Airball had a wide range of curiousities. But what he really loved was to bore down into specific issues that pricked his interest. And so he might grab a book on Expositions and read all about Centennials and World’s Fairs and Expos and the like. And somewhere in the midst he might read about the fact that at the World’s Fair in Flushing New York in 1939, the organizers buried a time capsule to be opened in 2000 years filled with a comprehensive description of human life on earth at that time.
Something about that description would grab his attention and soon his bedside table would be buried in books about the making of the time capsule, about other time capsule projects, about the materials selected for the time capsule. And he would soon be making his own time capsule and planning what to include. And then he would be debating furiously with himself how to think about the tools a reader would need in 2000 years to understand what the information in the time capsule meant. He would start to worry about the risk that he might capture all the important history of the world on a few CD discs or on the hard drive of a computer but the person who opened the time capsule would not know what to do with the disc. Certainly the world had already orphaned media that held a lot of information. And it had done so in time frames much shorter than 2000 years.
That would start him thinking about orphaned media. He remembered 8 Track tapes and little Dictaphone belts. He remembered all sorts of word processing software that once contained the best thoughts of a generation and that had now been lost because no one made that software any more. And that was just in a 25-year period. What about over 2,000 years? One thing was sure, whatever way we accessed information today, they would have a different way then. And so, it was crucial – it was fundamental - to provide directions for the people (would they even be people?) who would open the time capsule in 2000 years.
And then he might get absorbed in that issue for a couple of days. How would you write a message to a reader 2000 years into the future telling them how to access the information in the time capsule? You couldn’t risk putting all your eggs in one approach. Because whatever method you constructed to tell them how to read the material in the time capsule, they might not be able to understand what you told them. The instructions about how to read the contents of the time capsule had to be read. It was a Catch 22: you could put a manual on how to use a computer in a computer’s memory, but to use it you would have to turn on the computer and access the memory. Of course, if you didn’t know how to do that, you could always have to look in the manual. But to do that you’d have to turn on the computer and find the manual….