March 12, 2022

Why I'm crazy about the Long Now Foundation

Why I'm crazy about the Long Now Foundation

For a long time I was a huge fan of TED talks, and would eagerly gobble up the latest talks as they came out, then dove into the regional TEDx talks as I used up the main series. I saw a lot of great talks in this time and really appreciated what TED has accomplished in putting these talks on. I'm sure there are still many more that I've missed and I will probably find time to watch more over time.

The Long Now talks though, are on a different level entirely. Rather than the typical 14min or so TED talk, that tends toward a template that is so predictable it's been humorously parodied on multiple occasions, the Long Now talks are usually 40 minutes or so with an extended Q&A session. The questions that are asked in these sessions are not the usual zinger and gotcha kinds of questions which are often not even questions but attempts to advance some dubiously related agenda of the questioner, but consistently intelligent and thoughtful questions related to the talk.

In the last two weeks since seeing Kim Stanley Robinson's talk live and becoming a Long Now Foundation member, I've listened to half a dozen talks via the Long Now's two podcast. This included one of my favorite podcasters Julia Galef of Rationally Speaking with a talk on soldier vs scout mindset with a Q&A hosted by Long Now founder Stewart Brand, an electric and hilarious talk by Sci Fi writer Bruce Sterling on how to be futuristic, and a great talk on how deep Earth processes affect human development and culture by planetary scientist Lewis Dartnell. I'll also be reading his book Origins as soon as my library has it available.

I listened to a talk by Caroline Winterer about the revolution in human understanding of time over the course of the century following the American Revolution when almost everyone believed that the Earth was 6000 years old up until the first car was built when almost everyone understood our planet was more than four billion years old. I listened to a talk by Monica L Smith about the development and importance of cities over the past half dozen millennia. I heard a talk about the likely progress of the next three decades by Peter Leydon that sounded mind-blowingly optimistic in the light of the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine happening while I was listening.

These are a tiny drop in the bucket of what the Long Now's two podcasts have available and I'll be devouring this excellent content for the foreseeable future. There's nothing quite like a real talk, though, and I intend to start catching these regularly, starting with a talk by the biographer of a new account of the life of Stewart Brand himself in a couple of weeks. I'll be attending with a Seldon Crisis listener and patron who just happens to be in town at the time and who I've never met in person. Expect another blog post on that occasion.

In short, the community of Long Now feels like a society of uniquely imaginative and brilliant people somewhat like a French philosophical salon or the Royal Society of England in past centuries. I'm so happy to have taken the plunge to get to know them better and feel that it's already enriched my life and my intellect in this short time. I encourage you all to explore their two podcasts; Conversations at the Interval and Seminars about Long Term Thinking.