Yahoo Creating World’s Biggest Time Capsule

Yahoo has launched what it ambitiously calls the largest time capsule in the history of the world. It is encouraging people from around the globe to contribute personal photos, stories, thoughts, ideas, poems, home movies — the flotsam of every day life, in other words — to its site, The point, as with all time capsules, is to illustrate life in 2006.

Submissions can be made on such topics as love, anger, fun, sorrow, faith, beauty, past, now, hope and “you.” Yahoo will then weave the contributed multimedia content into a single piece of digital art online. At the end of the project, the content will be saved in a digital archive and sealed, to be opened at Yahoo corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., on the company’s 25th anniversary in 2020. It will also provide copies of the content to the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings archives in Washington, D.C.

“It will be fascinating to see what people submit as their part of this 2006 snapshot, which will be shared with generations to come,” said Jerry Yang, co-founder and chief of Yahoo.

Historian’s Dream

Indeed, that glimpse into everyday life 20, 50 or 100 years ago has fascinated both hobbyists and professional historians since the first time capsule was buried, most likely in a building. The International Time Capsule Society, which is currently setting up a registry of time capsules, estimates there are approximately 10,000 of them worldwide.

According to its Web site, burying time capsules is an outgrowth of an ancient Masonic cornerstone-laying ceremony during which the mason would place memorabilia inside building cornerstones. In 1793, George Washington, who was also a Mason, buried today’s equivalent of a time capsule when laying the original cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol, the society reports.

Many of these capsules have unfortunately been lost — or rather, never found — it also said. Washington’s, for instance, has never turned up even though the Capitol has been extensively renovated and expanded over the centuries.

Others have been lost due to less romantic — at least, to a historian — reasons. In 1953, Washington state celebrated its territorial centennial by burying a two ton time capsule on the state capital campus in Olympia, the society said. Unfortunately, the legislature failed to approve funds to mark the site, and the capsule was lost.

Capsules Online

A more recent example is, initially created with the goal of launching materials into outer space. This summer, the project was granted permission to bury the capsule at Stonehenge in Great Britain, said David Ryan, president and creator of Electronic Time Capsule, a service that provides users with a way to develop their own time capsules to be delivered to their children or another person. Getting permission couldn’t have been easy, but devotees of such projects apparently reach into the Prime Minister’s office, he added.

With the advent of electronic media has come a new variant on time capsules, Ryan told TechNewsWorld. Projects like Yahoo’s or’s have only a limited appeal — largely to historians or social scientists. However, interest is growing among ordinary people who want to preserve glimpses of their lives for recipients in the future, according to market studies Ryan commissioned.

This, of course, is his vocation — but it is also his avocation. “I write messages on my thoughts about the war in Iraq to my daughter, who is now three. She can then read [the messages] when she is 25 and is able to digest the information.” Military combatants are driven by the same instinct, he said. “They write letters to their kids and instruct them not to open the letter until a certain date.”

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