November 14th, 2003

hat

Brian Eno is a smart guy

Tonight Brian Eno's giving a talk about the Long Now Foundation. I tried to work for them back when I was a jobless bum in Berkeley. I forget what the job title was, but I would have been happy just making coffee for them.


The Long Now job was one of the top four fantasy jobs I applied for despite being grossly underqualified. The other three were:


1) programmer at the Exploratorium. They wanted someone to design an interactive microscope exhibit. And it was a union job, so by law you couldn't work more than 37.5 hours per week!! Oh man I still salivate just thinking about it. That environment would have been so different from cubicle land.


2) congressional aide for Barbara Boxer. Or maybe it was Dianne Feinstein? Let's face it, I was not especially qualified for this job, given that my only experience with governmental work is that one time I went to the DMV to get my license renewed.


3) tour guide at a chocolate factory. Yes!! Really!! Like Willy Wonka!! Except they didn't call me back.


Ok this reminiscing about jobs I didn't get is bumming me out. Back to Brian Eno. I've admired him ever since I read A Year With Swollen Appendices, which collects a years worth of his fascinating journal entries and musings. "Ambient music" and "generative music" were two of his better ideas, but they weren't the only ones. Another of my favorites is his term "scenius", which refers to the situation where you have a lot of people who individually aren't super-talented, but somehow when they all get together in a scene their art is transcendant. (See for example acid house in Britain in the 80's, how everyone was sampling everyone else and the result was an amazing profusion of hot singles.)


I like Eno because his is an example of a positive career path in art/pop culture. I like that he achieved some measure of pop success--playing in Roxy Music, working with Bowie, U2, etc.-- while staying largely out of the limelight. His installation "Compact Forest Proposal" at SFMOMA was one of the better things I've seen there in recent years. He gets respect from artists and intellectuals, but he's not pretentious at all. He thinks about the bigger picture. That's the point of the Long Now foundation, which he started with Stewart Brand and some other people whose names I'm too lazy too look up.


In modern times our attention spans are notoriously short, and in politics this means policies tend to look only as far as the next election. The Long Now Foundation would like to jar us out of this short-term mindset and make us contemplate a more long-term view. Not "long term" like 20 years-- "long term" like 2000 years. What if you wanted to make a clock that ticks once every millenium? What considerations are involved in making a clock that could last for 100,000 years? Whether or not the clock ever gets built, the process of designing it forces us to examine all kind of issues related to durability, sustainability and psychology. What kind of materials would you use? Where would you put it? How would you provide for its maintenance?



Long Now's goal is to make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare.