The Long Now Foundation – Museum and Store

“Caught up as we are these years in the whirligig of time, with our attention-deficit disorder and our technological obsession with the ever tinier and ever faster, how do we keep up with its pace and at the same time perceive outside it? Supposing that occasionally taking the long contemplative view is indeed a good thing, where do you stand to get one?” Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now

Photograph by Curtis Myers

One place where your search will be rewarded is The Long Now Foundation’s Museum and Store, located in Landmark Building A at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center. The Long Now’s headquarters has been here since 2006. It is open—free–to the public seven days a week, and though the museum’s space is small, it is filled with engaging artifacts that recall the so-called Cabinets of Wonder popular in Renaissance Europe.

The exhibits show two of the foundation’s projects: a clock which, in its final form, will record 10,000 years of earth-time and the 10,000 Year Library, featuring the Rosetta Project, which has created a disk with 15,000 pages of text covering 2,500 languages.

The clock is a work in progress that began in 01996–to affirm the 10,000 year time span the foundation uses five digits for the years instead of four.  The first prototype of the clock has been on exhibit in London’s Science Museum since June 02000.

Photograph by Ralph Horne

The clock’s first tick occurred on 12/31, 01999. Because of local and national concerns surrounding the coming of the millennium, foundation members could not find a space to rent for the celebration and had to host a small gathering of about 20 friends and family members in their offices. The clock ticked twice, once for each millennium.

The museum shares the ground floor of the Fort Mason space with a reception desk and store, which sells books, souvenirs, and DVDs of lectures given by well known thinkers in the fields of environmental science, physics, art, technology, social science. etc. The speakers are futurists for the most part, who support the foundation’s goal of promoting responsible long term thinking.

Unless otherwise noted, photographs are by Sally B. Woodbridge

The rest of the space houses the exhibits. No matter what the weather is outside, the interior seems bright, as befits the future. This brightness is not just a result of white walls and lighting; it is also produced by the light from the reflective materials of which the objects exhibited are made. Not just high grade stainless steel, but also monel, an expensive alloy made mostly of nickel and copper. You cannot create things to last l0,000 years on the cheap.

Most visitors do not see familiar things when they look around the museum, but labels and the explanations of the staff are very helpful. The store sells a very attractive, seventy-three-page book, Long Now, works in progress, by Alexander Rose, Executive Director of the foundation, that tells the story in words and pictures. (see review accompanying this text.)

Pictured above is the columnar binary bit adder mechanism installed in a cut stone boulder and topped with a planetary display called an orrery which, when activated, shows the phases and motion of the six planets of our solar system that are visible to the naked eye. The planets are made of a variety of natural stones such as yellow calcite for the sun and Venus, red jasper for Mars, Chilean lapis for the earth, and banded sandstone for Jupiter. This orrery is roughly 1/4 the size of the one that will top the final version of the clock.

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