FM Reviews
First Monday

A Mellow Manifesto

Stewart Brand
The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility
New York: Basic Books, 1999.
cloth, 190 pp., ISBN 0-465-04512-X, $22.00.

Manifestos typically verge on the apocalyptic in the urgency they attach to their causes. They require vigorous direct action, and there can be no delay about it. The world can't wait for the salvation they promise. Stewart Brand's latest book is different, for the benefit it aims to bring us is respect for and indulgence in that rarest of contemporary commodities, patience. The book is unique in this and other respects.

Brand is probably best known for The Whole Earth Catalog, a futurist's Sears Roebuck cum J. Peterman that promoted a lot of things that seemed like extremely good ideas at the time; some of them still do. It promised to teach us all how to be self-sufficient, non-polluting, spiritual, energetic, adventurous, and communal. The Catalog is available online (http://reference.cd-rom-directory.com/cdprod1/cdhrec/000/740.shtml) and on CD-ROM as well. In keeping with Brand's futurist spirit, he jump-started the Internet for civilians with his WELL community, which still thrives.

Brand's essential interests and attitudes seem to have changed little since then. He remains focused on large issues, and continues to take them up with passion and responsibility. The Clock of the Long Now addresses the problem of temporal shortsightedness and seeks to find a remedy. He brings to it the same quasi-Puritan zeal that has infused his other projects, and, like a Puritan, his aim is still to convert us. Where Brand differs from the likes of Cotton Mather is in the fact that he has no concern for sin, as such. Instead he preaches against ignorance and egotism, urging that we need to learn to see beyond immediate self-interest into a greater depth of time, one whose reach vastly exceeds any mere human life span. He takes a reasonable depth of our concern to span some 10,000 years, "only" four hundred generations, and "the length of civilization thus far."

He is rightly concerned, it seems to me, that the attention span of "our" culture is shortening drastically. He argues persuasively that certain aspects of society function well at very high speeds but that we impose that pace of change on other elements of the human milieu only with grave and unforeseeable consequences. Brand suggests there is scope for high-speed change in fashion and art (the "creative and irresponsible" elements of culture) where change from the ground up can take place in a year or less. Commerce proceeds more slowly but still at a rather brisk pace; it changes perhaps in decades or less, though of course it can drive itself to change over the course of a quarter-year. The wisdom of that practice remains to be seen.

The Internet is both something of a villain and something of a challenge in this cause. A villain because, if it didn't impose the blazing pace of change we have constructed for ourselves, it certainly abetted it. It poses a challenge because so much of our memory is located there and nowhere else that it is subject to total loss, owing to the evanescent nature of magnetic data storage. This ensues both from the rapid decay of magnetic media and from the unprecedented pace of turnover in the hardware that stores and retrieves their stored data. It is typical of this mellow manifesto that it doesn't urge us to destroy the Net and the Web, only to integrate them into our long-term existence. Brand aims to be a world-saver, but he's prepared to be patient about it.

Infrastructure changes more slowly than commerce; government keeps its form for centuries. Culture changes over millennia, while nature left alone takes millions of years to change.

These are not independent elements of social life. They can and do influence each other, and often - as now - overlap. A dazzling pace of change in fashion, for example, can energize the slower-moving areas of culture, while they provide fashion with a substantial and predictable base of reference. No society can function entirely at the pace of any one element, though some, like our own, have tried.

Corporations may try to force nature to work at the pace of commerce. An example is clear-cutting, where a forest is razed in the interest of the bottom line, then left to regenerate itself, as though its destruction had not also destroyed the biome that sustained it. The point is that shortsighted pursuit of small, short-term goals frequently has enormous long-term costs. Brand suggests that the Soviet attempt to drive their entire society at the pace of the disastrous five-year plans provides a classic example of this error.

Those who want to "privatize" areas of society that have functioned for centuries at the pace of infrastructure (education, medicine) run grave risks of collapsing those systems in the interest of a short-term bottom line. Infrastructure's ordinary pace is admirably adapted to management by the slightly faster domain of governance, for in both areas questions of financial profit and loss are negligible in view of the enormous longer-term benefits of patient nurture.

There is plenty of ammunition in The Clock of the Long Now for those who would argue against the policies of privatization and the quick buck. One example of responsible care for the future is the GI Bill.

