TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Web Site Lets Users Send Email to the Future

Web Site Lets Users Send Email to the Future

Nahal Toosi (
Mon, 19 Dec 2005 21:27:44 -0600

By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer

In the year 2009, on the 25th of April, a man named Greg is supposed
to get an e-mail. The e-mail will remind Greg that he is his best
friend and worst enemy, that he once dated a woman named Michelle, and
that he planned to major in computer science.

"More importantly," the e-mail says, "are you wearing women's

The e-mail was sent by none other than Greg himself -- through a Web
site called

The site is one of a handful that let people send e-mails to
themselves and others years in the future. They are technology's
answer to time capsules, trading on people's sense of curiosity,
accountability and nostalgia.

"Messages into the future is something that people have always sought
to do," said Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future. "In
a way, it's a statement of optimism."

Matt Sly, 29, came up with the concept for about four
years ago. He was inspired one day after recalling how during his
education he had been given assignments to write letters to himself.

Sly, who partnered with 31-year-old Jay Patrikios of San Francisco on
the project, said the site has made maybe $58 through donations. He is
adamant that is not a reminder service and that users
should think long-term.

The site lets people send messages 30 years from now, though Sly's
numbers show most users schedule their e-mails to be sent within three

"We want people to think about their future and what their goals and
dreams and hopes and fears are," he said. "We're trying to facilitate
some serious existential pondering."

He said a large number of the messages sent do one of two basic
things: tell the future person what the past person was doing at the
time, and ask the future person if he or she had met the aspirations
of the past person.

"The tone of the past person is not always friendly," said Sly, now a
Yale University graduate student. "It's often like 'Get off your lazy

Recently, jumped on the idea, offering an "e-mail time
capsule" promotion. More than 140,000 letters were collected over
about six weeks. Nearly 20 percent of the messages sent are supposed
to land in the sender's inbox in 20 years; others requested shorter
time frames. is partnering with Yahoo! and Codefix
Consulting on the project.

"A lot of people have kind of been freaked out by it," said David
Ewalt, a writer who worked on the project. "It really makes
you stop and think about your life in a way that you usually don't."

Another type of future message service can be found at sites such as or, which promise to send messages to
loved ones (or less-than-loved ones) after you die.

Paul Hudson, co-founder of the International Time Capsule Society,
said e-mail time capsules were new to him.

"Part of the value of time capsules are that they are thought
processes in the present," said Hudson, a historian who teaches at
Georgia Perimeter College. "You define yourself when you do a time
capsule. It might be a good exercise in introspection."

But sometimes the past is best left behind, said Saffo, who personally
finds the whole thing "sad and really weird."

"The lesson about all these things, it's the lesson from time
capsules, is you have to be careful lest you set yourself up for
enormous embarrassment in two decades," Saffo said. "Do you really
want to be reminded that you thought ABBA was cool?"

Service providers try to make the delivery process fail-safe through
partnerships or back up software, and they urge people to hang on to
their e-mail address, but there's no ironclad guarantee that the
message will ever arrive.

Technology changes. Companies go out of business. Spam filters might
get in the way.

Still, that hasn't deterred a sizable number of people from signing

On, where more than 112,000 messages have been written,
many writers are confident enough to make their e-mails -- though not
necessarily their names -- public.

"I hope that I've learned to take responsibility for my actions -- to
not be passive aggressive and to not avoid things that are scary for
me," one wrote. "I hope I've changed a little."

"Are you missing an eye? If so, I apologize." wrote another.

And, of course, the cautious optimist: "Hell, I hope you're still


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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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