It was a few months ago, just as 1999 was becoming 2000, that people were putting things in time capsules and sticking them in the ground. Folks in Wyandotte, Mich., placed pictures, a community calendar and seeds from the local garden club. Students from a high school in Hartford, Conn., created one with a T-shirt, a cafeteria menu and a letter to President Clinton.
One of the drawbacks with time capsules is they are mostly filled with artifacts, pieces of pop culture that show future generations how our time was accessorized. They tend not to tell too much about how people really think.
One site on the Web, www. randomaccessmemory.org, tries to do just that, to be a kind of national diary. The site, officially titled "Random Access Memory: an Experiment in Collective Recollection," offers people the chance to publish their memories. Registration is required, but the information needed is minimal, and it is free. So far, about 1600 people have made more than 4,000 entries.
According to the site's main page, Random Access Memory is designed to be a "backup archive for your personal memories, for recollections important or trivial. We encourage you to use this site spontaneously. If you suddenly remember the sled you played with as a child, or the sweet, eggy cake your mother fed you dipped in tea, sign in and record the memory at that moment."
The site stores the entries and lets registered users search them by date, subject or name. People wanting to maintain a low profile can register under an assumed name.
The memories listed here are, indeed, random. But as a sample, here is a peek into our national psyche offered by searching for the term "television."
* Pollywolly, 1959: "Watching the black-and-white version of Scrooge every Christmas Eve. Having to get up to change the channel!! I shudder to think about it now. Ringing the operator to make a phone call and then when we did get our dial phone, you had to wait for the people on our 'party line' to hang up!! Bringing a nickel and two pennies to school every day for ice cream time. Getting our first color television."
* Quasilove, 1982: "In our kitchen, my father and I watch the space shuttle launch. We have no television. The story is that he broke it before I was born. But somehow now it projects and my father and I watch the space shuttle launch against our kitchen wall."