Eternity Clock

I guess it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I like objects around the concept of time.

I like how time is simultaneously stretchy and rigid, I’m endlessly challenged by the notion of planning for the future but living for the moment, and the necessity of thinking about projects and life beyond our own lifetimes strikes me as both elemental and Quixotic.

So here’s the Eternity clock by Alicia Eggert and Mike Fleming.

It’s made of thirty clocks hidden behind a white sheet of acrylic, the hands of the clocks arranged so that every twelve hours, you can see Eternity.

I imagine sitting and meditating on the passage of the hands between each momentary vision of the word might seem like an eternity, or if you are contemplatively inclined, might actually take you there.

The Eternity clock poses a nice temporal counterpoint to the work of the Long Now foundation, which is building the 10,000 Year Clock. A clock for an eternity, at least by human standards.

Year-Round Gardening

After ringing in 2014 with good friends, I was thinking on this first morning of the New Year about the annual milestones and celebrations provide a mooring for the passage of time.

Door to the Chancellery of the City and Canton of Geneva, Switzerland Photo: PK Read

Door in Geneva, Switzerland
Photo: PK Read

Actually, what I was really thinking about was how helpful it is to have regular markers, seasonal dates and observances to create a recognisable path through what might otherwise be an overflowing delta of uncollected life events.

Ever-ready trowel at the gate to the farm kitchen garden next door. Photo: PK Read

Gate to the farm kitchen garden next door.
Photo: PK Read

I don’t mean clocks and calendars so much as moments like New Year’s Eve, an otherwise unremarkable night that acts as a passage from one time to another. And with it, the reflections on the past and resolutions for the future, as if the tools for constructing the way forward aren’t always ready and at hand.

Regardless of which markers we use in our own country or cultures, time and life flow forward at their own pace.

Layers of time in the Long View
Source: The Long Now

So, Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014, but also: Best Wishes for Now, all the time.

The Causality of Lost

Seeing cities by running them has become a bit of an obsession for me over the past ten years. Provided the area is safe for a single female runner, I like to try and get out for early morning runs – I see the city from a different perspective and it fights jet lag.

A study was released late last year by Cardiff University which looked at how we experience time. As lead researcher Dr. Marc Buehner said, “Here we can show that perceptions are subject to systematic distortions depending on people’s causal beliefs – if people believe that they, or someone or something else, are in charge, time appears to pass faster. In contrast, just knowing when something will happen, in the absence of causality, did not change time perception.”

From anecdotal evidence on this topic, gathered during my weekend in New York City, I would tend to concur.

I went on a run early Sunday morning, just after dawn. Central Park was too far from my hotel, so I decided to try out a run I found online. It was supposed to look like this:

From: Melissa at

From: Melissa at

But then I got lost and ended up far afield of my planned trajectory, nearer to Wall Street. My only thought, as I shared the sidewalks with the people who live there or clean them, was that at some point I would hit the end of the island and then find my way back. The one fellow I asked for directions was very helpful, but I think he was a bit hard of hearing because instead of sending me to Fourth Street, he sent in the opposite direction to Worth Street, which is how I ended up in the Financial District instead of looping around Washington Square Park.
I knew I would make it back to my hotel at some point. But I did not know when, or whether my own inner compass was of any use. Thus, because I did not feel in charge, time seemed really slow, no matter how fast I ran. Once I finally found Washington Square Park, however, and the causality of orientation + running speed was factored into my perception, time sped up, and the trip back home seemed to just fly by.

Good Morning, Long Now

Prototype image of the 10,000 Year Clock. The final structure will be over 200 feet (60 meters) tall.Image: Long Now Foundation

Prototype image of the 10,000 Year Clock. The final structure will be over 200 feet (60 meters) tall.
Image: Long Now Foundation

It’s easy to see why we humans think in terms of years. After all, we base our thinking on the world around us, and the world around us travels around its star in what we call a year. If we lived on Jupiter, we might still think in terms of years, I suppose, but each year would last almost 12 of our current years. Assuming we had similar lifespans (and could actually survive on Jupiter, etc.), we would reach adolescence at age 1, be adult by age 2, and middle-aged at 4. How would that change our expectations?

For most people living in modern society, life is a quick-flowing, mercurial thing, and this is encouraged even further by modern technologies. Meanwhile, our world continues to orbit the Sun at its more or less stately pace and the cycles of the planet are mostly far longer than we comprehend or choose to reflect in our actions.

How welcome, then, is the project of the 10,000 Year Clock! A project that shows how we humans think:  how we keep time, how we design, our limitations and our potential. An actual clock, a massive device with gears and chimes built into a mountain, meant to keep time on a centennial and millennial scale, an attempt to think long and speak to ourselves in the future.

The undertaking is supported by the Long Now Foundation. Its president is Stewart Brand, who is quoted as saying, “Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries.

While I think short-sightedness is a built-in feature of human life – after all, we get hungry every single day and often our horizons don’t extend much beyond fulfilling our various hungers – it does seem that our intelligence should lead us to take a longer view of our place in vast natural cycles. If for no other reason than self-preservation.

The clock itself, designed by Danny Hillis, is funded by Jeff Bezos, founder of There is a fine irony in the founder of a company based on the rapid satisfaction of consumer needs investing his wealth in a project meant to instruct on the importance of the long term. Still, there have always been those who invest in the future even as they reap the wealth of the present.

And maybe that’s one of the lessons.

The Mechanical Chimes music designed by Brian Eno. Using a progressive algorithm, large star-shaped plates, called Geneva Wheels, running down the center of the clock will generate a different bell ringing order for each day of the next 10,000 years.Photo/Text: James Martin/CNET

The Mechanical Chimes play music designed by Brian Eno. Using a progressive algorithm, large star-shaped plates, called Geneva Wheels, running down the center of the clock will generate a different bell ringing order for each day of the next 10,000 years.
Photo/Text: James Martin/CNET