A ccording to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term “time capsule” was in 1938. The meaning of the term, says the dictionary, is a container holding historical records or objects representative of current culture that is deposited for preservation until discovery by some future age.
While the term may be comparatively recent, the concept is not. Relics from ancient times aside, which probably would not have been consciously preserved for future generations, an example is supplied by the city of Burgos in Castile and León. Four years ago, a time capsule was discovered that contained a document that had been written by the chaplain of the Cathedral of Burgo de Osma in 1777.
In the more contemporary era from the start of the last century, the practice of burying time capsules came to be associated with some form of celebration or other. The capsule has become a cornerstone, akin to the laying of the first stone for a building. The New York World Fair of 1939 marked a true beginning. Merriam-Webster is correct, as it was George Edward Pendray who came up with the term for the time capsule at the fair. The Westinghouse corporation created the capsule, intended to be opened in 6939.
In Alcudia on Friday, they buried a time capsule. It was beneath an oak tree that has been planted by the Torre Major, the defence tower that dates back to 1559 and which is close to the port. It is even closer to the old power station, and it was the power station that provided the motivation for both tree and capsule. Symbolically, the cornerstone (the capsule) was laid in anticipation of the transformation of the power station into the site for the Alcudia Tech Mar project, one for the decarbonisation of the sea and for economic diversification.
It has been said of this capsule that is a symbol of rootedness to the land as opposed to the overblown ceremonies that accompanied the laying of the first stones for “megalomaniac” projects of not so long ago. Mallorca didn’t really have such projects, although former Balearic president, Jaume Matas, was directly associated with grand schemes.
The corrupt and disgraced Matas nevertheless facilitated the building of Son Espases. Palma Arena, the Palacio de Congresos and the Metro were more questionable - at the time at any rate. The Metro can now be perceived as a vital link in the chain of the current government’s sustainable transport model. The Palacio is an aspect of alternative, low-season tourism.
Alcudia Tech Mar is not a vanity project. Hopefully to benefit from European Next Generation funds, there is the genuine belief that it will help to unlock the door to economic sustainability transformation. And so the ceremony by the Torre Major was loaded with symbolism - the oak tree with its roots for a new generation and the time capsule beneath it to inform future generations.
But inform them of what? The capsule contains a copy of the manifesto that was signed on Friday - one of a commitment to a new culture of economic and social balance and to the sustainability objectives of the 2030 Agenda. All very lofty, but what else is in it? Or should be in it? When is it meant to be opened?
For time capsules to be of any use, they first and foremost have to be capable of being preserved. Then there is the meaningfulness of what they contain. Not having information as to what is in the Alcudia time capsule (maybe nothing other than the manifesto), let’s venture some ideas as to what we would put in a capsule. As it was last Friday, how about the Bulletin for that day? A front page of “celebrations linked to small rise in Balearic Covid cases” and “missing Chinese billionaire spotted in Andratx”. Meaningful?
The Covid cases would surely be, but future generations will know only too well about the great pandemic, assuming these future generations haven’t been wiped out by other and far more aggressive viruses. But Covid, precisely because it is a pandemic, is not specific to Mallorca. In itself, it says nothing of society or culture. As to Jack Ma, he is of no consequence to the island. So there would have to be items that are relevant, that are representative, that are rooted to the land in the sense of having Mallorcan roots.
A time capsule historian by the name of William Jarvis says that most time capsules are filled with useless junk. To be of real value to future generations they need to reflect the daily lives of people, such as through photos and videos, albeit that technological obsolescence would be an issue.
What, above all else, should there be that speaks of Mallorca 2021 to be witnessed centuries in the future? You will have your ideas, but here is one - a photo of an unspoiled beach, symbolic of the island’s nature and also its prime economy. When they open the capsule, the beach may no longer be there.
Alcudia Tech Mar is anything but a vanity project.