Yeah, it’s a parody, but it’s pretty darn funny – an imagining of what an iPod might look like if designed by Brian Eno, complete with binary steampunk computer and a “speaker horn.” It plays a single song for 1,000 years.
This is inspired in part by Eno’s involvement with the “Long Now” project, a non-profit endeavor that tries to get people thinking about the long-term rather than the short. One of the Long Now’s projects is the Clock of the Long Now, “the world’s slowest computer.” It’s a clock that ticks once per year. The cuckoo comes out once every millennium, for the next 10,000 years. Land for the clock has been purchased, and the design process is underway.
When I tell my friends about the millennium clock, either they get it or they don’t. Most of them assume I’m not serious, or if I am, I must be having a midlife crisis. (That’s nice, Danny, but why can’t you just write a computer program to do the same thing? Or, Maybe you should start another company instead.) My friends who get it all have ideas that focus on a particular aspect of the clock. My engineering friends worry about the power source: solar, water, nuclear, geothermal, diffusion, or tidal? My entrepreneurial friends muse about how to make it financially self-sustaining. My writer friend, Stewart Brand, starts thinking about the organization that will take care of the clock. It’s a Rorschach test – of time. Peter Gabriel, the musician, thinks the clock should be alive, like a garden, counting the seasons with short-lived flowers, counting the years with sequoias and bristlecone pines. Artist Brian Eno felt it should have a name, so he gave it one: The Clock of the Long Now.
Ten thousand years – the life span I hope for the clock – is about as long as the history of human technology. We have fragments of pots that old. Geologically, it’s a blink of an eye. When you start thinking about building something that lasts that long, the real problem is not decay and corrosion, or even the power source. The real problem is people. If something becomes unimportant to people, it gets scrapped for parts; if it becomes important, it turns into a symbol and must eventually be destroyed. The only way to survive over the long run is to be made of materials large and worthless, like Stonehenge and the Pyramids, or to become lost. The Dead Sea Scrolls managed to survive by remaining lost for a couple millennia. Now that they’ve been located and preserved in a museum, they’re probably doomed. I give them two centuries – tops.