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Time Capsules in Paper


With a pile of books finished and ready to return to the library and, doutbtless, another pile soon to replace them, I thought I would sieze the opportunity to re-read something from my own shelves and picked out Walden Two by BF Skinner. It was originally published in 1948 and was one of the set texts for the university course I did on utopias as part of my history degree. It is a fictional vehicle for Skinner to present and examine some of his thoughts on how a modern utopian society could be created.

When I first read it, it was already over 40 years old but I was primarily concerned with grasping the ideas Skinner was putting forward. Re-reading it, and I have only just begun, what strikes me now is how different his concept of regular society are. For example, the protagonist is a lecturer and on the first page he meets an former student and the student’s friend, both of whom are veterans of World War II. They come to his office and barely have introductions been made before cigarettes are out and being smoked by all of them. I don’t think this would have been entirely implausible on my first reading but would be illegal if the setting were Britain (and possibly America) in the second decade of the 21st century.

It really isn’t a very long stretch of time and yet the contrasts with the present day are even more striking than when I read Cornwell’s All That Remains a few weeks ago. In fact, that would have been hot off the presses when I was first reading Walden Two but both stand as examples of how books act as time capsules in paper form.

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