I've done some research on time capsules to learn what people decide to send forward to the future inside them. I was present for the opening of one time capsule buried at the San Francisco airport, and boy was that disappointing. What I learned is that stuff we think is important will not be in the future, and stuff we don't think is important now, will be. The most common reaction to opening a time capsule is "why did they save that? Why didn't they include x, y, or Z, which no one saved?"
My theory is that we tend to collect or save things we are conscious of as having value, and we ignore the material subconscious. We are not even aware that we are throwing these everyday items away because we are not even aware they exist in the first place. We simply don't see them. Yet it is these invisible, "subconscious" artifacts that will tell the best stories about this time later on.
This is where the archeologists do their research: in the garbage pits. Here they can explore the subconscious of the lost culture.
So if you are going to collect something that you want to be significant in the future, collect things that everyone ignores now. Stuff that is too insignificant to save, that no one in their right mind would save. These "subconcious" things are the ones that will be the most valuable in the future.
I know the Amish, and Wendell Berry and Eric Brende, and the minimites well enough to know that they believe we don't need exploding technology to expand ourselves, at least in the proper directions. They are, after all, minimalists. They see most of the promises of freedoms from increased technology as illusionary. In their eyes, technology generates fake choices, meaningless options, or real choices that are really entrapments. This is an argument worth exploring because there is some truth in it. The technium is an autonomous system that tends to favor choices by humans that expand its own reach, which can feel like a type of entrapment. And many choices we make don't matter.
But the evidence that the technium expands real choices is voluminous. Throughout history there is a one-way march from the farm to the bustling choices of the city. That steady migration is going on today at a shocking rate; More than two million people per day decide they prefer the options that modern technology life offers, so they flee the constrained choices in a picturesque and comforting village somewhere. They can't all be bewitched. It would be a powerful spell to fool 50% of the people living on this planet.
Those million urban migrants per day have enrolled into the technium for the same reason you have (and you have if you are reading this): to increase your choices. To increase your chances of unleashing your full potential. Perhaps someday someone will invent a tool that is made just for your special combination of hidden talents. Or perhaps you will make your own tool. Most importantly, and unlike the Amish and minimites, you may invent a tool which will help unleash the fullest of someone else. Our call is not only to discover our fullest selves in the technium, but to expand the possibilities for others. We have a moral obligation to increase the amount of technology in the world in order to increase the number of possibilities for the most people. Greater technology will selfishly unleash us, but it will also unselfishly unleash others, our children and all to come.
The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.
The overthrow of the book would have happened long ago but for the great user asymmetry inherent in all media. It is easier to read a book than to write one; easier to listen to a song than to compose one; easier to attend a play than to produce one. But movies in particular suffer from this user asymmetry. The intensely collaborative work needed to coddle chemically treated film and paste together its strips into movies meant that it was vastly easier to watch a movie than to make one. A Hollywood blockbuster can take a million person-hours to produce and only two hours to consume. But now, cheap and universal tools of creation (megapixel phone cameras, Photoshop, iMovie) are quickly reducing the effort needed to create moving images. To the utter bafflement of the experts who confidently claimed that viewers would never rise from their reclining passivity, tens of millions of people have in recent years spent uncountable hours making movies of their own design. Having a ready and reachable audience of potential millions helps, as does the choice of multiple modes in which to create. Because of new consumer gadgets, community training, peer encouragement and fiendishly clever software, the ease of making video now approaches the ease of writing.
This is not how Hollywood makes films, of course. A blockbuster film is a gigantic creature custom-built by hand. Like a Siberian tiger, it demands our attention — but it is also very rare. In 2007, 600 feature films were released in the United States, or about 1,200 hours of moving images. As a percentage of the hundreds of millions of hours of moving images produced annually today, 1,200 hours is tiny. It is a rounding error.
We tend to think the tiger represents the animal kingdom, but in truth, a grasshopper is a truer statistical example of an animal. The handcrafted Hollywood film won’t go away, but if we want to see the future of motion pictures, we need to study the swarming food chain below — YouTube, indie films, TV serials and insect-scale lip-sync mashups — and not just the tiny apex of tigers. The bottom is where the action is, and where screen literacy originates.
I could form a human bridge between me and Jesus, or Caesar, or Hero of Alexandria with only 26 people reaching out finger tip to finger tip across time. Those 26 people could fit into one room.
Calculated this way 1,000, or even 2,000 years doesn’t seem so distant. To span 1,000 years we need only 13 lifespans. We can hold a list of 13 names connecting us to the year 1000 AD in our head, and many people in the past have done so.
