17 wondrous website time machines
Fall down the rabbit hole to find retro treasure
Fall right through the earth thanks to 17 archives curated by the TOPIA editor that explore the underexplored – from lost sounds and forgotten subcultures to the cosmos and the internet itself
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a dream land that helps her navigate the real world. As she falls, she notices that the sides of the well are filled with cupboards and bookshelves; here and there she sees maps and pictures. “I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth… I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!”
The internet is essentially an Alice-teleporter, transporting us back and forth in space and time with as much heart as there is weird.
So let’s do the time warp…
This week we’re celebrating 17 quirky websites with portals that lead to ever-expanding worlds of authentic cultural curiosities and treasures. Follow us from late-80s Brooklyn subcultures to a mushroom ceremony in Mexico – starting with an online museum that’s saving the retro sounds of an Olivetti typewriter and Walkman from becoming as dead as a dodo.
You don’t need to be a nostalgia-nerd to get off on this retro tech ASMR…
Listen to endangered sounds
If you prefer the sound of revving Honda motorbike to sweet birdsong, you’ll love the mechanical sound effects brought to you by Conserve the Sound.
The multimedia place for “intergenerational memory culture” was set up by German design agency Chunderksen as an online headquarter for vanishing and endangered sensory delights: “In today‘s fast moving industrial society, product life cycles are getting shorter and shorter as new objects are invented and produced every day,” say creators Daniel Chun and Jan Derksen.
“It offers an alternative to the overwhelmingly visual world of the internet.”
Load interstellar data
100,000 stars is an ethereal bit of data visualisation allows you to zoom in on major stars in the Milky Way, spin around red dwarfs and look straight into the sun thanks to an interactive 3D data visualisation of our solar system. As creating artist drawings of the exact location of every star in a galaxy of sextillions of stars is a galactic feat, metaverse-loving designer Aaron Koblin used images and data from NASA and the European Space Agency.
View political protest posters that rocked the world
The best posters don’t just illustrate history, they shape it.
The All Of Us Or None archive collection documents progressive movements of protest, from trade union and community struggles to electoral and environmental action – through its posters. Started by Free Speech Movement activist Michael Rossman in 1977, the collection of around 24,500 U.S. titles includes revolutionary graphic artists like legendary Black Panther artist Emory Douglas. Browse the images here and always hold your protest poster high, even if it doesn’t look as cool.
Learn hot new words from the year you were born
Karaoke. Bibimbap. Cringeworthy. Brewski. Money shot. Moore’s Law. These words were all first used in print in 1977. Want to know what words came out when you were born? Enter a date into the Mirriam Webster Time Machine. It’s an impressively-organised portal that identifies the exact evolution of language. Born in 1991? Hi, Bestie! 1950? Welcome to Big Brotherism.
Don’t stop the hip-hop
Digital archivist Syreeta Gates knows the 411 on hip hop culture and wants its legacy to last forever. With the Lo Life Archive, she documents the history of a subculture in the economic devastation of late-80s Brooklyn, constructing stories with photos and oral histories. Within The Gates Preserve, she is also the co-owner of Most Incredible Studio which celebrates hip hop… through LEGO.
Map memories to create a time machine
Want to see what London’s Abbey Road looked like in 1969, explore LGBT+ life in the sixties or map the women’s suffrage movement? Historypin is a new way for generations to share history, collectively. It’s a crowdsourced online global archive of pre-internet human memory to which people can attach photos, videos, stories, audio files and memories – all pinned to a giant interactive map. It is the most extraordinary open collection that everyone can use to compare the world today to how it used to be.
Enter the world’s largest open access digital archive of life on Earth
The wonderland that is the Biodiversity Heritage Library inspired the world of TOPIA itself. With over 150,000 illustrations available for free download, the historical collection promotes collaboration to combat the ongoing climate crisis. And it has it all: sketches of seahorses, diagrams of marvellous mushrooms, botanical studies of forest crops from around the globe, lithographs of wild animals, watercolours of flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands and selected works created by women.
It even offers a guide for DIY taxidermy, should you desire to stuff your cat.
Build your own robot animal
You don’t need to be into robots to enjoy Cybernetic zoo, a personal collection of the wonderful history of anthropomorphic artificial animals and early robots from over the last century.
Australian researcher and online curator Reuben Hoggett makes it hard to choose a favourite. It’s between the superhuman walking machine, electronic fox, trippy tortoise or maze-solving mice.
Celebrate women in Soviet era Tajikistan
Young violinists and girls with hula hoops, pomegranate harvesters and harpists, female athletes at military parades and women poised to shoot arrows; the retro @backintime.tj Instagram account was set up by 26-year-old Farzona Saidzoda to celebrate the historical lives of women in Tajikistan. During the late Soviet era, women didn’t get slut-shamed for wearing a swimsuit like they do today, but Saidzoda does not idealise the Soviet past: “It wasn’t perfect. But there was a lot of progress back then which we take for granted now.”
