Thoughts on LongeCity
What LongeCity is – and what it is not – in 8 points
A personal perspective by Caliban
I. LongeCity is, first and foremost, an internet forum.
This in itself is an operational challenge: LongeCity emerged when forums (‘bulletin boards’) were just taking over from email-lists as the preferred means of group communication. New trends have emerged since: blogs where individual authors have greater control, but still attract a crowd of readers, news sites now have ‘comments’ pages, and then social media changed the internet for a lot of users. These factors lead to a decline in the prominence of forums. A few super-forums like ‘reddit’ now dominate the field. LongeCity has sought to link into these developments (you can publish a blog on longecity, there is a longecity facebook page, you can share content to twitter, reddit etc..) but held on to the basic forum model. I believe that this model has much to recommend itself in terms of thematic structuring, non-centralised content, accessibility to new readers, and technical and editorial independence. Like there are still successful and influential mailing lists, we need to stay in our niche of providing a useful forum – over time that will mean more integration and more features, but the first consideration is to maintain what exists.
II. LongeCity's main role is sharing information
LongeCity has always aimed to go beyond ‘basic’ forum functionality. We offer custom facilities to share and curate: videos, links, pdf files, regimen recipes, quizzes. We maintain a ‘virtual economy’ where users can commend and reward each other prestige for information or activities. But these facilities are not widely used. Here, we come back to No1- to most visitors the basic forum functionality is sufficient. Attempts to ‘force’ the use of more specific features, even attempts to enforce higher quality in the basis forums are always controversial. Similarly, the forums are not a natural recruitment ground for other activities, over the years we have sought to recruit contributors to many initiatives – with few exceptions this has often proved very tricky even where efforts were bolstered by financial incentives. Any calls on LongeCity to ‘do more’ need to be measured against this experience.
III. LongeCity is a community platform
As with most forums, a ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ dominates the dynamics at LongeCity. People are given the tools to generate content and to react to it, but there are very few ‘officially sanctioned’ pieces. Instead we rely on the individual free will and initiative to create, and on crowds, groups, communities to curate. That means many things nor all of them unproblematic: we need to hope that people will care enough to contribute, that they will be fair in judging others, that they will be knowledgeable and (as the internet often demonstrates, this can be a tall order) respectful and intelligent. This means content is only as informative, initiatives only fly as high, joint actions are only as effective as the people that come together to create them. It also means that we can’t be unreasonably competitive about the domains and communities that people have created or adopted. (More: LongeCity & others).
IV. Many LongeCity visitors are not primarily interested in fostering its mission
This has been true (and complained about) since our founding: LongeCity attracts many different perspectives and conversations and the link to our mission is not always obvious. Many –probably most– visitors are only attracted by a very particular issue in health, nutrition or philosophy. ‘Converting’ these people to an ‘immortalist outlook’ would be pointless and sinister. Instead, we hope that nearly all conversations on the site help to bring together little pieces of information for the common cause. And, quite frankly, we are also extremely happy to derive some donations or advertising income from this ‘unaffiliated’ traffic that we can then put to use for the LongeCity mission. Hence, in contrast to other sites who –for very good reasons– eschew advertising, such revenue (in line with our policies on neutrality) is part of the ‘LongeCity model’ of openness.
Even for those who are interested or passionate about our mission, this does not translate readily into an interest specifically into LongeCity conversations, agendas and projects. Many times when LongeCity tries to be consultative and democratic about internal decisions, feedback has been rather limited. This lead to a situation where we would have to agitate and cajole for weeks and months in order to get a halfway representative sample of voices from membership. The same goes for volunteers: it is very easy to come up with interesting project, but hard to lead them, assemble a team and see them through.
V. LongeCity is not a place to spend your days forever
This may sound odd since ‘forever’ is part of our mission, but from a user perspective let us be realistic: people have better things to do than spend their days on a forum. And we should be fine with that. We have a proud track record of welcoming people who then get on to work hard on the LongeCity mission in very practical ways. Many people who once served in LongeCity leadership were novices then and went on to a full-time commitment in life extension research and advocacy. We can hope that these veterans check in from time to time. We can hope that we help to foster new generations on that journey. But we should appreciate and celebrate that people have lives to get on with. In line with what has been said above, we should also appreciate that interest in life extension is a journey with many winding paths. Hence we need to consistently welcome new blood and remain relevant to the once-in-a-blue-moon return visitors. The student still honing a skill, the stay-at-home mum, the labourer who struggles to make a living, those who just want to look younger, or live healthier but are not convinced about ‘forever’ – all these need to be welcome at LongeCity, not be pressured into some ‘creed’ but still be given the opportunity to gain relevant knowledge and to make as small or big a contribution to our mission as feels right and feasible to them.
