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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

One of the bears who lives with me is named after Brian Eno (just the latter part - he excused himself the 'Brian'). Like you, I have never seen anything unusual in this but you would be surprised at the number of waifs, strays and ne'er-do-wells who fetch up at my flat, scrape acquaintance with said bear, and go on to ask him why he named himself after the keyboard player from Roxy Music.

'It's because we bears are nigh on immutable,' Eno replies politely.

'But,' splutters Tamsin, our most recent visitor, 'your namesake has gone from high brow glam to fathering the whole ambient movement to pioneering sampling to … whatever he's doing now.* He's the very embodiment of change.'

Eno sighs, nudges me off my laptop, and directs the browser to longnow.org, home of The Long Now Foundation.

'The Long Now' is a term Brian Eno coined in response to Western society's extreme short-termism. He went on to co-found The Long Now Foundation in 01996 (sic - the extra zero is there to remind us of the likely bigness of the future and 'to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years'). The foundation 'hopes to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mindset and promote "slower/better" thinking'.

This, it turns out, is a rather grander enterprise than the rather better known 'slow food' movement (slowfood.com) and comprises various projects that aim to save humankind from being 'week-wise but century-foolish' while 'creatively fostering responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years'.

Accordingly, the 60ft-high Clock of the Long Now planned for the Nevada Desert will keep accurate time for the next 10,000 years but will tick just once a year, chime once a century and will send forth a cuckoo once a millennium. The foundation's 10,000-year library already contains an archive of 2,376 of the planet's languages (the target is to cache them all); a timeline tool called Long Viewer; and a Long Server - an umbrella for various 'digital continuity software projects'. Perhaps the most interesting elements, though, are the Long Bets. Members back their long-term predictions with hard cash (minimum $200) - the eventual winnings going to charity. A typical example is the $2,000 wager between Peter Schwartz (the prophet) and Melody K Haller (the gainsayer): 'At least one human alive in the year 02000 will be alive in the year 02150.'

The foundation's laudable altruism - none of the board members will see more than a fraction of the next 10,000 years - reminds us that God too takes the long view of earth's history. To demonstrate this to Tamsin, Eno gives her his timepiece and asks her to look at it after dusk. As the Psalmist says: 'A thousand years in your sight is but a watch in the night.'

* For reference, he's the Lib Dem youth affairs advisor.