Elizabeth Miller | Jan 3, 2020

Ring in the New Year with a Time Capsule to Tell Your Story

Currently tucked away somewhere in the recesses of my childhood home’s storage room sits a metal paint can. It is sealed shut and covered in decorative spirals made of squishy paint and instructions to open after a decade—or once I got married. (Clearly, I had high hopes.) Today the can is still unopened and the decade has passed, full of adventures. I’ve thought back to the moment I made the time capsule. I was in my late teens and had a life full of high school graduation, college, late-night laughter, long walks, post-graduate school, new friends, heartache, and world travel ahead of me. But at that moment, I was still nervous about making friends, worried about grades and dating, and unaware of how little I knew about life in general.

Even just thinking about the time capsule, I’m transported to a specific moment in my own personal history. Looking back helps me make sense of my present and see the progress I have made, and it reminds me of where I want to go. The beginnings of my current journey, part of my story, is preserved in a paint can somewhere in a closet.

There are many ways to preserve our stories. Mankind has left messages for the future for thousands of years. Even the Epic of Gilgamesh starts out with instructions to find a box containing artifacts. However, the term “time capsule” was only recently coined, in 1937 at the World’s Fair. Two years later, 1939, a special time capsule was on display at the World’s Fair, prepared to be opened 5,000 years in the future. The capsule was filled with thousands of words, pictures, knick-knacks, and representations of what life was like at the time. It was essentially a cry to the future of, “We were here!” We have even sent time capsules into space, repeating that message: “We are here!”

Some time capsules have contained letters written by prominent city officials; others contain letters from children and students; still others have recorded thousands of words of important literature. One time capsule, the “Future Library,” contains unpublished works of carefully selected authors. Each author contributes one book. A new author will be invited to contribute a new book each year for the next 100 years.

So, what makes for a good time capsule?

First off, you need to choose your container and where you are going to keep your time capsule.

Then, decide who the time capsule is for. Is it for you in 10 years? Is it for the inhabitants of the future 500 years from now? (In that case, make sure you research how to preserve what you put in the capsule.)

Next, consider a few things that have significance to you. When you put these items in the time capsule, be sure to include the story of these items, why they are important to you, and even how to use them.

The possibilities for what you can include in your time capsule are as unique as your own creativity. But if you’re short on ideas, here are a few to get you started:

  • A newspaper published on your birthday
  • Photos
  • A note from your present self to your future self
  • A note from you to whoever will open the time capsule
  • Messages from your own family members
  • Ticket stubs
  • Popular toys
  • An audio recording of your voice—tell a story!
  • A list of slang terms or popular expressions
  • A photo of your home
  • Your favorite magazine
  • An extended family tree
  • A menu from your favorite restaurant

What message would you want to share with the future?

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Elizabeth Miller

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