Time capsule conundrums

County View

County View
John Healy

So what did you write in the time capsule box?
It was, admittedly, a kind of back-of-an-envelope survey, but this column was curious to know how people reacted to the time capsule box in the Census return.
No great surprise to discover, though, that the responses came in three categories. There was the well organised minority who dutifully filled the box on census night; there was the majority who had been formalising a vague idea but who were unlikely to write anything until the enumerator actually came knocking on the door (shades of the last minute of a Leaving Cert paper with the supervisor hovering ready to collect the answer sheet); and the final minority which proclaimed a total lack of involvement in the experiment, a stance justified on the grounds that there would be nobody around to read the results in any case.
And yes, there were the usual extroverts who were only too happy to post their submissions for the world to see, courtesy of social media.
Pinning people down to what they intended to write was tricky, but it was clear that the division of the population into glass half full, glass half empty, is not far off the mark. The more upbeat were happy to envisage a future, a century hence, where science will have solved the world’s ills and where disease and infirmity could be staved off for as long as wished. The citizens of the future would look back aghast at the notion of resorting to a surgical knife or painful therapy to ward off illness.
On the other hand, the remorseful offered their apologies for handing on a planet so destroyed by greed and neglect, and expecting future generations to clean up the mess. In a hundred years, one respondent told me, climate change would have caused rising sea levels to lead to the disappearance of beaches and cliffs and small islands and coastal communities. There would be no Bertra beach for the citizen of the future, lower Westport would have disappeared under water, and the fabled 365 islands of the Bay would be below the ocean.
“If you still have Google,” he wrote in his capsule box, “go to Charlie on the Reek and marvel at what the blue bay used to look like a century ago.”
And the time capsule has given free rein to those of a science-fiction turn of mind. One respondent hoped that his intended recipient would have been among those to make the escape to a Martian colony, leaving the abandoned earth to a sub species which would forever cower in servitude. Another choose to enlighten his future reader of how our education system worked, since ‘in the future, new born babies would be implanted with a chip containing all the knowledge they were ever likely to want’, without any need for schooling.
Another is going to write about how we grew and produced our own food, since for the citizens of 2122, their nutritional needs will come from a capsule of vitamins prepared in a laboratory. And as for sex, evolution will see to it that binary gender is no more, we will no longer be male or female, and the business of procreation will be taken care of in specialised baby-production units.
But the most plaintive message in the time capsule, and certain to be repeated more than once, is the one already shared widely on Facebook – ‘Have Mayo won the all-Ireland yet?’, a cri de coeur of frustration and hunger which, a hundred years from now, will still be known and understood by those who come after us.