A Manual For Civilisation

I am a great fan of The Long Now Foundation, a group of people that foster long term thinking and projects within the framework of 10,000 years. They believe it counterbalances the rise in short-term thinking and planning that has arisen in the 21st century, where people can only think ahead to the next iphone model or the next election.

A great quote by Daniel Hillis is given for part of the inspiration of the foundation:

“When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 02000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 02000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.”

This clock is now being manufactured and situated in the Sierra Diablo Range west in western Texas with the prototype on display in the London Science Museum.


Another project undertaken by the Foundation consists of curating a library with the intention to hold volumes that would act as a manual for civilisation. While Long Now does not predict the downfall of all civilisation in the near future, they think it is a great premise for a collection of physical books to complement their new office and meeting space in San Francisco. They are aiming at a 3000 book limit with a breakdown of types of books given:

Image Source: The Long Now Foundation.

Mechanics and Civilisation includes technical books on how to build things and how to find and refine natural resources. In essence all of the technical know-how. Cultural Canon is a series of books believed to show the essence of human civilisation including Plato, Shakespeare and others. The Science Fiction component will consist of works of speculative merit where possible futures and big ideas are discussed. Futurism will consist of non-fiction speculations upon the future of the human race with an emphasis on our history.

The collecting has already started with suggestions being made by famous Long Now supporters such as Brian Eno, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Hugh Howey, David Brin and Bruce Sterling.

Last month I read an advance copy of Lewis Dartnell’s “The Knowledge” which aimed to be a technical manual on rebooting civilisation after collapse. I think this book would be a great addition to the Mechanics of Civilisation section.

What books would you like to be added to such a collection?

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