A Big Here and a Long Now
The perils of short termism: civilisations greatest threat
The music producer Brian Eno was in a run-down corner of New York, on the way to a glamorous dinner party.
It was the winter of 1978, and Eno’s taxi was bumping over potholes, hurtling towards an address he didn’t recognise. As he drove south, the streets got darker and the sense of urban neglect grew, until finally he arrived at his destination. A man lay slumped in the doorway.
Puzzled, he double-checked the address on the invitation card. He had been invited to the home of a celebrity singer for dinner. Could this really be the right place?
Eno rang the bell and rode the elevator up to the apartment. Inside, to his surprise, was a glittering, glamorous loft probably worth $2-3m.
Curious, he asked the hostess during dinner if she liked living where she did. “Oh sure,” she replied, “this is the loveliest place I have ever lived.”
He realised that what she meant was ‘within these four walls’. The dilapidated neighbourhood outside didn’t exist for her.
Afterwards, when he looked around at his contemporaries, Eno saw the singer’s narrow view everywhere. What’s more, this attitude to space also translated to the way this New York glitterati seemed to think about time – not much further than the following week. They were living in what Eno called a ‘small here’ and a ‘short now’. “Everything was exciting, fast, current, and temporary. Enormous buildings came and went, careers rose and crashed in weeks. You rarely got the feeling that anyone had the time to think two years ahead, let alone 10 or a hundred,” he later reflected.
“More and more,” he would write in his notebook, “I find I want to be living in a Big Here and a Long Now.”