Inside a mountain in West Texas, deep in a series of tunnels and chambers, a connection to the past, the present, and the future of humanity is being built. It’s a brilliant feat of innovation: a giant clock, created to run and tell the correct time for 10,000 years. But why build a clock that will last for generations? Well, let’s ask the visionaries who are making it possible.

This clock is not only an impressive innovation in mechanics but one for the human spirit, to help us and future generations look towards the future and slow ourselves down a bit right now. But how will it stand the test of time? And how does it even work?

Come along on a little journey with us today and let yourself be awed by this beautiful gift to our future; a reminder that while our time here may be finite, our legacies can last for generations.

Image: Lower view of gear

Courtesy of Long Now

“Like a heart beating while we sleep, the Clock in the mountain keeps time even when we pretend the past did not happen and the future will not come.” 1

Thinking about the future is hard. Some of us may have a 5-year plan laid out or even a 10 or 20-year plan if you’ve really got it together, but then, of course, there are those like myself who just barely figured out what we’re doing in 2020.

Our concept of the future impacts us directly, from the money in our savings account, the food we eat, the products we consume, to the amount of insurance we take out, and the vacations we go on. But it’s a hard thing to really have a grasp on. What will life be like in 5 months or years? What about 20? How will my actions today impact what happens tomorrow? And what will generations of the future think about us?

It’s this kind of longer-term thinking, assessing our impact on a future we can’t even imagine yet, that inspired the inventors of the 10,000 Year Clock.

The 10,000 Year Clock

Long Now, a non-profit founded in 1996 by composer Brian Eno; editor of Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand; and the mind behind the idea for the Clock, inventor and engineer, Danny Hillis, is on a mission to promote long-term thinking through their innovative projects.

“I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.” — Danny Hillis

Powered by human energy, as well as the sun, this clock will keep the correct time for 10,000 years. And, with its special 80 foot, 60,000-pound chime generator, every day a unique song will play from the mountain. This is an ingenious piece of machinery—”the slowest computer”—that combines the technologies of our past and present and gives us hope for the future. 2

It may sound a bit like science fiction… but let’s hear from the creators about why they’ve invested so much into bringing this giant clock to life with this video below. Enjoy!

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The more we look towards the future, the more we’re able to establish systems that will continue to benefit in the long term.

Alexander Rose, the current executive director of Long Now and the lead on the Clock project, sat down with Zachary Crockett from The Hustle to discuss the progress of the clock. When asked about the bigger legacy he hopes to impart with the clock, he shared this inspiring sentiment:

“I hope someone who stumbles across the clock in the future realizes we built it because we cared about them. And maybe it will inspire other people to build things that last, or to work on more ambitious problems with longer timeframes.” 4

(Read that full interview by clicking here.)

Keeping the years to come in mind helps us consider the effects of our actions (like, maybe, that while it was a really cool invention, plastic doesn’t actually break down) and allows us the space to imagine what we want out of it. We’ve done this before, spurring on countless innovations from cell phones to Roombas and the rockets that brought us to the moon just by looking to the future and imagining what it can be like. (Check out this video if you’d like to learn more about this!)

As this large, constant reminder of the future ticks away in a mountain for thousands of years, imagining the future has never been easier.

What sort of innovations could this switch in thought—of thinking of the long now—bring into existence? What systems will be established to last and protect us and our planet?

“I’m not optimistic because our problems are small, I’m optimistic because our capacity to deal with problems is great.” — Danny Harris

19 minutes

A Journey Inside the Svalbard Seed Vault

Let's go on a journey to the northernmost town on the planet on an adventure to the Svalbard Seed Vault. A bank buried deep within a mountain that holds the seeds for our future!

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If you’re interested in reading more about what has gone into creating such a piece of machinery, how it works, and how its creators hope we interact with it, this article from Kevin Kelly, a member of the board for Long Now Foundation, is worth the read!

Here’s a taste of the story he wrote of just traveling to the clock! But don’t worry, Kevin explains how this innovation works in a way that’s just as magical as this later on in the article. It’s fascinating.

“To see the Clock you need to start at dawn, like any pilgrimage. Once you arrive at its hidden entrance in an opening in the rock face, you will find a jade door rimmed in stainless steel, and then a second steel door beyond it. These act as a kind of crude airlock, keeping out dust and wild animals. You rotate its round handles to let yourself in, and then seal the doors behind you. It is totally black. You head into the darkness of a tunnel a few hundred feet long. At the end there’s the mildest hint of light on the floor. You look up…” 5

And there will be 5 caverns, or celebration chambers, in the mountain for people to visit throughout the years—1 year, 10 year, 100 year, 1,000 year, and 10,000 year anniversaries with items of the times.

They’ve figured out what to put in the 1-year chamber, but are still looking for options to fill the 10-year! You can suggest which items you think should be in this chamber by emailing them at [email protected]. (They say they’re leaving the other chambers for future generations to fill.) 6

Stay up to date with what’s happening at the Long Now Foundation, with the Clock and their many other projects, by following them on Twitter or Facebook!

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein 

Meet more people thinking about our futures!

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  1. Kelly, Kevin. “The 10,000 Year Clock.” Longnow.Org, The Long Now Foundation, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.
  2. Crockett, Zachary. “The Organization Building a $42m, 10,000-Year Clock Funded by Jeff Bezos.” The Hustle, 7 Dec. 2018, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.
  3. “The Clock of the Long Now.” Vimeo, Public Record, 17 Nov. 2015, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.
  4. Crockett, Zachary. “The Organization Building a $42m, 10,000-Year Clock Funded by Jeff Bezos.” The Hustle, 7 Dec. 2018, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.
  5. Kelly, Kevin. “The 10,000 Year Clock.” Longnow.Org, The Long Now Foundation, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.
  6. Bezos, Jeff. “10,000 Year Clock.” 10000yearclock.Net, Accessed 16 Jan. 2020.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.