johannes goebel presenting his talk

The Computer as Universal Time Machine

Johannes Goebel

This essay comprises two parts, The Computer as Time Machine and The Digital Time Capsule. Each one may be read independently of the other, even though both parts are conceptually related and intertwined. Neither part, nor the whole, requires more than interest in the topics addressed; no specific expertise is required, not in the arts, not in technology. And for those with specific background and expertise in one, the other, or both, this essay may add spotlights to their own considerations. 

The first part, The Computer as Time Machine, reflects on digital technology and its relationship to human time, to human perception, and to history-making, using “time-based arts” as point of reference. 

Or the other way around: The first part of the essay discusses time-based arts in its difference to still art and how the time of computer technology, the times of performance, perception and experience, the times of keeping, documenting and archiving time-based works are related. 

This is generalized to address the question of how we as individuals and as institutions can keep digital data and what they represent accessible just for our own life time and maybe for one or two generations after us; keeping it in our possession and under our own control without constantly having to think about and pay for backing it up and copying it; similar to a book or a photo-album on a book-shelf, which we can pick up, read and look at and which can be forgotten in some box in the attic, and 38 or 101 years from now someone opens the box and looks at what was kept. 

The second part, The Digital Time Capsule, proposes in more technical terms, which criteria a time-capsule for digital data has to meet and how it can be implemented today, 2020, as a low-cost equivalent to a photo-album, a vinyl record, a film, a book, or a collection of documents. 

We have been implementing such a time-capsule at EMPAC over the past years. 

We are not aware of any other concept or implementation that meets the technical, economic and ownership criteria put forward in this essay for a digital time capsule. 

Only time will tell, if the proposed and implemented concrete archival approach is successful as described and hoped for. 

The more fundamental considerations explored in this essay may be seen as independent of the actual implementation of a digital time capsule. 

—Johannes Goebel, Director

Main Image: Johannes Goebel presenting his talk Computer as Time Machine in 2018. Photo: EMPAC.


Johannes Goebel presents his preliminary talk The Computer as Time Machine in 2018 at 10Years.

Johannes Goebel
EMPAC Researcher