Time Capsules

Voice Card  -  Volume 8  -  John Card Number 8  -  Wed, Jul 19, 1989 2:31 AM

I recently came across two remarkable time capsules: cassette tapes from the second epoch of my conversations with Paul.

Paul and I were best friends in junior high. When he moved to Ohio in the ninth grade we started sending tapes back and forth and kept it up, once a week, all the way through college.

After college, Paul joined me in Salt Lake and there was a six year lull in the taping. But when I ventured into the wilderness of Montana in the Fall of '86, the first thing I did was to resurrect our old conversation. Once again the tapes bounced from mailbox to mailbox every week, and this second epoch continued until last summer when a fire consumed Paul's house (and tape recorder). This remarkable conversation was the forerunner of Archipelago, and in fact the design of Archipelago first took shape in the course of these weekly tapes.

The procedure was quite simple. Upon finding the tape in the mailbox I would stretch out on my couch with a yellow pad and listen to Paul ramble on for 45 minutes to an hour, all the while taking copious notes. I would then climb into my favorite orange rocking chair, push the RECORD button, and, dangling the microphone with great skill, crack open a Pepsi, pour it into an icy glass, and favor Paul with a symphony of slurping and gulping. This accomplished, I would then think aloud until the tape was full. Then: a fresh stamp and back in the mailbox!

I cannot begin to describe how satisfying this was. Paul's monologue was invariably dry and witty and greatly eased my solitude. And the process of speaking aloud for an hour, once mastered, is not only effortless but downright therapeutic. Nothing beats the luxury of having a listener who cannot interrupt! (Although our voice cards lack the friendly sound of a human voice, they provide the same luxurious opportunities and, unlike the tapes, are not overwritten and lost to posterity.)

Sometimes, though, due to technical difficulties or other mischance, an old tape was laid aside and replaced with a fresh one. Such was the case with the two old tapes I found in the back of a drawer: recorded November 7, 1987 and February 21, 1988.

The first tape holds my monologue and is remarkable in that it contains the first reference to Archipelago. It appears in my notes as the "Area of the Circle mail project," a reference to an experiment Paul participated in as a lad that was the inspiration for our Desert Island Quiz. In subsequent tapes Paul and I referred to the still nebulous project as "Voices", "Common Ground", and "Tape Helper".

In that first tape I described the ponarv as "An extended HyperCard conversation carried on between interested and interesting people, broken down into topics with each topic growing in steps. A response to all cards published in step 6 would be dated, signed, and inserted into step 7."

A strangely prophetic snippet from the same tape was my suggestion that Paul consider making a HyperCard stack to keep track of his tapes, in part so that he would have a complete record of his music collection in case his house ever burned down!

The second tape contains about twenty minutes of me describing my (first) breakup with Dionne, and forty minutes of classic Paul monologue. Among other things, Paul gave his approval to the new name for Tape Helper ("Archipelago"), and challenged me to have it ready in time for his birthday in March. He also suggested that we expand the initial Desert Island Quiz by asking various related questions. I will close this card with Paul's two example questions; perhaps we can answer them now:

1. What would each of us do on our islands when we got bored?

2. What is the first thing we would do upon returning to Civilization?

[Editor's note: Since writing this card, Paul and I have resumed our tape conversation. For more thoughts on time capsules, See Vol 8 John 15.]