Case Study: The Long Now
The Long Now (TLN) was established 1996 as a way to raise awareness about technology, capitalism, democracy, and long-term responsibility.
TLN foundation grew out of a concern that:
“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.” (http://longnow.org/ about)
Course of Action
What The Long Now has achieved in only 20 years is astounding. Created by nine thought leaders including Danny Hillis (polymath, inventor, scientist, author, engineer, former Vice President for Research and Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and a Disney Fellow), Stewart Brand (author, environmentalist, entrepreneur, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, and cofounder of The WELL), Brian Eno (world renown musician, avant-garde performer, and artist), and others. TLN has already begun work on the Millennial Clock project (its original project)—“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." The Long Now has also sponsored more than 150 talks by leaders in dozens of fields: art, climate change, education, energy, the environment, the internet, journalism, law, music, public policy, religion, terrorism, etc.
TLN has also funded a number of long view projects including
- purchasing a “two-mile-long swath of mountain land…covered by a forest of ancient bristlecone pine trees” (considered among the world’s oldest living things with some as old as 4,900 years) (http://longnow.org/clock/nevada).
- The Rosetta Project, “a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to build a publicly accessible digital library of human languages” (http://rosettaproject.org).
- PanLex, an effort to make every word of every language of the world’s 7,000 languages accessible to everyone.
- The Long Bets, an effort to improve long-term thinking by encouraging people to find solutions to problems far into the future.
- Revive&Restore, an effort to advance genomic technology and rescue and restore endangered and extinct species of plants and animals.
- “The Interval,” a bar, café, museum, and the home of TLN Foundation (http://theinterval.org/visit).
The principles of TLN are simple: “serve the long view, foster responsibility, reward patience, mind mythic depth, ally with competition, take no sides, and leverage longevity.” The traces of a number of ethical principles are found in each of these principles and in the activities of TLN, including, Communitarianism, Dialogue, Deontology, Utilitarianism, Reciprocal Favoritism, and the Categorical Imperative. What TLN does is guided by ethical principles. The organization’s focus is on the future, and as an official nonprofit, TLN exists solely for the benefit of humanity.
Moral of the Story
Public relations professionals are the guardians of the public good. As organizational counselors and environmental scanners we have the ability to see the big picture and help our colleagues, managers, organizations, and stakeholders and publics see the big picture and focus on the next millennium. Ethical decisions do not just focus on the situation at hand, but consider the future, and how best to serve organizational interests down the road. A sense of duty to do what is right, the application of dialogic principles applied to interactions and decision-making, a focus on doing good for the greatest number, etc., are not simply “ideals,” but achievable states. As the ethical conscience of our organizations, public relations professionals should take inspiration for organizations like TLN, with their focus on ethics and not expediency.