How to make a digital time capsule

We all love finding trinkets and photos from past events and with a digital time capsule you can give this gift to your future self or loved ones.

What is a time capsule?

A time capsule refers to any container specifically and intentionally filled with items to inform people of the distant future about life in the period it was made. Time capsules are intended to be revisited years later and can shed new light on the past by highlighting aspects of it that may have otherwise been forgotten. The creator of this concept is generally believed to be Thornwell Jacobs who was inspired by Egyptian tombs, themselves a sort of time capsule.

You may have done this yourself as a child, or as part of an elementary school project, filling up a shoebox with trinkets and letters and burying it in the backyard. You may even do this now, writing motivational letters to your future self and looking back to see your progress. The term can also be used more loosely, for example, to describe a home that hasn’t been decorated in the last several decades as being a time capsule of its era.

You’ll be glad to know that the idea of a time capsule is more than a cute pastime for children or a house filled with furniture from the ‘70s and there have been some very cool uses of time capsules in the past.

Famous time capsules

Some time capsules are as simple as stainless-steel container buried in the schoolyard for the following school year. Others are much, much more sophisticated.

The Crypt of Civilization

Probably one of the most well-known time capsules, the Crypt of Civilization is an airtight container located in Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia and was proposed by Jacobs himself. Measuring 2,000 cubic feet, the structure was built in the late 1930s and has an opening date of 8113.

It’s even certified in the Guinness Book of Records for being the first successful time capsule. Artifacts included a copy of the Bible, the original script of the movie “Gone With the Wind,” voice recordings of key historical figures, basic household appliances, and even plastic toys of Disney characters. Artifacts that were liable to degrade were specially sealed using inert gas-filled iron cases.

The Westinghouse Time Capsules

Directly inspired by Jacobs, the Westinghouse Time Capsules consist of two different bullet-shaped containers, one buried in 1939 and one buried in 1965. Both have an opening date of 6939. Both containers were constructed as attractions for the New York World’s Fair held on their respective years of burial. They are located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.

The first 1939 capsule contained items such as newsreels, a dictionary, a packet of cigarettes, and several seed varieties including sugar and rice. The items were selected to reflect 20th century life in the United States. The second capsule buried in 1965 concentrated more on artifacts with scientific merit, including a guest book of all those who came to view the capsule at the world fair.

The Voyager Golden Records

These time capsules are “buried” in space. Included in the contents of both the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977, the time capsules are two phonograph records. They were designed with the intention of reaching extraterrestrial life. The Voyager 1 probe is the most remote man-made object from planet Earth. Contents include music tracks, images and sounds of the natural world, a recorded greeting titled “hello from the children of planet Earth,” and images of the planet.

Time capsules for the modern age

If you’re not lucky enough to have ready access to an inert gas-filled iron container but want to make your own time capsule, it’s important to consider the following:

  • How long will it be stored?
  • Where will it be stored?

As the world becomes almost exclusively digital, we find ourselves increasingly less likely to rely on physical objects to preserve sentiment or store information. While this may mean traditional time capsules are less common, it paves the way for a digital alternative. Whether online or simply on a USB stick, content, be it as photos, music, historical records or written documents can be entered into a time capsule in their digital form.

For example, if you just want a snippet of modern life to share with your future children, then filling a shoebox with a USB of photos, print outs of Wikipedia articles and news stories, and a list of new words that will likely fall out of trend (think “lit”, “slay”) can all be fun additions. However, USBs, shoeboxes and packages can be easily lost, ruined by dampness, or start to age and discolor after a few years. USBs or other media storage devices may also run the unique risk of being incompatible with the technology of the time they are unearthed in. With that in mind, you might want to consider future-proofing your memories with a secure online folder. After all, time capsules are a fun idea, but that doesn’t mean they can’t call on serious digital solutions.

How can I make a digital time capsule?

Dropbox provides cloud storage that allows you to store your files and images safely, and share them with links that can be password protected. You can even date folders to have limited access to other users, making your time capsule open date set to a certain period. Making documents digital is also easy with the doc scanner. This means that you don’t need anything more high-tech than your smartphone to ensure magazine cutouts and newspaper articles will be as legible in 20 years as they were when you first saw them.

What time capsule contents should I include?

That all depends on you! Usually, you’ll want to store photos, maybe a letter to whoever finds the time capsule with a glimpse of daily life and an explanation to everything you have included. Make the most of the digital format and consider videos, music and any other digital creative projects you’d like to share.

The world’s most famous time capsules may not be due to open for thousands of years, but your time capsule can open whenever you’d like. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:

  • New Year's resolution digital time capsule: Want to learn to dance as a new year resolution? Take a video of your attempts, find the music you’d most like to bust a move to and photos of your inspiration/motivation. Then host them in your secured folder and don’t open it again until next new year. Sit back, watch past you, cringe a little, and see how far you’ve come!
  • Study time capsule: Every student is left with a mountain of notes at the end of the semester, and likely no space in the dorm to store them all. Use the doc scanner to save them in the cloud and then recycle your papers, safe in the knowledge that your term’s notes are still easily accessible. This is also a great way to look back and see how your note-taking and study habits have improved.
  • Holiday time capsules: Everyone loves a holiday, so make sure you capture your best memories and keep them safe. A photo album is a captured moment in time just as much as a box of buried artifacts.
  • Social media time capsule: Everyone loves/hates going through old social media posts and photos but there’s no guarantee these sites will be running as smoothly and securely in a years time as they are today. Don’t leave your precious pictures to be abandoned online; instead, download and back up your photos. As well as making sure you never lose happy memories to websites suddenly falling out of use, it’s also good for your personal security to delete any dormant accounts.

Capture the moment

So, if you want to make a time capsule, big or small, digital is the best way to make sure that all those memories you cherish so much are being kept as safe as possible.