axel vogelsang on Fri, 8 Mar 2002 10:42:08 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> interview with alexander rose

Interview with Alexander Rose,
Director of the Long Now Organisation, San Francisco

The Interview was held about a year ago at the Viper 2000 Festival in
Basel/Switzerland but has not been published yet. At the end of the
interview there is an update in form of an e-mail exchange from early this

Related Websites:

...and my own little platform which I've recently set up:

Axel Vogelsang


Q.: How would you describe the purpose of the Long Now Foundation?

A.R.: The Long Now foundation was mainly created to lengthen cultural
attention span, to come up with ways of expanding the way that people think
about time while there is an ever shortening horizon that occures in
politics, business, and practisis.

Q.: How do you want to achieve this?

A.R.:We started out with a concept of a 10,000-Year Clock that was brought
about by Danniel Hillis. As a designer of some of the fastest computers in
the world he was interested in working on one of the slowest computers in
the world. And when a friend of his, Stewart Brand had this idea, he
actually thought that the clock was a very good Icon to help think about
long term time spans. But he was even more interested in some content behind
that and thought a 10,000-Year Library could go along with it. So over the
last three and a half years we have gone forward with physically building a
10,000-Year Clock, working towards a monument size version as well as
working on longer term data storage methods, most recently exemplified in
the Rosetta Disk Project.

Q.: Three and a half years ago...Was that actually the starting point of the
whole project?

A.R.: I've been on it for three and a half years now so I was the first
employee, initially as the project manager for the clock alone and then just
lately as the director for the foundation. Daniel Hillis probably has been
talking about this as long as maybe 10 years ago. He and Stewart Brand
pulled it together with the board of directers to operate as a nonprofit
organisation in the U.S. around five years ago.

Q.: How many people are involved in the whole project?

A.R.: We have 10 board members ranging from different fields of experience.
We're trying to add to a lot of people from technical fields. Most recently
we've added people like Roger Kennedy who used to be head of the National
Parks and many other various governmental and private founded organizations
in the U.S. as well as Michael Keller , who is head of the Stanford
Libraries. I'm starting to get more of the kind of academic and historical
side into the mix. And there are people like Brian Eno, Stewart Brand,
Daniel Hillis. So there is ten board members. In the office we have three
full-time staff. Myself, mainly working on the clock project and overall
foundation issues, one assistant, Camille and Jim Mason who is heading the
library and specific projects, mainly the Rosetta Disc Project.

Q.: I have seen the pictures of the mountain where you want to put up the
clock. Have you allready begun?

A.R.: Well we've purchased the land but there are a lot of subtle politics
issues that go on with the land in that area. One of the main reasons we
bought it is because it's surrounded by national park land. And that is good
in a sense that, that it is protected for at least the length of the U.S
government and the national park system. But it also means that we have to
deal with that in terms of access. For example the U.S. forest service has
adjacent personal land that they have to gain access with. There is a lot of
subtle issues there plus we have another two prototypes to build before we
are ready for that. So it's probably a decade away

Q.: You also said, you want to put up one clock in a deserted place and one
in a big city. Have you already chosen a city?

A.R.: We've had two offers so far from cities that are intriguing to us. One
was from Jerusalem ­ a site in the new city ­ and there was the idea that
there would be a three-calendar clock that would have jewish, muslim and
christian calendar systems on it. That was one proposal and we are still
waiting to see, if they can come forward with the money for that. The other
proposal was from San Jose in California, which was actually interesting for
the opposite reason: instead of a very stable place it's in the epicenter of
the increasing speed of our culture and besides their problem isn't money.
Either one of them would be interesting sites in fact. Maybe we could build
a pair of clocks if both sites would be interested.

Q.: Jerusalem does not look like a place of big stability at the moment.
Setting up the 10.000-Year Clock there seems a contradictory thought.