"Veterans returning from the First World War were treated badly in America. In 01944 [sic; Brand uses five digits to represent years as a reminder to think in deep time] it was those aging veterans, then in politically conservative American Legion posts, who pushed through the G.I. Bill for returning World War II veterans, providing them with college tuition and low-cost home mortgages; it was not a Roosevelt New Deal program at all. The G.I. Bill's cost of $14.5 billion was paid back eightfold in taxes in the next twenty years; it jump-started the boom years of the 01950s, it built the world's largest middle class and it set the nation decades ahead as the world moved into a knowledge economy. America's greatest infrastructural investment ever was made as a gesture of gratitude and justice rather than of profound forethought. A move in one infinite game - generational responsibility - paid off in another infinite gamegrowing prosperity."

In accordance with the depth of time Brand wants us to consider, he brings to bear the notion of two kinds of game. The finite game is familiar to any sports fan. Its point is to end the game in victory, but the point of the infinite game is to insure its own continuity. This is the kind of game that institutions play, and governments, and well-kept marriages, he might have added. The rules of finite games are fixed, at least for the duration of play, but the infinite game - "there is only one" according to James Carse, who invented the concept - changes its rules as it goes. Part of its structure is negotiation among the players. Agreement is not crucial to this kind of game. Society's strategies may include war. This is problematic from the perspective of the infinite game only when the potential for a decisive conclusion emerges in weapons of mass destruction, and when the apocalyptic intent to bring on that terminus takes over the game.

Fans of Bill Watterson's lamented comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" will remember the wonderfully subversive "calvinball" the two protagonists played and invented as they went. It went on forever, with interruptions, the rules always in flux but the game never changing - joyous, chaotic, and with occasional interludes of strenuous, painful, but never decisive combat. It was a lot like history.

Another of Brand's accomplishments is his correct prediction that photos of Earth from space would ignite a truly global environmental movement. Seeing the Earth and seeing it whole, from a point beyond its confines, would give us a literally new perspective on it and its unity of fabric, if not of opinion. It would, and did, inspire a great many of us.

He faces a similar problem with regard to time. The Earth photos revealed to us "the Big Here." We now need, he says, to recognize the Long Now, the fact that our actions have effects and that they endure in ways it is often difficult to foresee.

In order to bring about this fundamental change in consciousness Brand and his colleagues in their Long Now Foundation (http://www.longnow.org/) have undertaken to design and build both a monumental clock intended to endure for at least their proposed time depth, and an enormous library. The latter, while not quite aspiring to be Jorge Luis Borges' universal library, comes close. Brand and his associates plan to build two of them, one urban and fast-moving, the other in some range of geologically stable desert, for permanence. Like other libraries they will be insurance against a new Dark Age, which Brand imagines is not unlikely.

The libraries will be information's ark and in that sense no different than any others. But in order for them to endure they will need curators. People with the patience to undertake that task and to toil in obscurity for a long future are always around, but they will need support and encouragement from society at large. In order to bring that value into the consciousness of more people, Brand and his associates propose to design and build an enormous symbolic structure, the 10,000 Year Clock, based on "the world's slowest computer." It will tick once a year, strike on the century, and its cuckoo will emerge once a millennium. This is the more novel and interesting part of the plan.

The Foundation had to describe the project for the IRS in order to get non-profit status. Here's what Alexander Rose, a Foundation board member, wrote:

"[You arrive at] the base of a mountain somewhere in the high desert of the Southwestern United States. Looking up, you see a flight of shallow steps, each step carved from a layer of rock representing approximately 10,000 years of geologic time. After climbing one hundred of these steps, or one million years into the future, you are somewhat awed and belittled by the greatness of geologic time.

You [then] arrive at a flat knoll where you see a cave ahead. Through the opening of the cave you see some large but slow movement. You proceed and gradually make out a giant pendulum swinging back and forth deep within the cave ... . [You pass through several layers of clock mechanism.] When you reach the top of the stairs you are in a huge room several stories tall. It is dimly lit from a slot cut through the living rock of the mountain on the southern face. You make out two giant helices, one descending either wall, each being rotated by a falling weight that must weigh several tons. Then you are surprised by an immediate brightness in the room. It is coming from the sun that has just become directly in line with the slit on the wall. It is reflecting off a hemispherical mirror lighting up the whole room and heating up a sphere in the center of a great dial. The heating of the sphere actuates a synchronization mechanism which automatically adjusts the time of the clock to local noon. You are able to make out the dial around this sphere, now showing you the year in the cryptic method of keeping time when this clock was built. It reads the year 11,567. You then look at the rings in from this to find images you recognize of the Sun and Moon in their current phases as well as a diagram of the current night sky. From these you are able to work backward the actual time to your newer and more familiar time scale, But you are struck that people of this ancient time had the foresight to think this far into the future and create this place."

