Marshall Brain’s Time Capsule Video Project

by Marshall Brain


I am not a fanatical genealogist, but I believe that there was a person named George Brain, born in 1784, who is one of my 16 great, great, great grandfathers. If I am not mistaken, he is the person who opened the Brain Lumber Company in Springfield, Ohio.

Here is the question the kids started asking me and I started asking myself: What would a typical day in the life of George Brain have looked like, say in 1820? Imagine him waking up in the morning and going through a normal day. It would probably be very different from a typical day for us. For example, he wakes up and… what would he have done first? What would be his very first act of the day? He didn’t have a toilet in the house (according to this article, “Until 1840, indoor plumbing could be found only in the homes of the rich and the better hotels”) so did he walk out in the backyard to the outhouse? He didn’t have a roll of toilet paper (it wasn’t invented until the 1870s), so what did he use? When it was time to make breakfast, how did he do it? What did he eat? How much did it cost?

I imagine that if George could have made a video of a typical day, it would be absolutely fascinating to us today. We would be able to see the details of his life and compare them to our modern lives. How did he survive without running water, telephones, central heat and television? Without a car, how did he get around? How did he entertain himself?

Now consider this: 200 years from now, our great, great, great grandchildren might have exactly the same thoughts about life in 2010. They will have their fromalagic deemers and their bicolizacted plagistats, and they will wonder, “How did those poor people in 2010 survive?”

Therefore, the goal here is to create a video time capsule that accurately portrays what the life of a typical American looks like in 2010. I am creating it with my great, great, great grandchildren in mind, but I think it would be interesting to anyone in 2210.

I imagine that to any American watching this video time capsule in 2010, it all looks completely mundane – so mundane that I doubt anyone except a few relatives will even bother watching. I take a shower, I brush my teeth, the kids play video games and go to a basketball game. It is all perfectly normal and boring to us. Fifty years from now, however, I think that these videos will be pretty interesting. Cars, computers, phones, houses, clothes, food… I imagine it will all be very different in 2050 or 2060. And by 2210, I imagine that our lives in 2010 will look incredibly primitive – like we are cavemen.

I was able to do most of the filming for parts 1 through 5 over the long New Year weekend. The first two parts went live on YouTube on January 24, 2010. Ultimately, over the course of 2010, I hope that we can get 10 to 20 videos posted so that the time capsule has “critical mass” and paints a reasonably thorough picture of life in America in 2010.

Speaking of YouTube, I am posting the videos on YouTube in kind of the same way a person would put a message in a bottle and throw it in the ocean. Will YouTube even exist in 2210? Will YouTube preserve videos uploaded in 2010? Will anyone know to look for the time capsule? I don’t know. If you are reading this in 2210, then greetings! I guess it worked, and I hope you enjoy opening this time capsule and seeing how we lived 200 years ago.

Parts 1 and 2

[Uploaded January 24, 2010]

The goal of parts 1 and 2 is to explain the time capsule project and then walk though a typical weekend day in America in 2010. Because of YouTube’s 11-minute limit, I had to break it into 2 parts to cover the day. Part 1 handles everything from waking up to eating breakfast:

Part 2 handles the rest of the day:

Part 3 – A typical American house in 2010

[Uploaded February 21, 2010]

Part 3 takes a tour of a typical American house in 2010. The house shown here is the house that the Brain family lived in between July 2003 and September 2009. Filmed on January 1, 2010, this video shows the house right as it went onto the market.

This house is slightly bigger and slightly more expensive than the median American house, but it is still well within the boundaries of a “typical American home” in suburbia circa 2010.

Parts 4a and 4b – Electronic gadgets in 2010

[Uploaded February 21, 2010]

The goal of part 4 is to show the electronic gadgets that a typical American uses in 2010. This includes cell phones, digital cameras, the iPod touch and iPhone, cordless phones, laptop and desktop computers and the equipment needed to connect to the Internet. Part 4a also introduces the 5 most popular web sites (according to Alexa) in January 2010:,,, and

Part 5 – Newspapers in 2010

Here in Part 5 we take a look at the January 3, 2010 edition of the Raleigh News&Observer. This is a typical American newspaper in 2010. The Internet is in the process of making paper copies of the newspaper obsolete, but they are still incredibly common in 2010. For example, you can get the paper delivered to your door every morning for $195 per year, or you can buy a copy at every convenience store, grocery store, etc. all over town.

There are two reasons to look at newspapers. First, this has been the dominant form of news distribution for centuries, and newspapers are still very powerful today (in a “pen is mightier than the sword” sense). Second, by looking at a newspaper in 2010, we get a sense of what is important to people right now. This is what people are talking and thinking about.

[Uploaded February 28, 2010]

Part 6 – 10 big questions about the future that we have in 2010

In Part 6 the goal is to highlight 10 big questions that people in 2010 have about the future. The questions include:

  1. Did we wreck the planet with global warming?
  2. How many species go extinct?
  3. How many humans are there?
  4. Do terrorists get access to nuclear weapons and cause mass destruction?
  5. Is there an economic catastrophe because of oil?
  6. What happened with space travel?
  7. Did the United States economy implode or survive?
  8. Did the United States peak in the twentieth century?
  9. What happened with religion?
  10. Did humanoid robots, AI, self-driving cars, etc. ever become a reality?

These are all mysteries to us in 2010. Someone with 200 years of hindsight can look back at these questions and see how it all turned out.

If you are watching this video in 2010, feel free to make predictions in the comments.

Part 7 – Libraries in 2010

In Part 7 the goal is to look at libraries in the United States circa 2010. There are over 120,000 libraries in the United States, making them nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations. Here we explore the Eva Perry Library in Wake County, NC and the D.H. Hill library at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.