VI. LongeCity is small & thrifty
LongeCity does not make a lot of money – small donations from a few hundred members, a bit of advertising. Yet we spend a lot of time trying to spend money effectively. Other organisations (some that were there today and gone tomorrow) spend more in a month on equivalent IT and management than LongeCity spend during its entire 15+ year existence. The bulk of our spending was on research which can be extremely high-cost and yet we consistently found ways of making very little money go a very long way. To be fair, this approach was necessary because LongeCity has never been well-endowed financially. We have never courted big donations. For our own forum infrastructure the bottom-up approach works well enough and if there is a large spending need it should go directly to the researchers concerned.
VII. LongeCity’s leadership first duty is stewardship
This experience lead to a clearly defined fallback position for LongeCity: the first duty of leadership is to keep the organisation afloat with minimum commotion and effort. This does not mean turning your back on the community-focused outlook. Instead, the task is to maintain a stable infrastructure that allows for such community projects to emerge, to be critiqued, vetted and improved, and to garner support and traction according to the strengths of its merits and team.
Many people on LongeCity talk about how an ‘anti-aging’ revolution needs to sweep the globe. They envisage a global movement, they conceive of a research agenda that is dramatically more effective than our current attempts to defeat death. One can have different perspectives on this, but in line with the LongeCity mission, these are valid, even laudable goals. However, LongeCity is the place to discuss, in an (“open forum” in the widest sense of the word) ideas, perhaps to help make connections or gain some orientation – not the organisation to suddenly morph into a political party, research hub, or church. Such organisations exist. Every once in a while we get people clamouring that LongeCity should, must stretch further. We must make sure that such enthusiasm is encouraged not stymied, provide the tools and guidance that people can apply themselves effectively, but also efficiently filter to those ideas, contributions, and characters that are right for LongeCity itself – remain thrifty, and be mindful that our volunteers have a limited time budget. Above all, we must be vigilant about remaining true to our mission. We have had the finest minds in life extension among our member- and leadership. We also have had a few who were of a more questionable disposition. Our organisation is small, democratic and has some assets and resources. Hence an important task among the leaders, guardian and friends of LongeCity is to ward against misappropriation.
What has LongeCity achieved? There are other articles (e.g. here, here& here and the newsletter) discussing the small but significant contributions that LongeCity has made over the years. But perhaps even more importantly: through changes in leadership, significant restructuring, technical developments, and in the face of many other structures and organisations growing around us, we still exist. We still exist as a lively forum for the free exchange of ideas and information about the scientific conquest of death.
This may be an odd, controversial thing to say as a leader of an organisation, but I hope it is clear how it follows from all that has been discussed above: LongeCity does NOT have the structure, wherewithal, or ambition to become a ‘global player’. We changed the name ‘Immortality Institute’, because in truth, we were no ‘Institute’ and many supporters felt very uncomfortable about ‘Immortality’. We changed it to LongeCity in our usual way: in a community-led bottom-up process with all the benefits and drawbacks that that entails. Whether it’s a great name or not, I can identify with the ‘city’ part: I want LongeCity to be a city: a bustling place where very different people come together, for different things - from that meeting place new ideas are forged, new journeys begin to other places, but ideally, the city remains a home to return to once in a while. I want LongeCity to be a safe and constant place where the ‘curious’, the ‘part time’ and the ‘fully fledged’ immortalist can meet. Not more. Not less.
Note: I wrote the LongeCity/Imminst constitution and joined the first board. I am Administrator, Director, advisor on law and ethics, Chairman of the Board and President of LongeCity. Nonetheless, as I tried to make clear in the above: LongeCity is diverse and never the project of any single person. Consequently, all of the above is a purely personal perspective and not a statement of settled or official policy. I may return to this entry later to add and refine.