A tradition as old as cave art, one of the most primal human traits is the need for self-expression. We make drawings and paintings, take photos, sing songs, write stories and poems, keep blogs, build and decorate houses, buy and wear clothing, write memoirs. We do these things to become individuals, to fight anonymity and the passage of time.
These days, life is lived in short bursts. We dart madly from the house to the car to the train to the office. We check email, voicemail, headlines, and stocks. We absorb web sites, TV, radio, music, movies and gossip, desperately try to keep up. We maintain this crazy pace, tumbling through our 80 years, obsessed with the present, rarely pausing to consider the full arc of life, much less the arc of many lives, lived across many generations. As we dash through our days, expressing ourselves in countless ways, leaving thick trails of footprints, we seldom stop and think about those footprints. We rarely consider the legacy we are leaving behind. But what if we did? What if we were each to choose a small handful of precious thoughts and artifacts to represent our life – a few words, a few pictures, perhaps a drawing or two – and were to put them away somewhere safe, as keepsakes for the future?
It is this ability to shape the way we will be remembered that makes time capsules so appealing. Time capsules have a storied past, stretching back to the first known literary work, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which opens with a hunt for a manuscript hidden in the walls of Uruk. The great pyramids of Egypt and Mexico are also time capsules of a sort, containing relics of ancient eras. The ruins at Pompeii, buried in ash for more than 1,600 years, formed an unintentional but impeccable time capsule depicting city life at the height of the Roman Empire. The modern time capsule was born amid preparations for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, when Westinghouse constructed an 800-pound metal ball, which it then filled with everyday items and buried underground.
Building on this colorful heritage, the Yahoo! Time Capsule sets out to collect a portrait of the world – a single global image composed of thousands of individual contributions. This time capsule is defined not by the few items a curator decides to include, but by the items submitted by every human on earth who wishes to participate. We hope to reach a truly global expression of life on earth – nuanced, diverse, beautiful and ugly, thrilling and terrifying, touching and rude, serious and absurd, frank, honest, human.
The Time Capsule itself is realized digitally so that the maximum number of people can have access. It is organized around ten basic ideas, chosen to illuminate different corners of the human experience. They are: Love, Sorrow, Anger, Faith, Beauty, Fun, Past, Hope, Now, and You. Each idea harbors an open-ended question: What do you love? What makes you sad? What makes you angry? What do you believe in? What’s beautiful? What’s fun? What do you remember? What is your wish? Describe your world. Who are you? People respond to these questions in five simple ways – with words, pictures, videos, sounds, and drawings.
The aesthetic of the Time Capsule is that of a ball of thread, spinning like a globe, its shifting surface entirely composed of words and pictures submitted by people around the world. The thread ball concept relates to threads of memory and threads of time, where threads are taken to be any continuous and self-consistent narrative strand. When the Time Capsule opens, it displays the 100 most recent contributions, which form the spinning globe. The ten themes orbit the globe in a pinwheel pattern. At any moment, any individual tile can be clicked, causing the globe to fall away and the selected tile to expand, revealing detailed information about the tile and the person who created it. Using a search interface, viewers can specify the population they wish to see, exploring such demographics as “men in their 20s from New York City”, and “Iraqi women who submitted drawings in response to the question: What do you love?”. There are an infinite number of ways to slice the data, and each resulting slice then becomes its own thread, which can be browsed independently, tile by tile, like a filmstrip.
The contribution process is designed to be simple and universal, using minimal gestures to create words and drawings, and to upload files. Though translated into ten languages, there are very few textual instructions anywhere in the piece, so the experience is necessarily one of exploration and discovery. A clock counts down constantly in the bottom left corner, approaching the moment the Time Capsule will close.
The presiding message of the Time Capsule is: “One World. Many Voices.” The piece attempts simultaneously to express the differences between individuals, and to illustrate the shared ground between people of all ages, races, backgrounds and cultures.
September 2006 . Brooklyn, NY