Part 8 – Obesity and Dieting in 2010

If you were a time traveler from 2200 and you came back to the United States in 2010, one thing you would definitely notice is the obesity of the population. About two-thirds of all adults are overweight or obese, including me. This video documents the obesity problem and shows how people lose weight in 2010.

Part 9 – A parent’s survival kit – the stuff of our lives in 2010

This video looks at a “parent’s survival kit” – stuff parents would like to have with them when taking the kids on a hike, to an amusement park, etc. It is a good way of documenting “the stuff of our lives”. Every item shown here is something that is handy/useful/common to everyone living in 2010.

The stuff in the survival kit:

  1. Hand sanitizer – alcohol gel. A little container like that costs 60 cents.
  2. Money – dollar bills and quarters for vending machines, parking meters, etc.
  3. Paper towers – cleaning up spills, use as placemat.
  4. Sunscreen – blocks UV rays and prevents sunburn. A tube like this costs $1.29
  5. Kleenex – for blowing your nose, emergency toilet paper, etc. A little package costs 50 cents.
  6. Mini deck of playing cards – we know a dozen games we could play as a family to kill time.
  7. Batteries – these are AA batteries that fit many different electronic devices. They cost $1 or so.
  8. Butane lighter – light campfires, candles, etc. These were 3 for a dollar at the dollar store.
  9. Multi-tool, aka Leatherman – pliers, knife, scissors, screwdrivers in a small package. Maybe $20 to $30
  10. Tweezers – for taking out splinters and removing ticks
  11. String – emergency shoe laces, emergency belt, emergency leash for dog, tying something in a tree. A spool costs $1.
  12. Fingernail cutters
  13. LED Flashlight
  14. Aspirin, children’s aspirin
  15. Motion sickness pills
  16. Benedryl
  17. Anti-diarrhea medicine
  18. Liquid skin
  19. Chewing Gum
  20. Glow stick
  21. Writing pen
  22. Sharpie permanent ink pen
  23. Peanuts
  24. Bandaids
  25. Alcohol wipes
  26. Sheets of paper
  27. Duct tape

Part 10 – How houses are built in 2010

In 2010 people build houses pretty much the same way as they have built them for the last hundred years. Yes, we use circular saws instead of hand saws, and nail guns instead of hammers, but otherwise most of the materials and manual techniques are identical. People cut lumber and nail it together to make the frame of the house, side the house with bricks or siding, nail shingles on the roof, wire and plumb it by hand, put up sheetrock and manually coat it with plaster to make the walls, paint it with brushes, rollers and spray guns by hand, etc.

In this video you can see all of these standard techniques and materials. It will be very interesting to watch over the next few decades to see how much these techniques and materials change.

Part 11 – Vegetable gardens in 2010

Vegetable gardens have been the same for centuries. You till the soil, plant seeds, let the plants grow and harvest the vegetables. If you go to George Washington’s home in Alexandria, Virginia or see the gardent in Old Williamsburg, Virginia, you can see how consistent gardening has been for hundreds of years.

It is about the same in 2010, and this video shows you two small vegetable gardens filmed in August 2010. In 2210, will people be doing it the same way? Or will the plants and animals we eat for food today be irrelevant, replaced by synthetic foods?

Part 12 – Grocery stores and groceries in 2010

In this episode we take a look at groceries and grocery shopping in America in 2010. We visit several grocery stores and then show what happens once you get the food home.

The first true, self-service grocery stores (also known as a supermarkets) in the United States were getting started in 1916 under the name Piggly Wiggly. Frozen vegetables first appeared in grocery stores under the Birdseye name in 1929. The patent for the first grocery store shopping cart was issued in 1938. The first frozen TV dinners appeared in 1953. Frozen pizzas appeared not long after. The point being that grocery stores as seen in 2010 have been about the same for nearly a century. Although the variety of products has expanded somewhat since then, and the invention of bar codes sped up the checkout process a little bit, it is all remarkably similar to the way it was in 1916.

In this video, a “grocery store” is defined as a store that sells all of the following products:

  • Produce section – fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Canned foods – fruits, vegetables, soups, prepared foods
  • Meat section – Fresh beef, pork, chicken
  • Processed meats – hot dogs, deli meats
  • Snack foods – Potato chips, nuts, cookies, candies
  • Cereals – breakfast cereals, oatmeals
  • Frozen foods – fruits, vegetables, ice creams, frozen dinners
  • Alcohol – Beer, wine
  • Baked goods – Bread, rolls, buns, muffins
  • Dairy – Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, hard cheeses, eggs
  • Paper products – paper towels, plates, napkins
  • Personal care – Soap, shampoo, shaving, deoderants
  • Over-the-counter drugs – Aspirin, cold remedies
  • Cleaning supplies – For floors, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry
  • Other – Spices, pasta, sauces, beans, rice, dried foods, Peanut butters, Jellies, cartons of cigarettes, etc.

Part 13 – Buying gasoline in 2010

Americans consume something close to 400 million gallons of gas per day in 2010, meaning that the typical American visits the gas station at least once a week to buy gas. In this video you see what the gas-buying experience looks like in 2010.

Part 14 – An indoor water park in 2010

The Brain Family visits the Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park in November 2010:

Part 15 – The Brain Family Christmas of 2010

Christmas is a huge cultural event in 2010 spanning the months of November and December. In this video you can see how the Brain family celebrated Christmas in 2010:

Thank you for visiting today!


You may also enjoy this in-depth interview, “Marshall Brain on Singularity 1on1: We’re approaching humanity’s make or break period”:

On the coming Singularity and Artificial Intelligence:

A Conversation with Marshall Brain from MIRI on Vimeo.

The Official Site for Marshall Brain