Picture the scene:
In a not-so-distant dystopian future, a team of intrepid archaeologists clamber over the top of a slope, fighting to keep their goggles on and their breathing apparatuses free of the choking dust and silt. Below them spreads a desolate wasteland: scrawny plants barely cling to the sterile soil, dust devils careen madly across the landscape, and the sun is setting in the west like an umber fireball.
"Look, there it is!"
The team alternately slogs and tumbles its way down the slope towards an unusually regular object mostly buried in the blowing sand. In the fading light they push away the earth with portable spades and their bare hands revealing a weathered granite surface. Cryptic characters etched into the stone peer back at them from the depths of time.
"Can you read it?" a team member asks. Another passes his gloved hand over the writing, hoping that wiping away the last of the clinging earth may reveal the message. His hand stops; his shoulders sag. "No, sir."
A shout: "Over here!" The team tumbles around to the side of the granite marker. "I found this—is it important?"
"Yes!" exclaims the figure who couldn’t read the writing, suddenly fumbling to remove a cord from his knapsack. "The mission is saved!"
"Why? What is it?"
"A USB port!"
John Stevenson’s Graveside Memory Capsule is intended to provide a way for families to provide text, audio, music, video, and other digital media as a way of commemorating a loved one at a memorial site. Instead of a simple gravestone marking a person’s name, the year they were born, and and year they died, a Graveside Memory Capsule offers a way to preserve a wealth of information about a person and their life. Stevenson, a retired aerospace engineer, developed the capsule following the death of his wife Marian Ruth Stevenson, and figured the idea might be of interest to other families.
The Graveside Memory Capsule is a weather- and age-hardened USB storage device in a capsule about four inches long by one inch in diameter, which can be accessed by anyone with a USB cable and a data device. The copper case is hermetically sealed and the the digital contents will have an indefinite life if the capsule is installed correctly. Available memory sizes range from 512 MB to 4 GB, and each a capsule has a unique identifier registered wth the name of the decedent on an "Internet accessible file." Prices start at about $500. Customers will also receive an archival quality CD-ROM of their digital memorial, which can be copied and distributed to family members or made accessible via the Internet.
Installing a Graveside Memory Capsule may be a little tricky, and may have to be done by professionals since cemeteries often have requirements about the appearance and construction of memorials.
Although there’s no guarantee how long USB will be a readily-available data access standard—just try to access data on external SCSI devices with DB-25 connectors these days—or how long the file systems of the USB device will be intelligible to current technology, the idea of creating digital memorials for loved ones is a growing trend, particularly as families scatter over ever-greater geographical areas. The Graveside Memory Capsule might best be seen as a way of combining digital memories with traditional physical memorials.