Technical Writing – Time Capsule


Driving into work this morning, I had the car radio dial on the ABC. The ever affable Red Symons was interviewing Claire Spencer, the incoming CEO of the Arts Centre Melbourne. She spoke about the 30th Anniversary Time Capsule, a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Arts Centre. (

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Centre, we are creating a Time Capsule that will be installed in Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection. The Time Capsule will contain valuable contributions from our Resident Companies, staff and artists and is to be opened in 30 years, when Arts Centre Melbourne will be a grand dame of 60!

This got me thinking.

If you are a Technical Writer, a Documentation Specialist, a Technical Author (or whatever your title may be) and working on some really useful/fancy/cool/(insert your preferred word here) content, what would you put in a Time Capsule?

1. Perhaps you are working on a really “way ahead of its time” content and would like to preserve it to see what became of it 30 years from now? Maybe this is content delivered to multiple media, and available in different formats at a push of a button. Maybe this content is pure XML and can be used by any system, anywhere, anytime.
2. Perhaps it is a plug-in you have developed that automates most of your non writing tasks to perfection. All you have to do is to work on the content and let the plug-in drive the rest.
3. You could have designed a content strategy so powerful, yet so simple that it works across all your projects (or most of them anyways), irrespective of the content type, audience or delivery mechanism. Let’s say this strategy can withstand any social media revolutions over the next 30 years. Would you put it in a time capsule for someone to open it 30 years in the future?
4. May be you have discovered the perfect balance of images and text in your content and would like to test if it still holds true 30 years in the future.
5. You have metrics/analytics in place to measure exactly how, when, where and why users are viewing/using your content. Furthermore, you have worked out a way to use these metrics to update and make your content as relevant as possible.

What are the top 5 things you’d want to surprise/shock you 30 years from now? What goes in your Time Capsule?


One thought on “Technical Writing – Time Capsule

  1. Stuart B

    Turning your question around, what if I opened up a time capsule in 2024 and took out a work sample in from my early days as a TW, 30 years before?

    I’d be reasonably happy with the content, though the format would look pretty clunky and old-fashioned. But the interesting things about that manual would not be in the time capsule:

    – It was written by a true ‘lone writer’: someone who knew that TWs existed, but hadn’t met one and didn’t know any by name. I wouldn’t discover TECHWR-L for another few months.
    – It was written with no help from the infant WWW. We had email, ftp and usenet and not much more.
    – It was written in MS Word 6.0 and was subject to the now infamous Master Document corruptions. Now, I could find in a few minutes a detailed description of the problem along with workarounds and alternatives. Then, all I had was the excellent Word 6.0 manual, which explained clearly and comprehensively how master docs were supposed to work, but were silent on how they actually (didn’t) work.

    So the manual itself would be familiar enough as an example of a printed user guide from the olden days of the late 20th century, but the working environment of the writer who produced it would be unrecognizable to our successors in ten years time.

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