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2020: The Time Capsule

Antique Stopwatch

For many different reasons, 2020 was a year to remember. The world handled a global pandemic, upheaval of normal life, and social unrest. How do we preserve the memories of this unique year and the lessons learned for generations to come?

Time capsules may seem like childhood fancy or relics of the past, especially when social media has become an essential part of documenting our personal and professional lives. Many see social media as a scrapbook of sorts, but sometimes these platforms fail to meet that need. And while Facebook and Instagram may seem ubiquitous now, there may come a time when neither is available to serve as documentation of the past.

Even if you like to post every thought and photograph online, when a year as revolutionary as 2020 comes along, it may inspire you to document this chapter of your life in a more tangible way.

Some folks found themselves with the time and opportunity to travel to their childhood home or visit extended family members to spend lockdown with. Others had to manage the belongings and collections from loved ones lost. Rummaging through old family heirlooms may have uncovered time capsules from other eras, like the box of letters your grandparents wrote to one another or the storage locker of collectibles you knew your dad kept but had no idea of the scope and detail of the history behind it. Every collection serves as a time capsule in its own way, offering a snapshot of a particular moment in time.

Professional archivists and amateur historians alike often share the mentality of collecting everything now so that the value of that collection can be fully realized in the future. In ten, twenty, or one hundred years, you may be shocked by what you saved that holds resonance.

This printout has some great starting points if you’re not sure what’s worth recording, or follow NPR’s Life Kit podcast’s advice and make a throwback ‘zine about your 2020 experience!

Been taking lots of photos of your pet’s daytime activities that you haven’t typically been home for? Try creating a digital scrapbook of cat snapshots or a website gallery you can share with friends. Photos that capture the feelings of isolation, candid masked selfies, the heat of a local protest, or tranquil pockets of nature can all prove valuable to future historians (or future friends and family) as a record of 2020. A printed photo book that can be flipped through might make a good gift for a family member who missed out on social activities. Something tangible might make a nice change as memory of a year that was spent so much online.

Even the small things hold meaning and memory. Remote work became a staple of many workplaces in 2020 out of necessity when the world seemed to shut down overnight. This was a major change for a lot of workers, and it came with its own set of mental, technical, and security challenges. For those of us lucky enough to work from home since the lockdowns began in early 2020, it might be fun to document some of the experiences you’ve undergone with that change. Ask to take screenshots of your office Zoom lunches to document the ups and downs of connecting with your coworkers in a new way.

Regardless of how you choose to document this year, here are some tips to make sure your 2020 capsule will last:

Back up all digital media. Two backup methods are always better than one! On top of keeping a physical copy on a flash drive or external hard drive, saving your time capsule to the cloud not only assures that you won’t lose the images and documents if the physical method fails, but it also makes it easier to share with friends, family, or on social media. Don’t forget to save your materials in file formats that will stand the test of time.

Organize as you go. Not only is doing this best preservation practice, but it will also make viewing and using your time capsule in the future much easier. If you decide to add metadata to your collection in the future for improved searchability, labeled and sorted materials will make that step all the easier. There’s nothing more frustrating to the personal historian than opening up a folder or album years later and finding unlabeled, unfamiliar faces. Documentation will be a key part of enjoying your collection and passing it on.

Use appropriate storage materials. All physical items in your time capsule should be stored in acid-free, archival-grade boxes, envelopes, or storage containers. The storage environment is equally important. Make sure your time capsule is safe by keeping it out of humid or variable temperature environments like attics or basements. As fun as it might be to bury your capsule, unless the vessel is secure and meant for that environmental stress, you might be sending your valuable memories to decay.

And one last tip: Consult the preservation experts! Anderson Archival is always available to field any preservation questions you may have about documenting one of the most unforgettable years of this century. And if part of your year involved introduction to an existing collection that hasn’t been digitally preserved, the time is right to read about the ways to keep it available for the future.

As we kick off 2021, Anderson Archival is here for your digital preservation needs. Contact us at any time: we can’t wait to hear about your pieces of history.

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