Family mattered most for people filling in the time capsule on the census form last month and the material submitted should serve as a signpost for how big issues including climate change are addressed, according to the head of one of Ireland’s leading research companies.
People’s attitude and approach to the time capsule should also sharpen the minds of policymakers making long-term decisions, suggested the chairman of Amárach Research, Gerard O’Neill.
While almost 60 per cent of those who completed a census form last month did not fill out the time capsule section, the majority of those who did fill it in did so with their descendants in mind.
When asked who they imagined they were writing for, 51 per cent said their descendants, with a similar percentage telling researchers they were writing more generally for the Irish people of the 2120s.
Only 20 per cent said they were writing messages for historians to decipher, while 7 per cent said they had filled in the time capsule with no one in particular in mind.
Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, homelessness and the economy featured frequently but were left behind when compared with the prominence of family, although many also shared stories of pets as there was no space allocated for them on the other pages of the form.
“When you get people to think about the long-term future, the only thing that makes sense is to think about family and their descendants, and the research bears out the fact that family, and that intergenerational connection, has the greatest salience for people,” said Mr O’Neill.
He suggested that the desire to reach through time and talk to future generations could point towards a more effective narrative for “for people talking about big-picture stuff like climate change. The more it is about future generations, the more real it becomes.”
He told The Irish Times that while some people talked about the big issues of the day, "for most people it was more personal. I think what the time capsule did was to focus minds on what matters most, and for many people that was family and loved ones.
“Based on that, what I would be saying to people making long-term decisions is simply imagine 10, 30 or even 50 years from now walking around your city holding the hand of your grandchild and pointing to your legacy. What would they be able to say they had done? Maybe if we thought more about that then it might make us more conscious of the decisions we make, the impact they have and how we will be perceived for making them.”
He also suggested that those who did not fill in the time capsule missed their last opportunity to speak to future generations in an officially physical fashion. “This will properly be the last paper-based census and it is going to be a really interesting snapshot, and the last time we will get a chance to handwrite what we really think and it is a shame 60 per cent missed the boat.”