Wednesday, February 04, 2009

standing in the long now

Greenbelt festival is always a high point in my year and always a creative time for mayBe. I love this year's theme just announced: standing in the long now. Here's some of Martin Wroe's take on the theme. The pic is from one of mayBe's 'way of the sun' events at Greenbelt 08.
'The Long Now'. The phrase was coined by the musician, producer and all-round interesting thinker Brian Eno. And a good way to capture what it alludes to is with a legend about the C14th founders of New College, Oxford. The story goes that the dining hall of New College was built with a series of huge oak beams. About half a millennium later, at the end of the C19th, the beams needed replacing. Being a wealthy institution the College owned some land and wondered if there were any oak trees on it. 'Ah...' said one of the tenants who farmed their land, 'We wondered when you'd be in touch.'

Turned out the farmers had a tradition that back in the C14th a new grove of oaks had been planted to make up for those cut down to provide the dining hall beams. The story was passed through the generations, one farmer to another: these oaks were protected, set aside for New College. Through the generations, the farmers were waiting, for century after century. For half a millennia.

In 1966, Eno, Stewart Brand, Danny Hillis and others set up The Long Now Foundation designed to 'foster long-term thinking'. At the Foundation they take a different perspective on time - they want to signal that life is not about speed but about presence, not about 'faster and cheaper' but slower and deeper. For example, they're developing 'The 10,000-year Clock' which only ticks once a year, has a century hand not an hour hand - and might even have a cuckoo, but only to emerge on a millennium.

In an age of 'do-it-now' and the instant decision, when waiting times are always coming down and the destination always trumps the journey, the idea of 'the long now' is deeply resonant for people of faith. In our traditions we keep alive the stories of iconic figures from past millennia because we know they will inspire us in bringing change to the present one.

So what does it mean to stand in this long now? To become long-sighted? To plan for a present we may never experience, to long for a world we may have left before it arrives. What would it be like if gratification was not instant and the waiting had not been taken out of the wanting.

Would a credit-crunch take on a different perspective?
Would a painting or a piece of music take on another kind of value?
And how about a career? Could that find itself in competition from something as old-fashioned as a 'vocation'?

We're all standing in The Long Now - and at Greenbelt 09, we're going to stop and notice it and wonder what it means.

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