Back From the Future: Messages to Yourself

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, January 1, 2006

The early advocates of the Web predicted it would create a global community. They said it would cause an unslakable thirst for knowledge about others. That it would raise our eyes to the horizon and open our minds to the world.

Turns out, it's just about me, me, me.

We formed the Internet and it looks exactly like us. And what we like to talk about is us. Loudly. To everyone. All across the globe. Indeed, the Web lets us speak with the global community much in the way that a lunatic minister with a bullhorn has a dialogue with passengers trapped on a Greyhound.

Which is not a bad thing; quite the contrary. We here at the Web Watch home office love to troll the Internet not so much for the stuff we find, but for what it tells us about ourselves.

Most recently, we found http://www.futureme.org/ , a free site that lets you to send an e-mail to yourself up to 30 years in the future. You send it today; it comes back when you say.

Time capsules have always been based on narcissism -- we think so much of ourselves that we're certain the futuristic society phasering open the cornerstone of a crumbling 20th-century skyscraper will be fascinated to find a PSP, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. action figure, an Enron code of ethics and a "Seinfeld" puffy shirt.

But FutureMe goes one better on the self-indulgence scale -- it's a time capsule to yourself.

Oh, I suppose there are practical uses. You could use FutureMe as a reminder, sending yourself an e-mail that will arrive a day before your anniversary. The site's founders -- a couple of young Web designers named Matt Sly and Jay Patrikios -- say the site is "based on the principle that memories are less accurate than e-mails." In three years of existence, the site claims 187,992 letters written to the future.

We like the part where people make their letters public. It's no longer sufficient, apparently, to have an inner dialogue. The messages come in a number of languages, and range from genuine witticisms to treacly self-affirmations to heartbreaking confessions. My favorites contemplate the space-time continuum.

Here are some samples. (The Web Watch copy editing team compensated for the casual attitude to punctuation and spelling that some writers have.)

"Hope you lost some weight and aren't in jail and at least don't have something they can't cure."

"Don't forget to build the time machine so you can go back in time and stop yourself from sending this e-mail in the first place so you won't build that time machine and create a time paradox ending all life as we know it."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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