… often walked through the forest behind the castle, wondering what could survive the apocalypse. Love? Art? Individuality? The very wealthy?
During my time at Solitude, I worked on a novel about a collapsed and desolate future and often walked through the forest behind the castle, wondering what could survive the apocalypse. Love? Art? Individuality? The very wealthy? It seemed like a romantic and self-consciously literary gesture for a writer to mope around the winter trees frosted with morning ice while reflecting morbidly on the future. When I returned to my bright white studio to listen to folk music and drink hot tea, the darkness of the future dimmed while I wrote a few sentences about burning horizons. I have always found pleasure in imagining a bleak and progressing chaos, and wanted to believe that apocalyptic narratives reflect present-moment anxieties better than their realist counterparts.
Or so I thought as I idly Googled around, searching for chaos and the future:
»End-of-world scenarios,« I typed happily into the search bar.
Or: »Apocalyptic visions not related to the Bible«
And: »Drones replacing human agency???«
It was during one of these scans into the Google eye that I learned about the Doomsday Clock, which is updated by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists every year. The clock is the metaphorical timekeeper of nuclear annihilation, a Cold War holdover from a period when global decimation was visualized as a blinking red button. The closest the minute hand has ticked to midnight was in 1953, to two minutes to midnight, after the United States and the Soviet Union successfully conducted their first hydrogen bomb tests. Now, the clock’s anxieties are more than nuclear and reflect the geopolitical and environmental perils of today. The minute hand was pushed forward to three minutes to midnight in January 2015 and has stayed at that precise minute ever since, suggesting through stasis the precariousness of this current moment.
It’s the 10,000 Year Clock that I turn over and over in my mind.
It has been over a year since I was at Solitude, and now I am back in the United States still writing about the future. In the afternoons it is too hot to walk, so I stay inside with a cool drink and read the news, which is delivered in paper to my doorstep each morning. This old-fashioned ritual comforts me because of its repetition and tangibility, and because it reminds me that the future is imminent. Every morning the paper is there, usually emblazoned with the reddened face of the entrepreneur at the center of the most contentious presidential election in history. As I read, I find myself asking: Can one person’s apocalypse be another’s daily life? Signs of the End Times look eerily similar to reports from today: an unrelenting smog cloud, a failed military coup, a mass shooting on the dance floor of a nightclub, a country sealing its borders, a presidential candidate created on reality television who has a taste for casual bloodletting.
I think less about the Doomsday Clock than I used to, even if it is the most democratic of clocks by offering a vision of the future where The End is experienced collectively.
It’s the 10,000 Year Clock that I turn over and over in my mind. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is a strong advocate of »long-term« thinking and has been instrumental in developing and funding the new clock for our time. Buried deep inside of a mountain he owns in West Texas, the 10,000 Year Clock’s hand will advance once every century; every millennium, a cuckoo will pop out. For who to see is still unclear.
The 10,000 Year Clock offers a different vision of the future than the Doomsday Clock’s collective end. It suggests that the future will be hierarchal and segregated, funded by billionaires and looming at the top of a remote mountain. Still, I try to imagine the clock’s dimensions, its color, the chirp of its cuckoo. I try to imagine the future human who will climb Jeff Bezos’s mountain to witness the ticking monolith. How quaint, they may think, our ancestors built an object to prove time always moves forward.