The IRS awarded them their non-profit status.

Anyone who ever played Myst must be reminded here of that game's loneliness, its displacement and confusion in time, where steam-powered elevators cohabit with space-travel and sailing ships. Myst also had the tone of cryptic opacity and longue durée that this passage evokes. I also found myself thinking of Ozymandias, though Brand's planning is at pains to avoid such a wreck, devising power sources and technology that he hopes will sustain themselves through the dark ages: solar heat, gravity, etc.

What brings Ozyamndias to mind is perhaps the oxymoronic humble grandiosity of the plan. Brand nowhere describes this project as a memorial to himself, but the fact of its colossal size and projected endurance make it monumental just the same. Perhaps large-scale ambition in itself is enough to evoke such qualms in this millennial moment.

The clock is humble in that it looks to an effective eternity of generations replacing one another in permanent anonymity, melancholy cheer for those who crave glory. The responsibility of the Long Now precludes any thought of individual fame. It has no place for prophets preaching apocalyptic perfection. In fact the Long Now stands in implicit opposition to any notion of apocalypse.

Those fantasies of termination always involve a drastic foreshortening of history where past and future telescope into an intense and endless now, a temporal singularity where the moment is all there is and ever will be. We can see this to some extent even in the Book of Revelation. It compresses the entire Bible into one condensed and highly symbolic recapitulation, which then must be swallowed whole: Rev 10:8. Apocalyptic projects renege responsibility, passing the buck for our failings to God or some natural force, either of which will remove the source of suffering and retrieve paradise. What's more, it always promises the change betimes. The apocalypse always cries "it won't be long now!"

The Long Now reverses this, though like prophecy it makes an urgent call for conversion and aims at large goals. It is an odd project, contradictory in its modesty. For the clock to succeed it must attain the status of a mythic symbol. Nothing less is likely to endure for the kind of long haul that Brand has in mind. It is hard to think offhand of a project that has tried to be mythic on purpose and succeeded. Myth requires centuries at least of negotiation among entire populations to attain that status. The Eiffel Tower comes to mind as an example of such a project, and the Statue of Liberty, though both have not been around anywhere near long enough to say for sure. That both are French may have some bearing, though I have no idea what it is. Other mythic schemes that come to mind have in common the distinctive trait of destruction. The Library of Alexandria is one, the realm of Alexander another, and the Temple of Jerusalem. Few weep for Rome, though some anonymous mourner puts an annual bouquet on Caesar's grave. Perhaps mythic stature comes easiest with loss, a troublesome omen for the Clock. - Ted Daniels, Ph. D., Director, Millennium Watch Institute

Sharon Steuer
The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book
Berkeley, Calif.: Peachpit Press, 1999.
paper, 240 p., ISBN 0-201-35399-7, $US44.99
Peachpit Press: http://www.peachpit.com/

About a decade ago, Adobe released an innovative computer program that would revolutionise digital illustration and design. It was, of course, Illustrator 88, which, for the first time, allowed professional graphic designers and artists to seriously use a computer for creating logos, artwork, book illustrations, posters, and so on. All of this in full colour and using exotic things such as vectors and Bézier curves.

From those distant days we have seen a lot of changes in terms of computing power and user expectations, factors which become evident by only glancing at the new Adobe Illustrator 8: compared to previous versions, this latest release can boost over 300 user-requested features, enhancement to existing tools, as well as the addition of new useful capabilities. Indeed, Illustrator has become so powerful that it has stopped being merely a computer application, and can be thought of as an extension of the human mind (and body).

The price for this, however, is that the level of complexity has grown in such a way that, in order to achieve outstanding results, the artist must be able to master complex techniques and feel completely at ease with the multitude of tools, transformations and effects the program offers.

