the next generations in printing and binding books); and crafting 100-year contracts with lawyers. How will the library room be looked at and experienced in a century? How will the materials react over the decades to come? What languages will people be speaking in 02114? What kind of technologies will exist? What will be the status of the printed book, the written word? Paterson asked herself 100-year-timespan questions such as these with every decision made for Future Library. It involves thinking and developing on a timespan that transcends most conventional artwork. Paterson explained:

The works like Future Library really slow the pace down, to over a century. There is still constant movement within the artwork; inviting authors, the library room design, trust meetings, forest tending, yearly events, the writing, even the tree rings forming. Future Library will evolve and live over ‘long time’ and over ‘now’ simultaneously…I like the idea that time is substance, that can be manipulated and invented. I certainly see time as non-linear – reaches of time, webs, loops, networks, holes – and visualize time growing and existing like a cell or a wave, expanding and contracting. Future Library is marked out by yearly demarcations and these ‘chapters’ keep it fluid.

Future Library was conceived by Paterson, is commissioned and supported by the Bjørvika Utvikling urban development project, and produced by the Bristol-based arts producer Situations. A Future Library Trust has been established to help sustain Future Library for its 100-year duration. It consists of seven members, including the literary director of the Man Booker Prize. Its members will change decade by decade, and they are the ones to invite the 100 authors, whose names will be announced year by year. The authors are being selected for their “outstanding contributions to literature or poetry and for their work’s ability to capture the imagination of this and future generation.”

Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
This month, award-winning author Margaret Atwood was named as the first contributor to the Future Library. The author of novels such as Daughters of the North and Oryx and Crake (both of which will be included in Long Now’s own Manual for Civilization) is in many ways ideally suited for a collection like Future Library: much of Atwood’s work explores human lives and lived experience in a variety of possible futures. As Paterson explains,

[Atwood] is incredibly perceptive, continually writing about prescient subjects and her work speaks across generations, across time. She writes about time and catapults her readers to a future time and place, projecting unsettling, strange, dystopian worlds. Her work has so much to say about us alive now and futures we are building as a species.

Atwood has already started writing the tale that only she will read during her lifetime.

When asked about the content of her story in an interview with the Louisiana Channel, Atwood stated that wild horses could not drag it out of her:

I think it takes us to that period of childhood when we used to bury things in secret locations and hope that somebody would come and dig them up. Or that other period when we put messages in bottles and put them into the ocean. But essentially that’s what writing is anyway, so publishing a book is like a message in the bottle and throwing it in the ocean because you never know who will read it. And writing and publishing a book is also like time travel because the book is a vehicle for the voice, and it doesn’t turn into a voice again until somebody at the other end reads it. So in this case, the filament between the launching of the book and the turning of the book back into voice just happens to be longer than usual.

On a cosmic timescale, a span of 100 years is fleeting and insignificant. “However, in many ways the human timescale of 100 years is more confronting,” Paterson explains. “It is beyond many of our current life spans, but close enough to come face to face with it, to comprehend and relativize.”

What can help us confront and comprehend this short-yet-long timespan is, perhaps, a sense of hope and optimism. The Future Library project, for its part, tries to encourage these perspectives. In her reply letter to her Future Library invitation, Atwood wrote, “This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years!” Paterson expands upon Atwood’s statement in her own words:

In its essence, Future Library is hopeful – it believes there will be a forest, a book, and a reader in 100 years. The choices of this generation will shape the centuries to come, perhaps in an unprecedented way. Inside the forest time stands still. This place could have existed for one hundred, one thousand, one million, or even one hundred million years. I take comfort in the natural processes that have unfolded over such enormous expanses of time. Imagining the plethora of living beings that have evolved in its ecosystem. The earth itself has a predicted lifespan of another few billion years, and there are millions of other planets and galaxies. Life in this universe will continue to exist.

Photo by Giorgia Polizzi

The Manual for Civilization takes The Knight Foundation News Challenge

Posted on Saturday, October 18th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Manual for Civilization Knight News Challenge

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.

