What's New in Technology for August 2002

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What Time Is It?
Since most months we have discussed what is new and amazing in the world of technology gizmos, we thought perhaps we would slow down the clock a little this month and take a broader view.

Many are concerned with the future. Some view what lied ahead with excited anticipation, some with fear, some with dread. Regardless, we move relentlessly on through the calendar and things change. From hard drives to the Internet to cell phones, technology has been speeding up our lives, pushing the hands of time, if you will.

Have you ever stopped to wonder where we're headed? Are we a little like the guy referred to in the bumper sticker "I may be lost but I'm making great time?" Do we think of the consequences of our actions before we move ahead -- individually or as a culture? Clearly, the answer is no. It was Albert Einstein who said "Technology is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." Whether you agree or disagree, one thing is for certain, wherever we're going, we're getting there fast.

So let's stop for a moment and ask "What is time?" The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary gives as its first definition: "the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues." Good enough for everyday use. Or should we ponder the French aphorism "The more things change, the more they stay the same." No matter what your personal take on time is, you are a little bit older at the end of your pondering than you were at the beginning.

So, who cares? Some people care. Some people care enough to do something about it. Some of those folks cared enough to get together to design and build a clock that would run for 10,000 years. That's a long time. No, Roles was not involved. But Disney is interested. Stuart Brand, Brian Eno, Danny Hillis, and others, formed the Long Now Foundation. It is the foundation's mission to construct a clock that will run for 10,000 years. That's a long time. Well, everything is relative.

In the United States, it's a long time, at least for non-Indians. If you lived in Egypt or were Aboriginal or Tibetan Buddhist, maybe it's not such a long time. The idea is to provide a healthy counterbalance to the extremely fast-paced, technologically driven lifestyle continues accelerate. The hope is that by thinking in terms of such an expanded duration, we will expand our sense of responsibility. How many of us consider how our grandchildren (or their children) who are as yet unborn, will think of us? how do we regard our ancestors that we didn't have the chance to know, or those whom we barely know?

Many cultures have this expanded sense of time. For instance, the Navajo people have no word for time, there is only now. And even though these cultures think in such long terms, they stay in the now. It's just that their "now" is much larger. In this culture, the MTV, hyper-image advertising culture, when we think of the future, it us usually out of a sense of anxiety rather than out of a sense of responsibility. So, perhaps, as the foundation's members conjecture, something that reminds us that time moves on, may make us think more about the now.

The group is not advocating the boycott of anything, so don't throw away your cell phone and you'll need your computer and an Internet connection to get to their web site. However, the construction of the 10,000-year clock is planned for a desert area, away from cities, surrounded by a federally protected land. One small-scale prototype has been constructed and resides in The Science Museum in London, England. It is only nine feet tall. A second prototype, twice the size, is underway. The real one will be many times that size.

Whether you think this project is pure nonsense, the work of overeducated people with nothing better to do, and that the only think this article did for you was interfere with you following your stocks, that's okay. There is nothing wrong with the now. It's just what we put in it.

As the bumper sticker mentioned at the beginning of this article implies, maybe we haven't given ourselves enough time to find out where were are in the large schema of things. Perhaps if we ponder the larger picture, the smaller picture (our life) may get clearer. Give it time. And be that as it may, whether we're at Muir Woods, Walden Pond, or driving top speed on the local highways, we'll still plug in our cell phone to rejuvenate the sagging batteries and yell "Charge!"

We hope you have an enjoyable and peaceful August.


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