The last American space shuttle, STS-135, lifted off this morning, bringing to a close a remarkable era in U.S. technological dominance.
I stayed home and watched the launch on TV, just as I watched the very first shuttle launch on TV in 1981. Both events were deeply tied into the computer era.
In 1981, I watched the launch of Columbia on the only television in the house, which normally was only used as a monitor for my Apple II+. As a no-television house, I had to get special permission to use the monitor as a TV, tuning in to a grainy broadcast signal coming over the rabbit ears.
High on a rocky ridge in the desert, nestled among the brush, is the topmost part of a clock that has been ticking for thousands of years.
It looks out over the ruins of a spaceport, built by a rich man whose name was forgotten long ago.
Most of the clock is deep inside the mountain, below the ridgeline. To get there, you hike for days through the heat; the only sounds are the buzzing of flies and the whisper of the occasional breeze. You climb up through the brush, then pass through a hidden door into the darkness and silence of the clock chamber. Far above your head, in the darkness, a massive pendulum swings slowly back and forth, making the clock tick once every 10 seconds.
No one knows who built it, or why. They built it well, and even now it keeps perfect time. All we know of these strange people is that they were obsessed with the future.
Why else would they build something that had no purpose except to mark time for thousands of years?
* * *
The rich man is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and he has indeed started construction on a clock that he hopes will run for 10,000 years.
For Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, the clock is not just the ultimate prestige timepiece. It’s a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. His hope is that building it will change the way humanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.