This time next week we will be preparing to fill out our forms for Census 2022, which this year takes place on Sunday, April 3rd.
The government tells us that the census form that we complete this year ‘will become a historical document’, as well as helping us to plan for schools, roads and other infrastructure, and help shape government policy, among its myriad uses.
The pre-publicity for this year’s census has a much more touchy-feely element to it than before – almost like the government has to show us the ‘fun’ part of what is, in fact, a pretty tedious exercise that at least one person in every household is obliged to undertake.
And, as if to really emphasis the ‘fun’ element of it all, Census 2022 has an addition this year: what the organisers are calling a ‘time capsule’.
The ‘capsule’ is no such thing – it is simply an additional white space on the second last page which asks you to ‘provide information’ that will not be released to the public for 100 years. The rather underwhelming-looking blank white space is for handwritten messages, we are told, because ‘photographs or other attachments’ will be removed.
There is no more information available on the actual form, save that it is voluntary.
But should you wish to delve deeper into this mysterious appendage, then you can find a little bit more detail on the census.ie website.
‘The time capsule’ is a ‘dedicated space at the end of the census form for you to leave a message – if you wish – for your descendants/future generations/historians. Your message can be about anything you want, to anyone you want’, we are told.
‘Like the rest of your form, it will remain confidential until all of the Census 2022 forms are released to the public in 2122. The time capsule is completely voluntary [it has stipulated this part in bold], and it is entirely up to you whether you wish to write anything here or not. The only thing we ask is that you do not add any paper, documents, photos or anything attachable as we will not be able to preserve them or return them to you,’ the site explains.
This is where it gets a little playful: ‘Can you picture historians, descendants and future generations, in one hundred years’ time, reading the messages that we will put on our census forms? What insights will they get about our lives in 2022? Will they feel a strong connection with us, as we do now when we look up the individual census records from 1901 and 1911? So why not start the conversation with your friends, your family, your colleagues with, ‘What will you put in the census time capsule?’ What do the children want to say? Will there be discussions around the dinner table and at school? Whatever you decide to write (or not write as this is a voluntary part of census form, the only part!) imagine a person reading it in 2122 and connecting with you and/or your family and wondering what life was like for you.’
Indeed, what will we say to the people of the future? It is going to be very difficult for us not to remind them about our two years of horror, living with a pandemic and hoping that we have finally emerged from it. But many of us are also bound to ponder on what the next 100 years will hold, given we are currently in the grip of a terrifying war on the other side of our continent.
The real test of our imagination may be to fill that space with information that does not include any reference to Covid or Ukraine – now that would be a challenge!
The website also reminds us that Census1901 and Census1911 are now freely available online. It’s curious to note that both of those documents would have been filled out before even the Spanish Flu (of 1918) took hold. And it, too, lasted two years.
Census data from those two years ‘provide a glimpse into the lives of the people then’, we are told. ‘Your form will be equally important and interesting to your descendants when it is made publicly available in 100 years.’
Of that, there can surely be little doubt.