It blew my mind to think that the lead casing for this machine was mined by Roman miners 2,000 years ago.
I couldn’t help but daydream about previous eras for a while after that, wishing I was mining that lead with friends on some misty Welsh moor with a reassured and half-drunk vision of this sodden lead’s future potential, and slamming a pickaxe with renewed vigour into the depths of the earth knowing that this lead could potentially explore the world’s mysteries.
It upturned my concept of time, and was slightly diminishing: kinda like looking at the stars. Or seeing the cross-section of an old tree with dates added to the rings and significant events here and there. Or when my grandfather showed me a photograph of his grandmother from the late 1800s. Almost uncomputable.
Some things are on vastly different time scales to our every day dreams, aspirations. Just imagine for a moment that there’s a non-zero chance that value of your efforts could be realised 2,000 years from now in a way you could never imagine.
There’s a whole black market now for salvaged shipwrecks. The metal we forge today is too contaminated from the air pollution to be used in scientific experiments, so we need to go back and get previous metals, and use the metal they mined which was forged in a cleaner, purer environment. Dig them up from the seabed where they remained ignored and untouched for decades or centuries.
The good stuff needs to somehow last. The good stuff needs to make its way back to the surface.
I suppose it contrasts with my frustration that some of the projects I’ve worked on don’t exist anymore. In some cases it’s out of your hands. Google updates their algorithms or Apple updates their T&Cs and pffft. Worse still, there’s no guaranteeing that Google and Apple will be here in one generation from now (i.e. the average lifespan of a company on the stock market is currently thirty years)
I”m in favour of rapid experimentation and failing fast and all of that. But I also crave something to counteract hyperfailing-landfilling approach. A mindset that is inter-temporal – a longer-sighted container for all of this experimentation and searching. A different perspective of time. A timeless mindset.
A couple months ago, I went to an annual gathering (Dad and I are part of a fellowship of sorts) and after the cheerful banter and feasting, we made our way.
As I was leaving, I paused in the stone archway, and the organiser came up to me and with a swashbuckling grin as he gripped my right hand. Sighing, I observed that the numbers were a lower this year. An air of seriousness descended upon us and he steadied himself, looking me straight in the eye, with that ‘thousand mile stare’ and said, “I’ve invested too much blood, sweat and tears into this. I want this community to last for another three or four hundred years.”
Three or four hundred years. The conviction and audacity were like a physiological ecstasy and conceptual drug-induced high.
To think about things in that timescale was glorious and audacious, and I loved it.
But what would I do, I thought, that could possibly last that long? A book, a house, a tree? Or salvage. Dredge up some lead.
Some weeks afterwards, Dad and I were in the living room, relaxed on the sofa chatting about something or other. I remembered that he had once produced an album, somewhat randomly. ‘Where’s that tape you once recorded’. It’s under the roof he said. Sure enough, after rummaging under the roof, boxes we found the cassette and played it on an old player …
Back in the 1980s he was working for a publisher in West Berlin and somehow managed to blag some budget for him and his mate, Cyril, to record an album of British and Irish Sea shanties. This friend happened to be one of the most prolific collectors and singers of these songs. So dad was on guitar whilst Cyril sang. Legend has it they recorded the album in “one take”. As legendary as the mermaids.
At any rate, I decided I’m going to salvage the songs and put them online. Thinking about longevity, I thought how can they last as long as possible. I figured in the most basic html, zero formatting. I couldn’t be arsed with design, mobile responsive-ness, UX, plugins, libraries. To hell with that, it’s one single page of <p> tags and Times New Roman all the way. I have no intention of needing to ever ‘update’ it and I hope it never needs to be updated. A digital megalith.
The artwork I found randomly on twitter.
But in actual fact, it’s not the website that needs to last – in this case, it’s the message. Nestled wthin these songs are messages that needed to be continued. Messages from a different time, some kind of pure creative raw materials.
Who knows what’s next? My job here was felt like being a wave: lifting myself up to let a skimming pebble bounce off my back onwards into the distant horizons of a future time. Who knows if it’s of any use.
Judging from the efforts of the miners and captains, it’s more likely that something I did unintionally will last longer!
And increasingly, that’s the kind of timeless mindset I want to tap into. To daringly dream on vastly different timescales. To look towards the far horizons of time and create or recreate stuff that’s worth continuing.