This is exactly where Sharon Steuer's great book comes into play. The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book and its companion CD-ROM might, at first, seem just like another software manual, packed with explanations, step-by-step procedures, tips and tricks; and in fact, it is also such a book. However, it distinguishes itself from other guides by the perfect balance between theoretical information and real-life material, so important for the understanding of the topics covered. For example, every main technique is associated with and complemented by the work of a professional Illustrator expert. The choice of beautifully created posters, technical drawings, prints, labels, advertisements, geographical maps, and other promotional material is so well integrated into the chapters that the book acquires something of an inspirational aid. Indeed, the author herself encourages, in the preface, to "use this book as a reference, a guide for special techniques, or just a source of inspiration." The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book lives up to all of its expectations.

After a short introduction covering the new salient features of version 8, Steuer dedicates individual chapters to lines, fills, colours, templates, layers, blends, gradients, paths, type, layout, masks and special effects. Each time, step-by-step techniques are presented by analysing and breaking down a professionally created illustration to show how the various effects can be combined to achieve the desired results. Chapter 2 even includes some intermediate-level exercises which should help the reader acquiring those extra skills to become an Illustrator guru.

The last two sections deal with Web, multimedia and animation, and the interaction of Illustrator with other software programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, Dimensions and Streamline. It is here that the gallery pages truly demonstrate Illustrator's power when in the hand of the experts. Although many of the masterpieces might seem prohibitively complex, The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book always gives the talented graphic designer an opportunity to learn how to make the most of his or her creativity.

The CD-ROM included at the back is packed with a plethora of goodies, ranging from PDF files of reference cards and finished artwork to dozen of actions that can be imported into Illustrator for carrying out the most challenging transformations; from templates and technique lessons to actual contributions by the artists whose works appear in the book itself. Including the demo versions of several programs, utilities, fonts, plug-ins as well as numerous book previews and other documentation, the CD contains an astounding 900 items to be discovered and used in the most creative ways.

After reading the book, which is also very elegantly designed and laid out, I realised that, although being only 240 pages long, it provides material for months and months of experimentation and activities. It is a highly recommended book for both the novice and experienced user of this wonderful program. - Paolo G. Cordone.

Stephen Bajjaly
The Community Networking Handbook
Chicago: ALA Editions, 1999
paper, 204 p., ISBN 0-838-90745-8, $US27.50

Bajjaly, a professor at University of South Carolina, and one of the few people actually teaching a course on the topic (others are at Evergreen State in Washington, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois), has written a book to encourage librarians to take a leading role in the establishment and maintenance of locally controlled and driven community communications networks.

These became popular in the late 1980's with the growth of the Cleveland Free-Net and the National Public Telecomputing Network, some years before commercial ISPs provided reasonably priced access to the Internet. Actually, Net access was a by-product of the local Free-Net efforts which were focused on information and communications about the place in which they were located. Access to the Internet was secondary.

Bajjaly interviewed scores of librarians and community network administrators, and combined their wisdom with his own experience as an academic and as the administrator of a Columbia, South Carolina CN, MidNet. He wrote the book because of the great potential for such initiatives when the local library is involved. He worries that some government official will establish an "Office of Electronic Information" and ignore the job that the library is already doing in the print realm. After explaining the importance of CN and why libraries should participate, he offers a cookbook approach to the complex processes of planning the network, developing partnerships, managing the network once it's going, and the ever important funding problems. He has some general grant-writing guidelines as well as a number of sources for more information. While this is geared to the United States where there are many family foundations, much of this will still be useful in other settings. Other chapters include marketing and PR, developing local online information, providing public access facilities (the core of a community network, in my opinion), and a final chapter on evaluation and the S word, sustainability. The appendix includes many other organizations and sources of information. I believe the book was resting at the publishers, while another organization began that can be of great help to readers of this work. The Association For Community Networking should be included in the next edition.

Though my background is in libraries, I feel that this book is useful for anyone involved in starting a community network, but especially to librarians. If you are not one, the information here may help you get them involved in your local project. The last work, Doug Schuler's New Community Networks, devoted to this subject, came out in 1996, and much has changed. Bajjally maintains update links and other information on his own Web site whose URL has also changed since the book appeared: http://www.libsci.sc.edu/stephen/. - Steve Cisler


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