Last Day of the Interval Brickstarter: Put Your Name on Our Wall

Posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Stewart Brand - a Library is a window

Tonight is your last chance to become an Interval Charter Donor
all donors by 9pm Pacific on 10/1/02014 will be listed on our Donor Wall
at The Interval in San Francisco. Please help us reach our goal!

Today culminates two years of raising funds to build and open The Interval at Long Now.

We have had an incredible response from people around the world donating to help us complete Long Now’s new home which is also a gathering place for our members and the public. Only a few hours left and we are getting ever closer.

Thanks so much to all of you who have donated to our ‘brickstarter’ so far

If we make the goal we’ll throw a big party for our Charter Donors and the top donors will get a special tasting session with the Gin Possibility Machine that will be our Bespoke Gin Robot.

We hope you will consider a donation, or just spread the word to help us reach our participation goal of 1000 Charter Donors.

But just by the fact you are reading this blog means you’re showing an interest in long-term thinking. So thanks to you, because you are a part of realizing our mission to help everyone think more in the long now.

 photo by Catherine Borgeson

David Brin, Bruce Sterling & Daniel Suarez – Manual for Civilization Lists

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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IMG_8330-LPhoto by Particia Chang

Our brickstarter drive for The Interval at Long Now ends October 1, 02014. Please consider a donation today to support completing The Interval, the home of the Manual for Civilization.

The Manual for Civilization is a crowd-curated collection of the 3500 books you would most want to sustain or rebuild civilization. It is also the library at The Interval, with about 1000 books on shelves floor-to-ceiling throughout the space. We are about a third of the way done with compiling the list and acquiring selected the titles.

We have a set of four categories to guide selections:

  • Cultural Canon: Great works of literature, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy, etc
  • Mechanics of Civilization: Technical knowledge, to build and understand things
  • Rigorous Science Fiction: Speculative stories about potential futures
  • Long-term Thinking, Futurism, and relevant history (Books on how to think about the future that may include surveys of the past)

Our list comes from suggestions by Interval donors, Long Now members, and some specially-invited guests with particular expertise. All the book lists we’ve published so far are shown here including lists from Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Maria Popova, and Neal Stephenson. Interval donors will be the first to get the full list when it is complete.

Today we add selections from science fiction authors Bruce SterlingDavid Brin, and Daniel Suarez. All three are known for using contemporary science and technology as a starting point from which to speculate on the future. And that type of practice is exactly why Science Fiction is one of our core categories.

David Brin is a scientist, futurist and author who has won science fiction’s highest honors including the Locus, Campbell, Nebula, and Hugo awards. His 01991 book Earth is filled with predictions for our technological future, many of which have already come true. He has served on numerous advisory committees for his scientific expertise.

David BrinDavid Brin (photo by Cheryl Brigham)

David Brin’s list

Bruce Sterling‘s first novel was published in 01977. In 01985 he edited Mirrorshades the defining Cyberpunk anthology, and went on to win two Hugos and a Campbell award for his science fiction. His non-fiction writing including his long-running column for Wired are also influential. He spoke for Long Now in 02004.

Bruce Sterling (Photo by Heisenberg Media)Bruce Sterling (photo by Heisenberg Media)

Bruce Sterling’s list

Daniel Suarez made a huge stir with his 02006 self-published debut novel Daemon . Its success led to him speaking in 02008 for Long Now’s Seminar series and to a deal with a major publisher. In 02014 he published his fourth novel Influx.

Daniel SuarezDaniel Suarez (photo by Steve Payne)

Daniel Suarez’s list

Science Fiction to Science Fabrication Talk at The Interval July 1, 02014

Posted on Monday, June 16th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Novysan speaks 7/1/02014 at The Interval

Tickets are on sale for Science Fiction to Science Fabrication July 1, 02014 at The Interval

Artist/maker/hacker Dan Novy (Novysan) is an Emmy award-winning transmedia storyteller with a background in theater, a host of film and television credits, and a research/PHD-candidate position at the MIT Media Lab. Last fall he and his colleague Sophia Bruckner taught Science Fiction to Science Fabrication (aka “Pulp to Prototype”) at the Lab; their students read classic and contemporary science fiction and then built prototypes based on the worlds they’d read about.

