I recently finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which I had picked up at our local library. This novel is not for the casual reader, nor is it for those who can’t bear science fiction that is heavy on the science. This is one of those rare books, though, which has the power to change the way we view our role in the world. I know it has caused a major shift in the way I perceive my life.

The setting seems deceptively straightforward at first. Our hero lives on the planet Arbre, a very Earthy place, in a community called a concent, which is what you’d get if you merged a university like Princeton or MIT with the ritual of a monastery. The folks on the outside are fairly analogous to our modern America, The contrast is jarring, and I knew pretty quickly which side of the concent’s walls I would want to live on. Turns out the book has some intense thoughts on culture and lifestyle that made me take a closer look at my own life.

The passage of time for the inhabitants of the concents was viewed far differently than what I am used to, especially for the Thousanders, whose gate to the outside world only opens once every 1,000 years. They think in terms of decades and millennia, and I have a hard time thinking as far ahead as Christmas! That’s part of the message I gleaned from the book…time is bigger than one human life, but so few of today really see that. We give the notion lip service, but we act as if the only time that matters is the short now in which we live.

Another “upsight” I had while reading was that when freed from the petty deadlines and trends of average living, the mind is free to contemplate  bigger things than making mortgage payment and shopping for the week’s meals. Freedom from petty distractions also gives the little things like tending your garden much more meaning than just being another chore that needs doing quickly. When you spend all your time futzing with your jee-jah (the Arbre version of a smartphone), you don’t achieve real focus on anything, be it weeding your patch of veggies to ensure a good harvet or contemplating the finer points of theoretical physics.

I want less jee-jah futzing in my life and more meaningful interaction with the universe! I figured I couldn’t be the only one with an awakened desire to be part of a longer timeline, and a few google stops along the road I found the Long Now Foundation. These folks are working on a number of projects all aimed at inspiring people today to expand our thinking to include millennia, rather than just next week. One project they are working on is the 10,000 Year Clock, a monument to monumental thinking that will keep time for the next 10,000 years and stand as a sign to people way down the timeline that someone from our time thought of them.

So what does this have to do with my little Suburban Homestead? Well, everything, I think. Part of my motivation for this blog is to seek out ways both big and small to modify suburban living to be more sustainable and less detrimental to the ability of future generations to live comfortably. That’s a pretty big project, and I doubt I’m going to make much headway alone, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

Our current way of living here in America is going to have impacts thousands of years down the road, and it seems that many of those impacts are negative. We are filling landfills (and the oceans) with plastics that will be there long after my children’s children’s children have turned to dust. We are burning through non-renewable energies so quickly that we’ve forced future generations to find other ways to power their lives. We’re changing the climate, decimating top soil, and depleting key aquifers. We’re witnessing a mass-extinction catastrophe unfolding across the globe, yet most Americans can more easily name a handful of Idol runner-ups than they can name even one species declared extinct this decade.

We need to shift our perspective to thinking in longer terms than just our own short lives and to focus on more than just trendy distractions. 10,000 years from now when the 10,000 Year Clock completes it’s first full cycle, will they praise us for thinking of them, or will the judge us for being too selfish to think of their future, too?