Friday, January 14, 2011

Time Capsule

In November, Dave and I received an email from with the following message: "Greetings from your past. In the fall of 2005, you agreed to receive this message, which has been preserved in the E-Mail Time Capsule." A message from ourselves was posted below, opening with this: "Don't forget - it's time to move out of London, people!!!!"

Neither Dave nor I remember the specific circumstances of us writing this message to ourselves, but the general context came very much alive when we opened the email. Forbes was running an interesting experiment, asking people to send messages to themselves into the future via the Internet, not knowing whether they will have the technology to deliver the messages after the time lapse. Would yahoo mail still be around? Would google? There were no obvious answers to these questions -- as there aren't now. The experiment is ongoing: people had an option of sending themselves messages 5, 10, or 20 years into the future. Dave and I can't remember, but it's very likely that we signed up for at least two out of three.

Here's a recent blog post on that provides background of their fascinating experiment. "We’re excited to see this strange thing is still working, because while it’s pretty simple to preserve a physical time capsule (dig hole, insert non-biodegradable container), the realities of digital preservation are surprisingly complicated."

As someone who conceives of herself almost exclusively in the present, I set great value in leaving messages for my future self. I've been a regular diarist since the age of 9; I store as many college notebooks, old manuscripts, and random scraps of paper as I possibly can without getting buried under the data; I have not only kept copies of every letter and greeting card I've ever received from friends and family members, but at one point even experimented with making carbon and photo copies of the letters I sent myself; same goes for digital communication -- I save everything I can. I'm the first to admit: most of this information is useless, a waste of storage space. When was the last time I have looked at the notes I kept from the Macroeconomics class I took as a sophomore at RIT? Probably three years ago, when we moved to our current apartment and I decided to "clean up," to throw away duplicates and drafts of papers I wrote at RIT, leaving only graded copies in storage. All of my folders from my SFSU days are still intact. Once, I spent an afternoon searching old email, trying to remember the exact year my grandmother died (how come I don't have this written down somewhere accessible?).

When forced to justify this behavior, I claim endless story potential contained in these folders. So far, I haven't written anything inspired by a single one of those scraps. (I have a separate filing system for old story ideas). But, save extraordinary circumstances, I can't imagine myself getting rid of this stuff. How else can I have know who I was before, five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? By keeping these papers, I allow myself the privilege of purging the memories to the very back of my mind. I want to remember -- I need to remember -- but I don't have to remember anything about it now, as long as I am secure in my external storage system.

Five years ago, Dave and I lived in a tiny apartment on Waller Street. I was in my first year of grad school, still contemplating a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. Dave kept crazy hours working his consulting job. Here's how we described our situation in the time capsule: "Dave: works 12 hour days + 2 hours travel, loves Netflix. We are cooking non-stop thanks to our organic produce delivery service (Planet Organics). Obsessed with Palm Pilot (can't wait to get a Treo!!) Sick and tired of driving my car. Just discoved tea with milk." And Olga? "Olga: procrastinates on writing papers, dreams of ending school and working on more stories. Wendy, Paula, and I started a writing group. Hope to keep in touch with SFSU friends."

Together, we contemplated moving to London after I was done with grad school, dreamed about taking cheap weekend trips everywhere in Europe, easier travel to St. Petersburg and annual trips to Pennsylvania and New York. In our email to ourselves, we looked even further ahead. Dave expressed a desire to end our sojourn in London at the end of these five years: "Prepare to move back to The States and start a biz-natch," he wrote. My immediate plans included "Gotta get over my email hangup where it's difficult to force myself to answer emails," and more long-term: "Plan for 2005-2010: Find a way to earn a living by writing." This last one appears very naive at the moment, but it's great to know I was thinking about creative writing even in the middle of the whole Comp. Lit. adventure, when I wrote at best two stories in two years.

We never ended up going to London. Dave started searching for jobs there, but no immediate opportunities turned up, and then we figured out we liked San Francisco too much to move. I never applied for Ph.D. programs, soon deciding that if I were apply to school again, I would want to do an MFA in writing. I'm still debating this decision once in a while. We signed the time capsule very warmly: "Love you guys! Olgie and Davey." Isn't that sweet? This alone is worth the effort of writing such a message: we gotta keep reminding ourselves of our old, dopey selves.


  1. How fun is that! So, so cool.

  2. Great entry O! I so resonate with your hording of all things representative - of time, of feelings, of academic progression. I've got all my old letters from the pre-electronic communication days, boxes and boxes of them. And scores of notebooks I've written in since adolescence. I'm a consummate record-keeper. I've often wondered how crushed I would be if I lost all of those papers and mementos in a fire (knock wood!): I'm sure I would survive, but somehow, I think it'd feel like a visceral part of my selfness would be gone forever. Love the period pieceness of the time capsule: a Treo, woot! :) Time flies, doesn't it?