The authors they read included J. G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Warren Ellis, Daniel Suarez and William Gibson. The point was that the fantastic future worlds of speculative fiction are often essential precursors to real world technology. Novy’s own work in Immersive Display technologies and Non-Invasive Narrative Neurostimulation has drawn inspiration directly from the works of Neal Stephenson and Ray Bradbury. He’ll tell us more about the class and share some thoughts about the Manual for Civilization as well.

This event is part of a new series of salon talks at The Interval. Next up in the series is Violet Blue on Tuesday, June 17 discussing long-term online privacy models and her latest book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. Tickets are still available.

Violet Blue at The Interval
The Interval at Long Now is Long Now’s new home which is now open seven-days-a-week. A cafe and museum by day and with a cocktail, beer, and wine menu after 5pm, The Interval features art designed by Brian Eno and artifacts from our 10,000-year Clock. Several Tuesday nights a month The Interval hosts salon events.

Manual for Civilization Book List from Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs

Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Mark Pauline, Survival Research Labs
Photo of Mark Pauline by Karen Marcelo

What information is essential to sustaining civilization? What books would you want to have if we had to start from scratch? What references would we need available to rebuild what we have today? Long Now is collecting 3,500 books based on those questions to form a Manual for Civilization. We’ve asked for suggestions from Long Now members, donors to The Interval at Long Now (where this library will be housed), and a diverse, distinguished group of experts who we’ve invited to help.

Mark Pauline, Survival Research Labs

Today’s list of additions to the Manual for Civilization comes from a groundbreaking artist whose work suggests a post-apocalyptic future full of fiery marauding mechanical creatures. For 35+ years Mark Pauline has been building and destroying machines as founder and leader of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL).

Two decades before Robot Wars and BattleBots made DIY-built robo-gladiators a television spectacle, Mark Pauline and SRL were creating their own machines out of industrial detritus and staging underground events in San Francisco that were full of flying metal, shooting fire and lots and lots of noise.

Since 01978, SRL has produced more than 50 events around the world with a mission to “[re-direct] the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.” Here’s what that looks like:

Photo by Jacob Appelbaum http://appelbaum.net
Photos by Jacob Appelbaum http://appelbaum.net
Photo by Jacob Appelbaum http://appelbaum.net
SRL show photos by Jacob Appelbaum

Mark’s book list includes the nearly 3,000-page Machinery’s Handbook plus fiction by Ballard, Burroughs and Pynchon amongst others. His one historical entry, unsurprisingly, is a social history of technology and warfare: War in the Age of Intelligent Machines.

Here are Mark Pauline’s complete selections for the Manual for Civilization:

Photo by Jacob Appelbaum http://appelbaum.net
SRL show photos by Jacob Appelbaum

Thanks so much to Mark for taking the time to give us this great list. If the robo-uprising happens, now we’ll be ready.

Previously we’ve shared book lists from Neal Stephenson, Kevin Kelly, Maria Popova, and Brian Eno amongst others, and more suggestions are coming in from Long Now members and Interval donors. We are starting to acquire physical books for the shelves and are working with the Internet Archive to make digital versions of all these books available online. So whether you are visiting us at The Interval in San Francisco or on the other side of the world you can access the Manual for Civilization collection.

To add your recommendations for the Manual for Civilization and vote for which suggested titles should find a place on The Interval’s shelves, just make a donation to support the project. All donors, at any level, can suggest and vote on books. And your support will help give long-term thinkers an inspiring place to gather, full of amazing books.

The Interval at Long Now opens in May 02014

This week The Interval “brickstarter” surpassed $400K in funding. That’s more than 80% of our fundraising goal. This covers the capital improvements and redesign of our space at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, including the build-out of a beautiful bar/café/event space for the public, offices for Long Now staff, and a world class audio-visual system for showcasing sound and visuals by Brian Eno.

We have a few weeks left to reach our final goal before we open our doors in May. Charter donors will get invites to pre-opening parties and lots of other great benefits. Very soon we’ll share details about our opening dates and the first events we’ll host at The Interval.