Unveiling of 1984 Mini University time capsule
By Donald McSwiney
“Hello! Is anyone reading this? We’re in fear of nuclear war right now. My name is Tawnie Olson and I want peace. If I don’t succeed I want YOU to try. My favourite animals are unicorns. Unicorns are pure white with silver hoofs.”
— Tawnie Olsen, aged 9, Aug. 3, 1984
Thirty years ago, a group of Mini University summer campers packed a steel box with their messages to the future. Not surprisingly, considering the Cold War, some of the messages were dire. Chris Humphreys, 13, wrote in giant block capitals: “Nuclear war is a very real possibility, but only a select few seem to want it. Reagan, for instance, with his comments about nukeing (sic) the Russians. At the moment, there is a 75-25 chance of a nuclear war in the next five years. I sincerely hope not.”
Musically, Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Madonna, David Bowie and the Police were popular among the campers who drew lovingly detailed renderings of the stars, while Ghostbusters, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Gremlins were big in the theatres. The campers took pains to detail their favourite toys such as Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears, and to explain to future students that in 1984 people lived in things called “houses,” read “books,” travelled in transportation devices called “cars” and even played something called “video games.”
On Thursday, August 14th the contents of the time capsule from 1984 were unveiled by this year’s Mini University participants. Campers made their additions to the capsule before the box was resealed for opening again in August 2044.
Jimmy Ip, 8, a Mini U camper this summer, is excited about the prospect and has a few thoughts on the future. “I think the sidewalks are going to be different! The world is going to be different!” he says enthusiastically. “I think every city is going to change a lot and the buildings. I think the windows are going to be special windows.”
In some ways 1984 was not so different from today, and our windows are not, arguably, more special. In many other ways it was another world. Besides the fear of nuclear holocaust, the letters reflect fears of animal extinction and pollution. Terry Davies, who was a master’s student at the time, and led the children through the exercise, reflects, “These days we’re overwhelmed with information, with what’s going on around the world. We’re kind of immune to it now, but I think back then for young students being exposed to what was happening on television it was fresh. It probably had more impact on them than I think it would probably have for students today, but yeah certainly the height of the Cold War … It was I think a scary time for them.”
Besides their letters to the future, the students were sent out with black-and-white cameras to document life in 1984. In another reminder of how times have changed, one of the students even talked her way onto the tarmac and into the cockpit of an airplane. As Davies recalls, “This one girl she was around 13, really pretty, curly hair, she talked her way through security, onto an airplane, and into a cockpit. Took the pictures, and came back, and I said, ‘You did what? If that plane had taken off with you, how would you explain this to your parents?!’ It was a very, very different world … we were kind of at the end of an era there. Things changed very quickly.”
It will be interesting to see what today’s students have to say to the children of 2044. For students in 1984, the Information Age was just beginning as Apple introduced its personal computer with the iconic 1984 ad campaign, and the Internet was mostly just a defence industry idea. So who knows what 2044 will really be like? Jimmy Ip pauses, contemplating the question before continuing, “I don’t think the buses will have so many stops,” he says with a grin, “and the stops won’t be so close to each other.”
We can only hope.