Communicating with the Future

I recently read about time capsules in an article reviewing the main events of the newly concluded year 2008.

During the July 2008 summit of the G-8 (governments of eight nations of the northern hemisphere-Canada, France, Germany, the U.S., the U.K. etc.) in Japan this year, the implications of, and measures to combat global warming were discussed.

Their summit documents, along with current newspapers, were buried in a time capsule at the mountain resort of Toyako in Japan. The time capsule will be reopened in exactly 100 years time. Hopefully, the danger of global warming will have been halted by then.

The name ‘time capsule’ was coined by American public relations counselor and author George Edward Pendray.

A time capsule is a historic cache of information or sometimes objects, indended to be used to communicate with the future. The time capsules which are placed on purpose are generally supposed to be opened at a pre-determined date.

Time capsules are in the news in India, too. In June, this year, P & G, India and the NGO, CRY, developed India’s first ever 100 year Shiksha Time Capsule for a social cause.

“Shiksha is a national consumer movement that empowers consumers across the country to participate and support education of marginalised children in India. P&G and CRY buried a two feet by two feet acrylic box containing 10 specially chosen education memorabilia that represent what education means to us today.”

If time capsules are meant as a way of communicating with future generations, then perhaps the pyramids which housed the mortal remains of the ancient Egyptian rulers, were meant for this purpose as well as tombs?

Many objects such as vessels, furniture, gold, representations of servants were buried with the dead Pharoah. Whether intended for the purpose or not, these objects have provided a lot of information about that civilization.

If written accounts are placed in a time capsule, the situation is a bit different. Written accounts of events that have taken place can never be just accounts of these events. They are some one’s interpretation of these events. They can never be completely free of bias. 
If we read Swatantryaveer Savarkar’s account of the events of 1857, we would see that it was a “Swatantrya Sangram” (Freedom Struggle). But in an account written by any western historian it would be mentioned as a “mutiny”. It all depends on how you view the event.

If we were to bury a time capsule containing recent newspapers, what would our future generations think after opening it?

The recent terror attacks, recently concluded elections in several states, the prelude to the upcoming general elections, the drama of selecting candidates, statements of politicians,- the newspapers would contain some quite interesting information.

If there were several different newspapers of the same date, the people of the future who would read them would not believe that they were reading about the same events. The interpretation of each newspaper would be so different. They would be quite confused trying to decide which interpretation was the correct one.

Maybe we should not try to influence the interpretation of our history by future generations.

Better instead to create our present in the best way that we can, and leave the interpretation of our present to the future!

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22 thoughts on “Communicating with the Future”

  1. True manju!!These newspapers and tv news channels….uff…to increase trp ratings, competition and all the stuff seems to bury the actual purpose of existance of such things!everything is exaggerated in their own style and left for the reader to what to make of it!adding masala, rhyming words to go with the headlines! Uff…what are these people aiming at? Someone dies in a car accident , the headline says more of creative rhyming than the actual information!Thanks for letting me knw the term time capsule! even i feel, that egyptians or even our own medival indian civilisation came out via such things…and somehow i feel they were kept for that purpose. just as we are thinking now!Did you know? In brussels, there is a place called GRAND PLACE…which has buildings build in medivial and historian style just to mark a piece of civilisation and history to show future generations!!!Its actually real models of historic benchamark buildings of europe!

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  2. “History is written by those in power” – is a fact.If Congress were to write history – it would be Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and the supreme sacrifice of Sonia Gandhi.If BJP were to write history – it would say Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the best Prime Minister who took India on a glrious course after 50 years of misrule.Let the future generations – thousand years hence – worry about our history. Are we not reading and believing our history as has been analysed and presented by the British.