A.R.: Honestly, I haven't been in Jerusalem. I only have second hand senses
of the city. What is interesting about it is, that the artifacts of the city
have actually largely endured even through the political clashes that have
gone around it. Whether or not a three calender clock ist meant to bring
people together or if it will be seen as a target, I don't know. Maybe it's
an interesting social exercise to see if modern archaeology can be added to
the mix. Nevertheless it is one of the oldest cities on earth. It has a lot
of special meaning for a lot of people on the planet so it would be
interesting in that sense. A place like San Jose would be interesting in
that sense that it's the beginning of a new kind of culture that may or may
not make it. San Jose might be wasteland in a far shorter time then
Jerusalem which might make it that much more intriguing.

Q.: You said it needs some human beings to maintain the clock? What
intervals of maintenance are we talking about?

A.R.: The winding ritual could be done once a year or one could stretch that
out. But if you stretch it out one will have to find natural cycles that are
easy to understand - once a year is a very easy natural cycle. It's not a
mechanical problem but what happens, if you choose a decade or a century or
a millennium? We've only been a base ten culture for a fairly reasonable
amount of time. We've gone through base three five, seven cultures so maybe
the No. 49 will be more useful in the future, who knows? You could pick some
natural cycles like the lunar nutation which takes 18 and a half years . We
have to find a cycle that is more important than just once a year but at the
same time make it relevant from generation to generation so that at least a
father can say to his children "I did this the last generation". One of our
greatest examples that we often refer to is a Shinto temple called Issei
Shrine which is rebuilt from scratch every 20 years. For both, master
carpenter and apprentice carpenter it's a ritual that they go through and I
think that the physical act of building this thing reminds them about their
religion and why they're doing it. This ritual has helped Shintoism last
through Buddhism and other fluxes of religions. That's the kind of thing
we're after.

Q.: But doesn't this actually mean that if one generation forgets its task,
the whole project would die?

A.R.: In fact we designed the clock specifically to allow for it to be
stopped. I would actually say that the times the clock is stopped would be
as interesting if not more so, than the times when it's running. We included
information like the stars and the procession of the equinox so that even if
the clock was stopped for 6000 years and it was refound by another
civilization or another race for that matter they could from observations
see where the stars are now, see where the stars were when the clock stopped
and reset it back to current time. They would know when it stopped and where
they are now. It would be independent from all calender systems.

Q.: But it does not have a memory on its own?

A.R.: No, it wouldn't jump forward. You would have to set it forward.

Q.: Actually what is wrong with a society that is speeding up because we all
know the Western economy is buzzing and unemployment is going down. It seems
as if we are in a very comfortable situation

A.R.: I would say, that the main thing we are trying to point out is that
there is several levels to human time. They start at the very outside edge
with arts and fashion moving in many directions at various fast speeds and
then underneath there is things like commerce and then going all the way
down to infrastructure, governance and nature at the very bottom. The
problem is not that art and fashion and commerce and technology are moving
in very fast speeds. The problem is when you superimpose one layer on top of
the other and you're trying to do something like use a natural resource at
commercial speed.

A very good example is the whaling industry or the logging of the Pacific
Northwest. New York companies bought out companies that were logging
actually fairly intelligently in the North West, because they realized their
assets were worth more than the companies. Those assets are very old
Redwoods. So they started clear-cutting these Redwoods thinking of them only
as assets not as a long-term resource. So it's when you start doing that,
you start to reduce options for the future. We really wanted to bring
awareness to this type of issues. When we came up very recently with the
library project it was this issue of the digital continuity, that as a
civilization we were recently committing all of our record to digital media
which has basically a zero life expectancy. This is another example of where
we are rushing ahead. Moving into a new technology can be actually very
dangerous to a civilization.

Q.: Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about the problems of digital

A.R.: It turns out that governments, companies, libraries, archives have all
made a serious commitment to digitizing a lot of data and then after
throwing away the originals or in some way damaging the originals in the
scanning process, assuming that this concept of digital is forever. My
favorite quote about that digital media is forever is: " it is only slightly
facetious to say that digital information lasts forever - or five years,
which ever comes first." Even if you can recover the media, you cannot
recover the operating system. When was the last time you saw a 5 inch floppy
or an Apple II or something like that, in case you want to recover your
writing? I think this is going to be a severe problem to the point where we
can assume that everything that is currently digital and everything that has
been digital will be lost. I don't see any help for anything that is
currently on hard drives or that kind of media. One of the few recent hopes
is probably the Net because HTML and certain image formats have become so
widespread that it will be very difficult to move off of. At the same time a
very difficult problem is the amount of content that is generated and stored
in the Net or other archives. There are a lot of technological problems but
more it's a social issue. People are making this assumption about digital
technology equaling longer term physical archiving materials such as paper
or vellum. 

Q: You told us about the Shinto Shrine and the Redwoods. But there always
have been catastrophes. Cultures rise and fall, that's just the way it is.

A.R.: Yes in fact. And it was even brought up by one of our board members,
Brian Eno, in one of our conferences about long term data storage - the case
for forgetting and that there is a value in the case for forgetting. If a
culture has infinite access to all of its past then it's very difficult to
start new things and to try new things that were previously seen as
impossible. There is many experiments that were successful because they did
know how many failures preceded them. So, there's something to that.
Currently I don't think that that is the problem. The problem is, that we
will lose everything. In the past some books made it, some films made it,
but in the digital world I think we will lose such a large percentage of it,
it will be really tragic. There are things that we still look back on that
were really tragic - fore example the burn of Alexandria, actually the many
burns of Alexandria. We only have one out of five greek tragedies remaining.
The Roman census which is lost forever would be immensely valuable now.
There are definitly things that our culture would love to have.

So there is key things that we would like to be able to at least have ways
to storing and there's all sorts of data that is currently considered as
uninteresting or at least unsexy to archive which I think is interesting,
like negative results from experiments. Nobody publishes negative results,
however negative results might be probably more valuable than positive
results. Positive results will always make it into the future just because
they will always be built on. Negative results are very valuable if you look
at the development of some of the HIV-drugs which were actually a group of
failures. Each one had a spike of success that fell off in another area, but
when you put them all together - what was then called cocktail - the spikes
lined up to something that was very, very useful as a meaningful treatment.
Also a place for long-term environmental data doesn't exist currently.
Usually longest term projects that go on are about the length of one
graduate student's education or sometimes the length of a person that
happens to have passion about a certain issue. But usually when they die,
the information dies with them.

It would be interesting to be able to collect things like ocean water
analysis for a long period of time. There is many institutions who do
amazing analysis now. If we would have that down from a hundred or thousand
years ago it would be probably one of the most valuable treasures to us we
could find. There's grassroots ones like the Surfrider Foundation. They're
trying to protect surfers in the water. They do mass spectroscopy of water
all over the world and all these great surfing places. They put it up on the
Web, but they don't archive it. So you can actually just very simply grab
this all of the Web and archive it in a more stable manner. If you would
have that for a 10,000 years it would be incredible. It's the kind of things
that are being overlooked now, but they could nevertheless be interesting
for us.

Q: If I talk to people about digital continuity, I always hear arguments
like "look, if something is important and if we want to retrieve it, we will
always find a way." It is this belief, that everything is possible through
technology. Is this something that happens to you as well if you talk to
people or do they agree to the seriousness of the problem?

A.R.: There is people who get it and there is people who don't. I remember
one specific representant of a company. When they went to go to get their
own medical records after not believing, that it was a problem, they found
out it was a problem. They had been losing a large chunk because it was
digitized. And it became very relevant because they were having a lot of
problems. It was interesting to see how that specific person totally
flip-floped in their belief in that problem. Medical records are a very
everyday problem. Institutions in the U.S. like the Department Of Energy
have the legal responsibility to hold information for 10,000 years and they
have no method of doing it. And the actual problem is about a quarter of a
million years long and not a ten thousand years. I think the number of
people who realize the problems with digital continuity will rise, as people
try to access their early data.

