A New Take on the Old Time Capsule Concept

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

Ever thought about writing down something really profound and putting it in a vault so that when your biographer opens it 50 years from now, people will say, "Gee, Gugliotta was even smarter than we thought."

Or "not as dumb as we thought," or "liked peanuts better than almonds," or "really was a space alien -- look, he says so right here!"

This is the principle behind Earth Capsule, less than 2 months old, and only operational since mid-April. For $1 you can write a message for posterity and file it in an electronic time capsule to be sent to repositories in more than 150 cities around the world and opened in 50 years.

Or you can do a message-in-the-bottle routine and have your communique sealed up in a waterproof cartridge and dumped into the ocean or lake at one of 44 locations, taking your chances on having it wash up at Rehoboth next week, or at Punta Arenas, Chile, 300 or 400 years hence.

Earth Capsule will also upload music, images or documents at $1.95 for the first megabyte, $1 for each additional megabyte. And a portion of each fee can be allotted to charities that are partnering with Earth Capsule.

Whether this ultimately works remains to be seen. Earth Capsule has been "doubling our customer base every couple of days," said Jason Ressler, one of the founding partners, but he acknowledged that after only a month "this is not saying much."

Still, Earth Capsule offers immortality on the cheap, which, as theologians have known for many years, is hard to turn down.

"People like to save things," Ressler said in a telephone interview. "We felt like the best way to preserve stuff was to use the Internet. The Web has socialized communications in terms of news, and we wanted to socialize it in terms of history."

Ressler and co-founder Evan Strome, both 35, are New York-based writers and filmmakers. Ashley Rindsberg, the third member of the triumvirate, is a 24-year-old electronics wiz who put the Web site together and figured out the technology.

Earth Capsule uses "HD-ROM" metal disks to store microprinted information that can be read with a magnifying glass. It is somewhat low-tech in today's terms, "like a supermicrofiche," Ressler said, but the disks "are able to preserve stuff for 1,000 years," which is what Earth Capsule is after.

Ressler said the company plans to collect uploads for a year, then send them to repositories in cities around the world, or pack them in aluminum canisters and drop them in Lake Nicaragua, the middle of the Indian Ocean and 42 other bodies of water, your choice.

By the time this happens, Earth Capsule hopes to have trust agreements with organizations in all the repository cities. The company is contacting historical societies, consulates, city halls and other groups to set up the infrastructure.

The idea is that these entities, supervised by a board of trustees set up by Earth Capsule, will sit on the information for 50 years, then open it up. Meanwhile, Earth Capsule will be uploading more stuff, preparing more disks and sending them off to repositories for later grand openings.

It is at this point that doubts begin to creep in. Ressler said Earth Capsule is negotiating with potential trustees and expects to have the international repository network set up in time for distribution in 2007. Among the venues: Baghdad; Tehran; and Kigali, Rwanda.

He is confident that governments in some of the more remote and less congenial spots will keep their hands off the disks. "People are unreasonable on issues but not unreasonable on things like this," he said.

Maybe, but in the early going, Ressler said, Earth Capsule has unexpectedly become something of a "political football," with depositors stashing away their views pro and con on the Bush administration and the Iraq war, among other subjects.

The early clientele also includes a lot of young people, such as the 18-year-old Singaporean who urged friends on her blog to file to Earth Capsule: "So cool, right . . . imagine yourself writing a message about yourself in the present . . . and read it 50 years later again . . . it will be so funny and memorable."

Maybe for her, but for others who can do the math, posterity is the ultimate audience. Ressler finds the van Gogh concept seductive. True, Earth Capsule doesn't do paintings, but think manuscripts or music. They may hate your stuff now, but in 50 years it'll be going crazy at Barnes & Noble. Why suffer the abuse today?

Also, Ressler suggested that filmmakers and multimedia types operating on a shoestring could use all the music, poetry and imagery they want, then, if they can endure the wait, salt the masterpiece away with Earth Capsule for 50 years until it can emerge unencumbered by copyrights.

All of this, however, suggests that the depositor will be around long enough to reap the benefits of early genius, or important enough to someone who will take the trouble to peek inside the capsule when the time comes.

So if things aren't working out right now, hang on, or, as Earth Capsule suggests on its Web site ( http://www.earthcapsule.com ), "Say something new, and let it get old."

You never know what might happen.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company