The Problem with Putting Audio in Time Capsules: The Cassette Conundrum

I love the concept of time capsules. Locking away artifacts of an age so that they may be discovered by people many years in the future? Cool!

There is, however, more than just putting stuff into a box and burying it. You have to make sure that the artifacts will make sense to those who will one day open it. Take the case of four students who found a shoebox time capsule while rooting around in their dorm at Eastern Connecticut University. Inside was a cassette featuring an audio recording of four alumni saying hello back on December 18, 2001.

Back then it made all kinds of sense to choose a cassette as a storage medium. But here in 2015, who has a cassette player handy? From PaleoFuture:

Aside from the Nerds candies and other trinkets, the most intriguing item by far was the cassette, but the four college students don’t have any way to play it. “I want to know mostly what’s in that cassette because that’s been keeping me up,” one of the college kids told NBC Connecticut.

It’s a common problem that time capsule discoverers face. And most people who create time capsules are aware that people of the future may not have any way to hear their message. The 1958 time capsule that was recently discovered at a former mental hospital in Indiana even addressed the problem head on in its film:

When the psychiatrists of the future open this time capsule, only they will be able to tell how well we’ve solved our treatment problems, not only today but in the future. We are sincerely appreciative…


…they’ll have cameras at that time that they can run this film.

Despite the break-up in audio, they appear to be saying that they hope future generations will have the equipment to play their film. Thankfully, someone did. Not only that, but they were able to share it with the world by digitizing the film and uploading it to YouTube.

The college students in Connecticut are getting help from their school to track down the four women who put together the time capsule in 2001. So far they’ve found two of the four time capsule creators.

Hopefully, the school can also help them find a cassette player.

(Via Peter)


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37914 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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