Skip to main content
Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Deep Time
  • Emerging Facilitators
  • Facilitators

Audio Recording to the Future

from chapter 9 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Time: 15-30 minutes


In facing a particular situation or issue, the act of describing it aloud to future generations heightens appreciation of what is at stake in the long term. The larger time frame deepens the sense of responsibility, stimulates creativity, and strengthens our resolve.

This practice is predominately used at a specific location to support a holding action against a specific threat, such as clear-cutting, toxic dumping, and hydraulic fracking. People pass a small recorder, speaking into it one at a time. They imagine they are recording a message to be found and heard in that place by people of a coming generation or century. Alluding to choices presently confronting them, they record personal messages to the future. 

This process originated in New Mexico at an ad hoc People’s Council about government plans to deal with radioactive waste by burying it. Activists were concerned about leakage and eventual human intrusion at the site. Up to that point public opposition to such plans expressed a position known as “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard). Other than protecting their own communities, the public by and large didn’t consider the waste to be their responsibility. 

“Let’s imagine,” Joanna said, pulling out a small recorder, “that if we don’t manage to stop the waste from being buried here, we could at least place this cassette here for future generations to find and listen to. What do we want to say to them?”Passing the recorder around the Council circle, the participants spoke into it with increasing urgency. “My name is George. I’m back in 1988 and trying to stop people from burying radioactive waste here. If they do and if you hear this, listen. Don’t dig here, don’t use the water, stay away! This stuff is deadly and contaminates all it touches. Take care!” 

As the words poured out, the future generations became more real and those present began to feel more responsibility for the wastes their own generation had produced. They felt a greater determination to protect the beings of the future by developing less dangerous alternatives than burial – such as monitored, retrievable storage. This is now, among citizen activists, the preferred strategy.

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown