Café of the Future

Brian Michael Murphy
August 20, 2013
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The Long Now Foundation is hiring volunteers to curate their “Manual for Civilization,” a collection of 3500 volumes to be shelved in the Long Now Salon. Founded in “01996,” Long Now seeks “to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.” The Long Now Salon will be “a place for conversation around long-term thinking…equal parts library, bar, museum, and cafe.” Founding Board Member Brian Eno will design the sound that will fill the space as you peruse Asimov and Le Guin, the Whole Earth Catalog and whatever else curators choose to include, as the barista noisily grinds beans and steams milk for your macchiato.

Among Long Now’s other projects is the 10,000 Year Clock. It is now under construction inside a mountain in western Texas, where it will tick, unaided by human maintenance, for the next ten millennia. Of course, as Michael Chabon pointed out in a Details article several years ago, even if the mechanical components of this ultimate timepiece fail at some point, it will already have achieved its mission– “to revive and restore the whole idea of the Future, to get us thinking about the future again.” Another project, the Rosetta Disk, contributes to this mission by preserving 1,500 human languages in texts micro-etched on a nickel disc the size of your palm–the prototype resides at The Smithsonian. I imagine (hope) there will be replicas of these artifacts displayed in the Salon.

If I were a curator, I’d create a section stocked with my favorite books and films of dystopian, alternative, and fantastic futures: the Mel Gibson/Tina Turner vehicle Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Cormac Macarthy’s The Road, the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon, Alan Weisman’s majestic thought experiment The World Without Us, Kyle Miner’s short story “The Truth and All Its Ugly,” and, in honor of my father, the sci-fi box office flop Enemy Mine.

While I’m only half-serious about including these beloved works, I actually might apply for the position. If the Salon is destroyed by earthquake (it will be located in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center) or nuclear war or malignant neglect following a wipeout of the West Coast’s population by viral epidemic or Martian attack or climate change that fries the soil and desiccates humanity, then my contributions won’t comprise much of a lasting monument. However, if the optimism of the Long Now Foundation finds fulfillment in the survival and continuous flourishing of human civilization 10,000 years into the future, then someday a student might lose himself in the stacks of the Salon to kill time in the afternoons, and stumble upon a volume or two that I selected. It gives me pleasure now to think that this future student might flip through a reproduction of my copy of T.K. Peters’ Story of the Crypt of Civilization. By then, it will likely have been transferred onto some as yet uninvented material, like paper-thin pages of synthetic rock, lightweight and nearly indestructible.

Unlike many diehard sci-fi fans, my longing for other times never reaches forward, only backward, to decades captured perfectly in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: the Roaring Twenties of the Lost Generation, the fin-de-siècle scenes swirling with painters and writers and critics, poets and sculptors, drunk on this, dying from that. In actuality, I love my life now, and, despite these occasional time-travel fantasy, I would not want to live in any of these other, more storied decades (the same realization reached by Owen Wilson). These impossible times, as we imagine them, never existed, but this does not stop us from imagining them, often using books to do it, accompanied by a coffee, needing only a comfortable chair by a big window through which we can project our daydreams and nostalgia. See you at the Salon.

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