Going in the opposite direction we can imagine only 13 lives (and perhaps fewer if longevity increases), linking us and the year 3000 AD. Between you and the year 3000 AD stand only 13 lifetimes. In terms of lifetimes — which are steadily increasing due to medical progress — 10 centuries is just next door.
John Perry Barlow: Before the WEC came out, business was big and ugly. It was a kingdom of acronyms like IBM and GE. But Stewart saw sustainable small business as a virtue.
Lloyd Kahn: This wasn’t business as usual. Backyard tool inventors are a real subculture, usually very apart from the mainstream. For these tool guys, the WEC wasn’t just their Bible; it was great advertising. I think we kept a lot of people in business over the years.
Kevin Kelly: The WEC helped rid us of our allergy to commerce. Brand believed in capitalism, just not by traditional methods. He was the first person to embrace true financial transparency. His decision to disclose WEC’s finances in the pages of the catalog had a profound ripple effect. A lot of those hippies who dropped out and tried to live off the land decided to come back and start small companies because of it. And out of that came the Googles of the world.
Fred Turner: The WEC set the stage for all of today’s social networks. This kind of collaborative communication and the emphasis on small-scale technology really hit home in early Silicon Valley. You have to remember that the first Xerox PARC [the Palo Alto Research Center, a division of Xerox credited with inventing laser printing and the Ethernet, among other things] library consisted of books selected from the WEC by computer guru Alan Kay.
When I think about it, my ability to “read deeply and without distraction” is not impaired at all when it comes to 9,000 word articles in Harper’s or The Atlantic on, say, trends in urban crime, thick with policy analysis and statistics, or for that matter, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” It’s just when I try to read Proust, or heaven forbid, JR by William Gaddis—a novel that I greatly anticipated reading, but which quickly became a coaster for the glass of water on my bedside table.
A more important question, I think, is why our brains now seem to better tolerate nonfiction. Regarding Proust in particular, Carr’s argument is, for me, especially ironic: The way that I have found to actually read those long complex sentences is, in fact, to skim them—to ride along on the surface from one detailed, beautiful image of village life to another, without trying to unpack them too literally or rationally.
Very few infrastructure details begin with the idea that they will last 1,000 years. Strange as it sounds it is very likely that some basic software running inside computers today will be running in computers 500 years from now. We see that conservation in cells, where very primitive metabolic cycles present in archaic cells are still operating in cells today. All the fancy “recent” improvements run upon them. One could imagine that in 5 centuries, parts of unix will be found operating in servers. But it is clear that no one would be more surprised than the creators of unix. Most creations, including software, are written in less than optimal conditions. Creators always have the idea that they will go back later to fix the many known imperfections. Of course they are never fixed because the shipped rev is “good enough” — and so the temporary good enough becomes a permanent good enough.
What I went to last night was not the full-blown Passion play - that won’t happen until 2010 (they’re working on it now). I attended instead a play called JEREMIAS, written by the Jewish pacifist Stefan Zweig in 1933, which featured a relatively modest cast of 500, ranging in age from 3 to 80. The criterion for being in a play is that you should be born in Oberammergau or have lived there for 20 years. The current director is Christian Stückl, a local man who directed his first Passion at the tender age of 28 (making him the youngest director in the long history of the play). Stückl told us that, in the 2000 Passion, a group of Muslim inhabitants of the town asked if they could be included: they’d by that time fulfilled the 20 year residency criterion. After enormous discussion during which the Muslim folk elucidated the parallels between the Koran and the Bible, they were included.
Kevin Kelly says:
Warren Buffett recently bet an ambitious hedge fund operator $1 million that they won’t beat the returns of S&P 500 after their extremely hefty fees are accounted for. Buffett claims investors will do as well with a no-load index fund over the ten years of the bet. He has long been critical of the performance claims of hedge funds, and his bet is intended to put his money where his mouth is.
Buffett’s million dollar bet was made on Long Bets, the accountability mechanism founded in 2002 by Stewart Brand and myself, and operated by Long Now Foundation. The intention of Long Bets is to encourage responsibility in prediction-making (by keeping a public roster of predictions), to encourage long-term thinking (by offering a opportunity to shape a long-term bet), and to sharpen the logic of forecasting (by recording the logic of predictions and bets.)
In order to make a Long Bet, bettors need to lay out their reasoning. It’s worth reading the two sides’ very short arguments about investing because the two extremes of investment advice are contrasted in them. Buffett, as usual, is stunningly clear in his argument, which ends:
A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.