Dig into the grit and crackle
If you’re into obscure records, you’ll love rummaging through Death Is Not The End, a nostalgic London-based imprint and monthly NTS Radio show run by former music distributor Luke Owen.
He invites us down a cross-cultural “dusty gospel, blues, folk wormhole”, unearthing surprising sounds ranging from Louisiana State prison songs to hypnotic Mexican mushroom rituals. “I like to dig for scenes and styles that reflect a connection between all of the world, which is needed these days when everybody can feel so bigoted and isolated,” says Owen.
Feel the impact of youth subcultures in Britain
Did you grow up in Britain? Be very excited – or very afraid – because you might be immortalised in the Museum of Youth Culture. From first loves to first jobs, favourite hangouts to best school stories, the emerging museum – which has a pop-up space in London’s Carnaby Street, and is looking to open a permanent space by 2023 – is dedicated to the styles and sounds innovated by young people over the last 100 years. Whether you were a bomb-site Bicycle racer in post-war ’40s London or an Acid House raver in ’80s Northern England, you might play your part in the youthful “ephemera” and over 150,000 photographs. Rave on.
All hail a bygone Yugoslavia
Spomeniks are so futuristic-looking they are often compared to sci-fi films and UFOs – and American researcher Donald Niebyl is obsessed with them. That’s why he has spent years creating the exceedingly comprehensive Spomenik Monument Database to document more than 80 the former Yugoslav monuments. Built between the 1960s-1990s thanks to Josip Broz Tito’s belief that brutal bloodshed was in the past and a utopian society was ahead, the brutal spomeniks immortalised hope, for a brief time, and remain a tribute to the cultural history and radical creativity of the Yugoslavs.
Photo: Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes, Tjentište, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Preserve evidence of atrocities in Syria and beyond
The documentation of human rights violations and crimes against humanity are often “lost”, stolen or deleted from social media. That’s why, in 2014, Hadi Al Khatib set up the Syrian Archive to lend knowledge to human rights defenders in Myanmar, Sudan and Yemen. This Syrian-led secure media repository safeguards and enhances photos and videos from the early years of the Syrian civil war, by using file data and satellite imagery, and studying shadows, military badges and remnants of munitions. It has verified more than 4 million assets so far.
The largest women-led campaign since Suffrage
In 1981 – a time when we thought the world would end in nuclear war, not climate chaos – 36 women walked 110 miles from Cardiff to RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England, to protest against the Americans holding cruise missiles on common land. And so began a series of camps established to protest against nuclear weapons. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp became home to thousands of women acting in political resistance for almost 20 years. Explore their stories first-hand in the Greenham Women Everywhere archives, the largest collection of oral testimonies made available to the public.
Plant the seeds of a powerful Indigenous time machine
Rather than displaying the past, the Indigenous Photograph database counters one-dimensional clichés of Indigenous peoples to bring balance to the way we tell stories today. Perturbed and inspired by the fact that perspectives of Indigenous storytellers are often missing in the media, and that Native Americans are often portrayed insensitively, Mexica and Otomi futurist Josué Rivas and Vietnamese-American photojournalist Daniella Zalcman have set up the database to support photographers and visual storytellers from across North America – from Hawaii to Lakota Territory to New Mexico. Editors and creatives, take note.
Enter the internet time machine
If you’re ever feeling nostalgic about a website from a decade or longer ago, there’s a good chance that the most popular archiving service in the world has snapshots of it. The Internet Time Machine – aka the ‘Wayback Machine’ – is one of the internet’s most important resources. Founded in 1996 in San Francisco, the non-profit website currently indexes more than 618 billion web pages – including retro Yahoo!, Amazon and now TOPIA Magazine! (You can even use it to get past a paywall. Shhhh.) Without it, the unfathomable quantity that is “petabytes” of invaluable information would be wiped from the web without a trace. And some people might wish it had been. In 2018, US appeals court judges ruled the Internet Time Machine an acceptable form of legal evidence.
WTF?! Bonus. Just because.
As everything is out there forever, so is humanity in all it’s silliness. Which leads us to Buttystock, “the number one site for free crisp sandwich images” you didn’t know you needed. Because as much as the internet can be good, it can also be really, really stupid. And isn’t that joyous? Sometimes, trivial collective observations are the kind of discussion the world needs.
What’s so good about this?
Whether focused on preserving youth subcultures, vintage curiosities or reclaiming culture, online archive projects are critical tools in restoring and reclaiming past, present and future understandings. Create a time capsule yourself, and delve into the portals created by others. You will fall hard for people, for we are the most extraordinary creatures. And we love crisps.
Follow TOPIA Magazine at @worldoftopia to fall down more rabbit holes.
Meet the writer
Lisa Goldapple is the brain behind the world of TOPIA, and might not behave as good as gold, but thinks good is golden. The Barcelona-based founder, creative director and editor-in-chief of TOPIA has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. To understand how TOPIA really came about, read Mind Blown, because: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”