The Clock of the Long Now
When we first saw a photo of the big blue marble that is Earth
That we live on as almost infinitesimal specks in the galactic scheme of things
It gave us pause, and a sense
Of the gargantuan scale of the universe.
And once you see that picture, that blue ball swallowed whole by all that darkness
You cannot unsee or unthink
Either it or its implications for us
As we hang delicately in the balance.
But we have had no parallel image for the gossamer nature of our hours
Our infinitesimal speck selves now poised between the arcs of past and future
No reminder of our balancing act as we traverse time
No image that makes us viscerally aware our days are numbered.
Enter the Clock of the Long Now.
It will tick every ten seconds
Its hands will advance every century
It is designed to run for ten thousand years.
Where were we ten thousand years ago?
Pottery was a big deal
Learning to master crops, herds, huts and hearths
Fighting for our lives.
We were learning to count and tally
And just look at us now.
The goal of the clock is to defeat
Our critically short attention span
And by forced perspective
Make it take the much, much longer view.
Designed and sealed against both rust and dust
It is built on a hewn limestone base
500 feet beneath the Texas desert.
It will run on the heat generated
By light entering a sapphire window
Powering a titanium escapement
Feeding precision-mounted eight-foot stainless steel gears.
A mechanical computer will drive
Twenty geneva wheels which pirouette
To ring ten bells in unique combinations
A different tune every day.
Who will hear?
To preserve energy
The clock will always know the time
But will only display it
When someone turns a wheel
Near the intricately designed face
Which will cause the dials to move
Coming to rest on the exact now.
Who will see?
There are five room-sized chambers
Each with another zero.
They´ve filled the 1 year anniversary chamber
And are planning the 10´s contents now
They´ll leave the 100, 1000, and 10,000
For future generations to fill.
Who will celebrate?
Past people paved our way
Conquered death, disease, and distance
Marie Curie gave her life
To unlock the secrets of radium.
But these days we´re frightened
Preferring safety to sacrifice
Short-term over long term gain
And either over loss.
How better to remind us that who we are now
That what we do now
Will affect what, who, and whether
We will be?
How can we strike a light
To better see our way
To imagine our brightest future
Rather than our darkest?
What else could inspire us to be
Parsimonious, not profligate
With what we have been generously given?
What mirror will show us
Our best selves
To celebrate our triumphant return
Amazed and eager in attendance
When the clock strikes each millennium?