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  3. That was really intersting..I am hearing ‘time capsule’ for the first time..hmm,the idea of burying documents is not pretty good..What we read in HIS-STORIES..It is upon an individual to decide what conclusion he gets from his-story.God alone knows who is right and who is wrong..And yes,let us not worry about future history,let us worry about today’s life,living it well..Great post Good day

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  4. History is little more than a subjective viewpoint of a few people based on a great deal of imagination based on little evidence!May be our Indian ancestors knew how facts could be distorted in trying to record “facts”…Mavin’s examples are perfect. Reading stories about the Pharaohs for example is fascinating, nothing more, and they did not leave all this evidence behind for us to interpret.This burying of a time capsule in Japan to be reopened in only 100 years in this information age seems to be quite pointless. If by then we have gone back to the Stone Age thanks to a nuclear war, it will be even more pointless! And then , if someone does find it after 5000 years what is the big deal? It will, perhaps, re-write our history in a completely inaccurate manner. A pointless exercise!

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  5. Great post, Manju. As other commentators pointed out, history is a very subjective matter and depends on the interpreter’s point of view.You correctly conclude that we should not try to influence the interpretation of our history by future generations.

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  6. This is a great idea. I have learnt a lot reading this article. I never knew that time capsules are routinely released.You have raised some very interesting points in this article. Whose word will stand the test of time? I never thought of it this way.Also this gives me an idea. We could release a few time capsules into space and challenge future generations to retrieve them.

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  7. Sahaja- You are right- the newspaper headlines are very creative! I have specially noticed this in the headlines of the “Economic Times”, lately.I had not known about the Grand Palace. Must be a very interesting place!Mavin- Yes, it is so true that history is written by those in power. You are right, the history as presented by the British is still being taught in our schools.

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  8. Nimmy- Yes, it is an individual’s his-tory. 🙂 Nice idea!You are right- everyone looks at events from his/her perspective. Who is to decide who is right and who is wrong?

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  9. Vinodji- I agree- “History is little more than a subjective viewpoint……” So what do we teach our children? Children in other countries are taught history from the perspective of that country. As Mavin pointed out, that is not the case in India. This needs to be changed, I think.

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  10. Sagarone- Welcome! Yes, history is very subjective. And yet we hear people talking about historical events as if theirs is the only interpretation possible.L.V.S.- I learned about time capsules just recently when I read the article I mentioned in my post. Your idea of releasing time capsules into space is an interesting one. But then the challenge will be one of technological capability and not historical interpretation!

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  11. I completely agree that a change is needed. This country has lived in a state of denial about its past fro too long…but let me tell you, I don’t see that happening…it is the likes of Ramchandra Guha who are rewarded, recognised and awarded.

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  12. Very interesting Manju. Recently I visited the Rotary Doll’s Museum at Rajkot. There is a time capsule there in the form of a zebra. I have posted a picture of it here:http://shail-mohan.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/12/at-the-doll-s-museum.htmPyramids could well have been time capsules. That’s worth pondering about. You are right, events can be described as ‘rebellion’ or ‘freedom struggle depending on who is writing it! Every situation will have different versions to it!

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  13. Vinodji- Yes, India is in a state of denial about its past. And things are getting worse. Netaji Subhashchandra Bose’s Jayanti was just a few days ago. I could find only a couple of references to this in newspapers or on the internet in blogs, etc. It seems freedom fighters like him have become ‘inconvenient’ for India today.Shail- Must have been an interesting visit to the museum at Rajkot that you mention.:)I will check out the picture of the Zebra time capsule.

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  14. A time capsule is indeed a wonderful idea. Wonder where it will lead us all to !! But i quite like the way you have ended. It is the present that matters more. To live, let live and act responsibly is all that matters.:)

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  15. India had her own time capsule which was buried at Red Fort (If I remember right) during the Emergency days.It was supposed to be a synopsis of our history till then.This was excavated as soon as the Janata Government came to power. Accusations of bias flew thick and fast. Our experiment with time capsules ended quite tragically and very much ahead of time.This points back to moot point the world over. Current events recorded as history are never free from bias. We are too close to the events and do not have a subjective view on them.Further, the powers that be always have a great desire to be known eternally and for all good reasons. History is therefore moulded to present that picture.We need to think of another way to communicate with the future.One thing we must, however, do without fail. Keep the recordings of all Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions so that every one can see (a few centuries latter) the roots of democracy been sown in these times.

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