The NASA lost a large percentage of the first 20 years of their own remote
sensing data. This is the institution with the highest technology resources.
But they all end up doing the same thing as we all do which is replacing
equipment as it begins getting old. It was the very first magnetic tape
readers that were developed and they have been recording all the data that
came down from satellites all the time. So later, when archaeologists and
other people were asking them for data they realized they didn't have all
the tapes and they started collecting them from closets in New Zealand,
Africa and all this places around the world. They still didnŐt find them
all. Some where lost. Then they realized that they had no player because it
was old hardware and there was only two of them ever built. Finally they
were able to recover from the scrap parts one working machine. Then they
found out that the magnetic tape had deteriorated so far that it took some
unbelievable hundreds of hours to decode what they could get off each tape
but it still was not hundred percent.

Q.: It was digital data?

A.R.: Maybe it was analogue data. It was on magnetic tape. But now they had
the data, they actually had no documentation of how it was organized. So
they were left with a bunch of numbers. And all the people that orignally
had worked on it were gone. It's a multi layered problem, but if they would
have just written it down on paper they would still have the information.
NASA just recently said they couldn't recreate the moon landing. So much of
it was black magic that was done in the heat of the moment by people who
were experts. A lot of it was undocumented because they had to do it so
fast. Nowadays they couldn't just recreate the Apollo missions. They would
have to reinvent them from scratch. So there is where very important data
was lost because hurry was put on them.

One of the more interesting one for me is the way that Aviation retains its
records. They are actually able to keep a 747 flying for a very long time.
It's a massive amount of data and it requires a lot of people. It is like
downloading a whole brain and passing this information from generation to
generation. And they've been very successful at it. So there are ways to go

Q.: Lets have a look at a wider cultural context. As you have mentioned
before there are several layers of code in software programming. Metadata
might be needed to explain certain code and there might even be other
metadata for to explain the metadata. So different layers of Code have to be
deciphered in order to retrieve some information. On the other side I heard
the phrase that nowadays the only more or less stabile encoding modus in
programming is the English language. English definitely is the language of
computing and computers keep the modern world going. Therefore English puts
an enormous pressure on other languages. Couldn't that be a big problem in
order to retain cultural heritage?

A.R.: I would say that this is probably only one of many forces that the
Western world is putting on other cultures in an unfair kind of
techno-deterministic future that seems to be pervasive at this point. A
language will be picked as globalization occurs and if it's being picked
because of technology than there is not much that can be done about it. The
question is: is English the correct language to choose? It's probably one
that's changing the fastest.

Q.: Actually I heard that it is one of the most stabile languages since
about 500 years, related to its Island situation of Great Britain.

A.R: It depends if you are talking about American English or English
English. British English is very stabile. And I would also say that it's the
American English that is being pervasive in the technology world. if you
have a communication revolution that's global there is a language that will
come forward. And if this revolution started n the United States it's very
likely that it is the American language.

Q.: Have you ever thought about other languages that could do that job?

A.R.: Unfortunately we never get to choose that things. I don't know if it's
worth worrying about. I would worry rather more about some of the other
effects of westernization of some of the more ancient peoples or cultures.
They are kind of wiping themselves out in favor of jumping from the third
world into the first world without anything in between, without any sense of
pride in their own culture. That to me is a far larger danger than the
English language being pervasive.

Q: Nowadays computers are everywhere and you can also access the Web from
all over the world. One cannot just tell other people to stick to their
tribal cultures and not to get into touch with the modern world.

A.R.: I think it comes down to a matter of pride and there is cultures who
saw the outside world but also have a high amount of pride for their own.
They took it in as tourism and were realizing that tourists were only coming
if they were different from the tourists. Therefore they stayed that way. So
it is possible but it takes a heavy pride in your own culture when western
people come and start giving you things that make your life very different
or easier in some way.

Q.: You already told me that you were traveling around the world to find
some artifacts and pieces that are somehow related to your topic of
maintaining culture and cultural heritage. Can you tell me a little bit
about these travels?

A.R.: We've done a series of trips to places that we felt had a lot of
importance for our project. places like Chaco Canyon In the southwest of the
United States. An interesting forgotten culture flourishing very widely
there1500 years ago. They had string lined roads 20 feet wide across states
to this one point. This all was gone before any westerner ever had arrived.
Danny Hillis has made trips to the pyramids and Stonehenge. We still are
going to make a trip to Machu Picchu. What we are trying to see is mainly
where they went right and where they may not have succeeded in keeping an
institution going.

A really good example is Stonehenge. A beautiful relic was generated, but
the institution that surrounded it died out very fast and we don't know what
it was there for. The problem of our foundation is not building a clock, the
problem is building an institution that can last that long. That is
something that hasn't been done. The clock is just a material science
problem that can be solved. The more interesting problem is how do you
create an institution that can last that long. Things like the Ise Shrine
where you have this going back and fourth from ritual to idea to physicality
to ritual is where we've seen the most success.

Q.: Isn't it that you will have to build up this institution in the minds of
the people?

A.R.: It has to do with building a myth. Storytelling traditions are
probably the best examples that we've seen. The stories of modern story
telling in Bali are documented from archaeology of images to be largely
unchanged since 3000 years. There is a few other things like forestry, wine
making and martial arts that survive on a multi-millennium scale. It's not
that many, so we're trying to pick out the things that work for them.

Q.: Nicholas Negroponte, as you know, is on the forefront of digital
technology. I would like to hear your opinion on the following quote: "While
the politicians struggle with the baggage of history, a new generation is
emerging from the digital landscape free of many of the old prejudices.
These kids are released from the limitation of geographic proximity as the
sole basis of friendship, collaboration, play and neighborhood. Digital
technology can be a natural force drawing people into greater world

A.R.: There is very obviously a certain amount of optimism in a lot of the
new communications technologies, especially from people like myself who have
been engaged in it for the last several years and can no longer imagine
their lifes without it. But it just has the obvious problems of the digital
divide of who has computers and who doesn't, who has these communication
technologies and who doesn't. If you have a satellite communication network,
it doesn't matter where you are, you will be able to connect to the world at
very high speed. And one can easily imagine what happens when the rest of
the world sees that 10 percent of the world is using up 90% of its
resources. I think we will see a different type of revolution that won't
really will have to do with countries anymore, but will be more on an
economic scale.

Communications technology definetly have a large input: There is a guy who
predicted the fall of the USSR due to the the rise of telecommunications
level per person. He had studied a lot of cultures that have opressive
governments and whenever communications reached 60% saturation the
governments always fell. He has looked at the USSR inside and saw it was
very close to 60%, so it was very likely to fall then. He was largely
ignored. And then the USSR fell and he was right, the saturation was about

Q.: There is this conflict between american techno optimism and european
skepticism or even pessimism. As an American you are criticizing some of the
outcomes off high-technology. Where exactly do you see yourself in this

A.R.: As I said before, we're trying to to open up some objects that are
closing off due to a lack of foresight. The digital problem is probably one
of the easiest examples. The issues also are surrounding topics like
environmental education or even world hunger. ItŐs this kind of large
problems that are non-tractable on a very short timescale. You cannot solve
education on a four-year election horizon because it takes at least a 30
years for return on investment. The kids have to graduate from higher levels
of education, enter into society and then give a return. So why would a
politician interact with such problem, when it's a lose-lose situation for
them? So what we like to be able to do is raise awareness towards that and
start to find ways of increasing the incentives for society to look at its
longer-term problems. We are not totally sure how we can achieve that, but
we are starting with projects like the clock and are trying to get into
conversations like the one we are having now.

Q.: Stewart brand in the book "the clock of the long now" says, that during
the Cold War the thinking of people was blocked. The overkill potential in
the hands of superpowers did not allow a thinking towards the future. It
seemed realistic at that time that there might not be a future at all. Today
we've fallen back into the other extreme of total believe in the power of
technology to solve all our future problems. The sky seems to be the only

A.R.: I think the tendency is definitely out there. However I think it is
far more positive to see people with hope. I also felt that there was no
future during the Cold War and that is why this project was very attractive
to us because of how much hope was involved with it. So this project is
largely one about hope. I think that right now we are standing at a
different time. That is one of the things that is actually a part of the
project of Danny Hillis. He had in his mind the wall of the year 2000 as we
approached it. Everything had target dates for the year 2000 and nothing had
target dates for the year 2011 and he felt that his future was shrinking one
year per year for his entire life, because back in the 60's everyone thought
in the year 2000 all will be solved and now here we are in the year 2000. I
think it's actually a fairly exciting time both because of the end of the
Cold War and we now don't have this artificial Wall any more ahead of us. I
think the only real danger is a kind of temporal vertigo that is starting to
occur - here we are, we don't have any other deadlines any more, now what do
we want to do?

Q.: Let's talk about the millenium bug. It actually didn't really happen.
Even countries that didn't spend a lot of money didn't face a lot of
problems. Doesn't this undermine your predictions about the problems with
digital continuity?

A.R.: With the problem of the year 2000 bug we have seen the fact that it
actually didn't break down. And with the digital continuity problem we have
many examples of loss. I do think it is interesting how things like the Y2K
bug really kept public attention and eventually institutional attention.
Billions was spent in some countries and zero has been done in others with
basically the same result. Whereas something like the digital continuity
problem is being ignored. In the U.S. the National archive is getting ten
times more data every year to archive and the budget is decreasing every
year because it is not really seen as getting to be more difficult. In fact
their job is actually getting more difficult. Whereas all this money has
been spent on the Y2K bug. Maybe the digital continuity problem just needs a
sexy name.

Q.: The agenda of technological development for the next years is obvious:
Even faster computers, extremely small devices, convergence of media, more
information. If you could address the presidents of the ten biggest
technology companies and if you were asked for advice on their politics in
the context of digital continuity, what suggestions would you have for them?

A.R.: I think it is very difficult to suggest to a company that they
completely ignore time to market. I think you cannot make this kind of
suggestions. Nowadays you release broken software and you fix it in updates,
it is a common practice. All agree that this is ok. And in fact, I was told
some projects that were done on longer time spans where people said "we
gonna get this right, we are not going to be rushed by deadlines" - what
happens is that the project never happens. Tons of man hours have been put
into it. The project I'm referring to is Xanadu, something like the Internet
II: ten or hundred times the speed of the Internet... a lot of a brain work
was done, but the project never happened, because it didn't have deadlines.
So we seem to need deadlines. But one of the key things that needs to be
understood more fully by these companies is that they are not just cutting
edge media companies anymore. They are places where culture is stored. The
people that are writing Microsoft Word are trying to write a better word
processor. They are not sitting around and thinking " oh, the entire world
is writing their thoughts, their emotions on it - the next Shakespeare could
be writing on this software ". They are not thinking about that, they are
thinking about adding new functionalities and little paper clip guys that
tell you what to do. I would be more interested in seeing backwards
compatibility being something they would care about. E.g.: being able to
read a Word 3 document in Word 8. I think, that open source is a very
interesting movement, where you actually have some hope of recovering
information because of the way they have opened their code to the public.
Finding ways where you can open up the source code is always interesting in
terms of longevity.

Probably it's just those three things :
1. Culture is not a fringe element of society. Companies do know that but
also aren't thinking in terms of culture being stored on digital media.
2. Backwards compatibility. Even though they might not be screaming for it
right now, people will need to be able to read their old documents.
3. Open source. Opening up at least certain portions of your code to the

Q.: What steps towards digital continuity should governments take?

A.R.: There are some things that are going on, for example it looks like we
may work together with the Department of Energy in the future. They have a
long-term stewardship office, which was actually interesting to me that it
exists. Two of its representatives' job is warning away people from nuclear
waste for 10,000 years. They have problems of data storage and those are
things that are ging to come out of the government. There is many more areas
and I think it is also becoming less about individual countries' governments
than it is about some of the organizations that govern trade around the
world - the world trade organizations, the ones that are actually setting
policy to a large extent in a way that different governments use their
resources and part taking in the trade world.

I don't know that many public projects that are going on about long term
storage. The Internet for example was an accident. It was released so that
the system would become more robust in the eventuality of a nuclear war.
That was the reason why it was allowed to to be a public thing. They
figured, if at least all universities in the countries had servers that were
connected then if there was a nuclear war they had a greater chance of
communicating with eachother. But then again the United States has a long
history of tax supported developments, being then sold off for nothing to
businesses and then the businesses exploit them with no return. In the end
they fight the government in terms of how much it should be paying for it,
even though their whole existence is based on that project, supported by the
tax payers. So the taxpayers aren't getting paid back for research like that
very much.

Q.: Don't you think that there will be a new industry coming up for data
recovery and writing emulations?

A.R.: I do think that this market is developing. There are already companies
that do data recovery on different levels. There is two concepts, first
emulation and the other one, the so called Dracula Room.The latter refers to
the room where all those undead media readers live and all the old file
formats are preserved. All the old hardware that is preserved to read the
old media that companies or individuals need to recover will be very
valuable. People like Bruce Sterling have brought this up in fiction as well
as real projects like the dead media project.

Actually Jaron Lanier was asked to reproduce one of his first videogames
done for the Commodore 64 for the Smithsonian and he actually found out he
couldn't do it. This is a person with probably limitless resources in terms
of getting hold of digital gear, but he physically couldn't get hold of the
gear, the right software, the right version of the firmware etc... in order
to play his game. And a few months later, after he failed he got an e-mail
from some random person who said " you know, I love that game that you made,
so I wrote an emulator."

Q.: So there is some hope for the future?

A.R.: Luckily these are markets where there is a lot of passion and so
therefore there are some lovers. The new project that we are working on is a
permanent e-mail server which not only gives you an e-mail address for life,
but also archives all your incoming and outgoing e-mail for life. It will be
an expensive service and therefore a source for the foundation to generate
income. And it would not be meant as many of these free services that are
out there, that promise a lot and deliver little. It's meant as something
that you pay a lot for and you get a lot for. It's in the research status
now. It's actually very difficult to build servers for foreign migration.
Server Technology and things like this are all designed for speed and
scaleability not for when they actually are outdated they need to be
replaced in a smooth fashion. So it actually requires a lot of work. Here is
a good example where government has come to forefront due to some of the
laws requiring the government to keep all its e-mail for at least seven
years. And as I understand this is happening in other places as well. They
are actually building off-the-shelf servers that store all the e-mail that
comes in and out on a certain server on the earliest simple formats like
txt-formats, so that it is infinitely foreign migratable. But at the same
time, if everyone in governments has no way of privately communicating they
tend to destroy information. I think probably the biggest enemy of a lot of
the information storage issues are legal issues and some people don't want
their information to be stored. Companies allready destroy e-mail 30 days
old. This is regular practice to avoid allegation from it. And copyright is
getting longer. Copyright is increasing two days for every day we move
forward. So at the current pace we will never be able to have uncopyrighted
material. I think it is very difficult for an archive or a library to exist
in that environment.


the following part is an update done via e-mail in early 2002

Q.: Our last interview was more than a year ago. A
lot has happened since. I would like to know how these events have
influenced your work. First there was the burst of the the
nearly religious believe in the
possibilities of high technology was shattered. Did it make your work easier
or more difficult? Did you have problems with funding since?

A.R.: Funding is a bit tougher, but it seems our project has become more
relevant to people. The benefit is that rent has fallen in San Francisco to
reasonable rates and that we have received tons of cheap and free computer
and office equipment from all the failing companies.

Q.: The events of the 11th September did not only have political
consequences. It touched people in a very emotional way. It has made
everyone aware of the fragility of ones live and human society as a whole.
Could it be that it makes people more open to the ideas of the Long Now

A.R.: This definetely has had an interesting affect. Mainly with our Rosetta
project as it is a tool of inter-cultural understanding. This lack of
understanding is obviously at the crux of the reason behind the attacks and
the way the US and its aliies have responded.

Q.: How has the work of the long now in generally progressed since last
year? Have there been any important events, breakthroughs or setbacks?

A.R.: The All Species porject has taken off (a 25 year project to identify
all the species on the planet) The Rosetta website has become the largest
linguistic data source on the net. We are starting a long term digital
server project. And we are building the second and much larger version of
the Clock.

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