Investing in Optimism with Long-Term Thinking: The Long Now

The Long Now Foundation is like nothing else out there. The institution was founded to encourage long-term thinking — beyond quarterly or annual cycles, beyond the decades of a human lifespan, beyond centuries or even a millennium — a perspective stretching forward 10,000 years and further.

According to one of the founding board members, Stewart Brand,

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span… Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed — some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries.

Toward that goal, The Long Now Foundation is pursuing a handful of projects that are crafted to endure the test of the ages, and perhaps even assist civilization’s survival or restart. At first blush, some initiatives may seem impossible, counterintuitive, or bizarre. If we barely know how to manage ourselves, why would we want to conjure new herds of woolly mammoths and flocks of passenger pigeons? Why are they building a giant clock inside a mountain? Why on earth would they build a world-class bar in one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities?

OWLsharesBlog-LongNow-Bristlecone-wIn fact, there is a very good reason behind each of these projects — don’t take my word for it, click and read to satisfy yourself. However, even more important is the optimism driving them.

The Long Now Foundation encourages us to rise above the noise of short-term troubles and see the horizon’s relative calm. This vantage doesn’t trivialize our current challenges, but frames them in their proper context alongside longer-term concerns and possibilities. It’s this expanded perspective that allows the Long Now to consider novel approaches to their goals.

And it’s something the rest of us could stand to learn. Immediate needs can easily distract individuals or corporations from considering the extended impact of their practices. But thinking forward like the Long Now can spark optimism and imagination, helping align day-to-day actions with distant goals and inspiring the kind of unconventional thinking necessary to bump out of old grooves.