Billion Seconds Institute > Our Purpose > A Letter from 2052

A Letter from 2052

Remembering the futures: A public letter to our first supporters sent from 2052

Originally published on March 18, 2021 as un update of the Kickstarter campaign that enabled the launch of The Billion Seconds Institute.

Dear Backers, Founding Members and Patrons,

Today is December 29th 2052. It is a beautiful Sunday morning in Barcelona. In a few hours – at 12:46:40PM to be precise – we will gather with hundreds of fellow intercitizens to celebrate the final countdown of The Billion Seconds Institute, the lifelong learning initiative we embarked on together just a few days after you read this letter.

We have a lot to celebrate today. The principles of the Declaration for Intercitizenships that you helped to create in 2022 have been developed and adopted by billions of people around the world.  The adoption of these principles has given rise to a shared sense of belonging to Planet Earth, powered by reimagined internets that helped to transform the digital economy into climate-neutral, sustainable, plural and solidary ecosystems.

This paradigm shift – away from the user-centric model of the 2010s – helped to significantly reduce both carbon emissions and wealth concentration. Data extraction and billionaires are now extinct ideas. There are still many challenges but also many collectives like ours, that continue dedicating their time and attention to lifelong learning, expanding their ways of thinking with critical hope to face them.

Continue with Part I ↑

Part I: 2021

It all started one billion seconds ago on Earth Day, April 22nd 2021. It was the inaugural day of The Billion Seconds Institute and the beginning of our long-term plan to rethink the ways we understand and shape the mental, social and environmental impacts of the digital economy. As you will soon remember, on this day, together with a passionate group designers, strategists, artists, technologists, researchers and other curious people from around the world, we started this special and hopeful one-billion-second journey.

Back then, there were 100 of us. 100 curious people looking to cultivate and nurture holistic ways of thinking about the digital economy and Planet Earth so we could reimagine the internet(s) as sustainable networks of knowledge, solidarity and care.

It was a critical moment in human and Planetary history.

About one billion seconds before that day, a revolutionary information system, the World Wide Web, had been invented, one that would become the primary tool for billions of people to interact on the network of networks. But as you know, in the 2020s these networks were (ab)used through big data extraction and became tools to spread disinformation and hate.

Our shared sense of time was broken. Every second, the digital economy was feeding the endless greed of a few billionaires with addictive feeds running on billions of devices, made from scarce minerals, monopolising our social networks by mining our attention.

The massive consumption of limited and precious power sources – including our mental and electrical energy – was scaling up toxic ideas, waste and emissions.

A debate emerging in artistic and venture capital circles about the ethical, ecological and economic dimensions of cryptographic tokens known as NFTs unexpectedly became a signal to the invisible and complex ways that the digital economy was interconnected to the massive socio-ecological crisis of the 2020s.

It took humanity a while to realise how wealth concentration was leading to a critical transgression of planetary boundaries. While Jeff, Mark and Elon were burning their billions in rocket fuel trying to escape to Mars (LOL), many of us who truly cared about the wellbeing of Planet Earth and the role we could play in changing the digital economy, started to organise in solidarity networks and learned how to reclaim the value of our collective attention and imaginations.

Today, billionaires are an extinct species because, as Satish Kumar and other activists told us back then, we no longer understand the concept of economy outside of an ecological framework.

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Part II: Intercitizenships

As a collective we contributed and bore witness to this transition from a user-centric digital economy to digital ecosystems driven by responsible and solidary citizens of Planet Earth. A key part of our humble contribution was a new word to reimagine this shared sense of identity: intercitizens.

We created this neologism as a tool for thinking beyond the conventional notions of citizenships that – back then – were tied to nation-states, fictional borders and anthropocentric ways of being.

The prefix ‘inter’ means reciprocal interrelation. Adding it to citizen was our proposal to imagine and activate a broader sense of belonging to Planet Earth enabled by the internet(s) that was also accompanied by collective rights and duties and that included non-human beings.

The idea of intercitizens also became a way to challenge the common metaphorical misconception that internets were abstract spaces, an understanding that was seeded in 1996 by the techno-libertarian Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

In these ways, through the development of the concept of Intercitizenships we learned how to acknowledge the socio-ecological importance of understanding of the internet, social platforms and the systems that enable cryptocurrencies as complex entanglements of physical infrastructures, algorithms, digital data, hardware and interfaces that consume gigatons of energy and gigaseconds of attention, producing gigatons of waste.

This is why in 2022, we published a proposal for a Declaration for Intercitizenships in collaboration with a group of advisors and specialists known as the Intercitizen Council. This declaration expanded on the concept of interdependence as an alternative to the individualism that was shaping the digital economy.

We used to like the dystopian utopia of being citizens of a detached internet. But once we understood the internets as entangled, public networked infrastructure, we came to a collective realisation: that learning how to reuse this infrastructure to enable protocols of solidarity between billion of humans and non-humans, as interrelated citizens of Planet Earth, was worth dedicating a billion seconds of our life.

And so, we decided to start learning how to become intercitizens.
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Part III: Lifelong learning

This epic learning challenge demanded an alternative set of approaches to those offered by conventional educational institutions. The name we chose for our initiative – The Billion Seconds Institute – stands for a lifelong approach to learning, enhanced by the value of long-term and large-scale ways of thinking.

To activate our collective learning network, we started offering programmes designed to cultivate holistic mindsets and creative strategies for systemic change. Our goal was to create value for each participant’s professional and personal life and to always encourage solidarity and collective critical hope.

Each programme was designed along a clear set of directions for change in learning experiences:

- From fixed-term phases to continuous journeys interwoven with our everyday lives;
- From rigid, one-size-fits-all to flexible, modular and accessible formats;
- From individual experiences of information consumption to collaborative endeavours of knowledge cultivation and collective imagination;
- From isolated industry-driven syllabuses to deeply contextual, purpose-driven curricula, embedded in the complexities of our worlds;
- From siloed subjects and disciplinary approaches to fluid, intersectional and transdisciplinary practices and knowledge systems.

Using these directions, we started The Billion Seconds Institute with a Knowledge Exchange Programme, organising hyper-reading clubs, discussions and meetings on a regular basis. The programme and the digital tools we used to activate it were shaped by you as one of the first supporters and earliest believers in our vision: The Billion Seconds Institute’s 100 Founding Members and Patrons.
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Part IV: Founding Members

When Lucy and I created this non-profit initiative we decided to built it as a member-supported network. We did this so that we would be fully accountable to our supporters, ensuring that our motivation would always be to cultivate an inclusive ecosystem that fosters lifelong learning, collaboration and solidarity.

Later today, we will meet with many of you to open the digital time capsule that we created back in 2021 with you and other Founding Members, on that memorable Earth Day, the inaugural day of The Billion Seconds Institute, and reflect on how far we have come. It is thanks to your early support that the vision and purpose of this billion-second-long project is a shared reality today.

In a few weeks, the 16th volume of The Billion Seconds Encyclopedia will be printed. This 16th and final instalment brings to a close our three-decade-long long publishing experiment documenting the collaborative activities of the Institute’s learners, faculty, members and advisors.

The previous 15 volumes are already inspiring the next generation of intercitizens who now have an intergenerational testimony to help them understand and appreciate the value of collective imagination. They have a much better understanding of something we took some time to learn: that if enough people believe in a certain type of future, it will happen.

A billion thank yous for helping us make this possible and deciding to take part of this journey.

Barcelona, December 29th 2052.

Lucy Black-Swan & Andres Colmenares
co-founders of The Billion Seconds Institute

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