A Long Project

Margaret Ballardini & Fred Watson, St Kilda 1927

I have an idea for a project that might be of interest to the Long Now Foundation, of which I am a card-carrying, 'Stainless-Steel' class member. The Long Now Foundation (www.longnow.org) hopes to 'creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years', so it is fair to say that it is a Foundation with a long-term view of humanity and its challenges. I find this very exciting, so I am happy to pay my annual membership fees to be counted among those who support the Foundation.

My project is called the Long Wall, and the title is a play on the biblical story of the 'writing on the wall', a phrase that has entered common usage. I have registered the URL longwall.org in anticipation of making something of it in due course. Like other Long Now Foundation projects the premise is quite simple, and the project has a certain quality of aesthetic minimalism. Here's the idea.

I want to set up a website that publishes a feed of text supplied by users. Nothing complicated about that. The feed is like a ticker-tape, or like a slowly emerging blog, with posts published periodically. The feed will then become a record of posts, much like a blog archive.

The twist is that I want the site to delay the publishing of each user's entries into the 'feed' by a certain precise time period after the user hits the 'publish' button, and that time period is equal to the number of words in the entry multiplied by one lunar month for each word. Therefore, the publishing of a 101 word entry into the feed would be delayed by 101 lunar months; a 6 word entry delayed by 6 lunar months, and so on. In this way the feed will stand as a document of entries, thoughts, ideas and proclamations made in the past. The longer the entry, the greater time between when it was written, and when you read it in the feed. If you read a freshly published 1000 word entry, you know that it was written nearly 81 years prior to its appearance in the feed.

This is partly an exercise in constrained writing, and partly an exercise in 'time-capsuling'. I have thought long and hard about the size and nature of the time period multiplier. Using a multiplier of 1 year would be stately, but I fear it would limit the amount of words people would be inclined to write. Similarly, using a multiplier of a week or a day would be too quick and negate the qualities of the experiment.

The lunar month is 29.53059 days, or 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes and 3 seconds. It has the benefit of being built into the mechanics of our solar/lunar system, and it will change only fractionally over 10,000 years. In the next 10,000 years there will be approximately 123,600.645974 lunar months, so there is a lot of scope for creative expression. This also means that the average PhD thesis would be delayed by several thousand years, which is probably no great loss.

If I get sufficiently excited about the project I will work up some screenshots, and I might even pitch it to my fellow Foundation members. Stay tuned for more in future posts.