Dead and buried
What would we put in a dotcom time capsule? Ironically, says John Charlton, paper records, because magnetic storage will just not stand the test of time

Time capsules - can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Yes, now that the Internet age has matured I think it's time that we considered generations to come and buried some tangible evidence of the dotcom era - short in human years but pretty long in budgie ones.

Of course most of you, especially the ones who were once young, will recall that Blue Peter (BP) presenters had a habit of burying time capsules every other week during the John Noakes and Val Singleton days, so they could have the opportunity of digging them up every other week the following year. "My God isn't it amazing what the price of a VW Combi was last year," said Nokesy as he thumbed through a one-year old copy of Exchange and Mart.

I must confess I can't quite remember exactly what the BP team shoved into their time capsules - the number of which must have affected the gravitational pull of the Earth - but it usually included a newspaper, the current number one hit single, a typical toy or two and a Wagon Wheel biscuit. These were objects which would, when the capsule was dug up, supposedly reveal the truth about what really mattered to us back in 1975, such as proof that Wagon Wheels were much bigger then, than in 2001.

Preservation Society
Back to the dotcom time capsule. What should go in, where should it be buried, and for how long? All weighty matters should go before the appropriate committee of experts but, in the absence of a properly constituted one, I have some suggestions.

It is important to establish some objectives, after all we don't want someone opening up our capsule two hundred years from now, and looking at a picture of Martha Lane-Fox with the caption -"Vem ar den har smackligt flicka?". I should point out that by then Swedish, and not English, will be the world's main language, and it's best we recognise that from the outset. We all have to make assumptions. This is essential in the world of time-capsule-ology. Thus I've assumed that English will still be the world's second language in 2202 - our year of choice - and that it will be the linguistic medium used in cataloguing and explaining the objects in the capsule so that all is clear to those who uncover our little treasure. We don't want them caught in the Wagon Wheel dilemma that confronted BP viewers.

Tech-heads may not like it but the storage medium for the message must be paper, and not magnetic tape or optical disk, which tends to have, in terms of historical durability and stability, the half-life of a dragon fly. For evidence look no further than US census data from the 1960s and 1970s, much of which can longer be read because the magnetic media it was stored on has either deteriorated, or cannot be accessed because there are no suitable reading devices still functioning. Paper was good enough for the Domesday Book and BP, so paper it is.

Using it or losing it?
So, what should we put in our tin can? First, it is important that generations to come shouldn't think that dotcoms were all about losing money and bringing the Western World to its knees in that dreadful recession of the early 21st century, which eventually saw the seat of the global IT industry switch from San Jose , Silicon Valley to Magnitogorsk, Siberia - in 2201 the happening post-post industrial megalopolis. Thus, a screen shot from the toyzforboyz site should go in there with appropriate notation giving the site's turnover and operating profit.

Naturally a WAP (wireless application protocol) phone should be in there - one in mint condition shouldn't be too hard to find. We'll also need a laptop, with spare batteries, which contains files of the many wondrous porno sites such as bigguns.com, which, in the early 21st century drove website design and technology forward.

A few books bought via Amazon.com along with a graph plotting its share price should be included, together with recipes for various forms of coffee - by 2201 it will be a banned substance following medical proof that it can cause delusions of grandeur.

A few clothes will be needed to give the flavour of the dotcom worker bees. A baseball cap with 'wear back-to-front' instructions and a pair of combat trousers with a crotch stained with caffe latte should do the trick.

If only Nokesy and Val could be around to open this treasure trove.

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This was first published in October 2001

 

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