Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wish you were now

FutureMe.org allows you to send yourself a letter to the future; an email to be delivered at some specific date up to 30 years ahead -- a bit of friendly advice from the past, a reminder, an announcement, an impassioned soliloquy, or whatever. It's a pretty nifty -- and incredibly simple -- communicative time capsule. You get exactly what you wrote (fidelity) and don't have to remember to do anything about it it (autonomy). A nice added feature on the site -- again, ludicrously simple -- is that you can opt either to make your message wholly private, or public but anonymous. So any of the public entries are available to browse, which is really interesting. Some examples I encountered at random:

Dear FutureMe,
This is a crude example of time travel

(written Sat Dec 31, 02005, sent Sun Feb 19, 02006)
Dear Princess Diana (FutureMe),
On this day, August 23, 2009, it's your 27th birthday. I'm sure you are happy and satisfied with what the good Lord has given you. . . . Your youngest brother is in college. You, look at yourself, you are so beautiful and long-haired lady now. Strive hard to take care for your family and be a good wife and mother someday. I love you and God bless... keep smiling!
Your past self
(December 19, 02005)
Dear FutureMe,

Hey. What's up? This is the furthest I could send this right now. I wonder what things are like in the future while you are reading this. It really crazy that i at 18 can send this to you, who is really me at 48. 30 years in the future. Can you even beleive that you made it this far. Fuckin nuts isnt it.
(written Fri Mar 24, 02006, to be delivered Wed Dec 31, 02036)
Hola! It's You here, from "the past". . . . Anyway, you need to play the lottery from time to time. I have 2 sets of numbers scheduled for a fututre delivery to you. When you get these numbers in this future message, play them on the very next / upcoming drawing. Write them down & put them in your wallet, & make another copy or 2, & put them in other safe places. Then, on occasion, schedule other future messages reminding you to play the numbers. Can you do this? This is an experiment. Unfortunately you can't message ME from the future, & send ME numbers back here in the past. THAT would rock! So we'll try it this way. When you get the numbers, play them.
(written Thu Jun 2, 02005, to be delivered Wed Sep 9, 02015)

I'm intrigued by the idea of communicating over long timespans. Especially with oneself, which adds a layer of existential depth that's playful and serious in equal measures.

This would be a useful pedagogical tool for futures classes; not just the exercise of figuring out what you might like to tell yourself at various times in the future, but also the chance it affords to see how others have thought about it. It's a kind of barometer for attitudes to the future at a personal level.

Of course, with the passage of time, spanners might be thrown into the works at either the receiving end (say, when your email address changes) or the sending end (in the form of a disruption to the service itself). See this December 02005 article from Forbes.com, which is conducting its own experiment in "e-mail time capsules", for further reflection on these kinds of issues. At FutureMe.org, if you sign up, you can update your destination email address, which lets you deal with the former problem and puts the ball back in their court to deal with the latter.

In any case, it's ingenious, and I like it a lot.

At this moment, on the site, a line at the bottom reports "282,607 letters written to the future and counting..." Drop yourself a line sometime.

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