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When I Want Time Travel

There's a photo making the rounds again on Facebook of a protestor holding up a sign that reads, "What Do We Want? Time Travel! When Do We Want It? It's Irrelevant!" Invariably, people share it with me, and I do appreciate it a lot (even if one of the Facebook pages that it comes from has a name with an obscenity in it).

However, I feel obliged to point out that when we want time travel *is* relevant. One of the standard questions that gets asked about time travel is, "If time travel is possible, where are all the time travelers?" As it is, our current understanding of how real, physically allowable time travel might work prohibits traveling back in time beyond the point at which the time machine is first invented. So, for example, if I invent a time machine on January 1, 2014, at 12:00 midnight, people downstream from that point in time would be able to travel back to 1/1/2014, but no farther.

So while I wouldn't mind receiving visitors from the future on 1/1/2014, I kind of wish time travel had been invented already, so I could explore my own personal past from today. When we get time travel is most certainly relevant.


The other possibility, which is either encouraging or discouraging, is that the last hundred years are considered to be a really boring part of history that nobody actually wants to visit. Sort of like living in a small town in Nebraska (note: have never actually been to Nebraska. For all I know its small towns are fascinating. This is the stereotyped view of small towns in Nebraska belonging to a Canadian) and going "if tourists are real, where are they?"

We could also posit that this is the most well-recorded time in history to-date. From an archaeological standpoint, you'd want to go back in time to before mass-communication was invented, or to before writing was invented. If time-travel turns out to be very expensive, it seems like that would be the best use of it.

Alternately, time-travellers are everywhere, but have exceedingly good camouflage and, at worst, come off as a bit eccentric.
You forget the alternative: that we are living in a time of some of the most powerful social upheavals ever, and that smart time travelers would rather take a nap.

Of course, there's one thing that everybody else seems to be forgetting, especially for a bunch of science fiction fans and authors. Namely, we're assuming humans are the ones who will make the first time machine and that it's not been made yet. Leaving aside the killer robots theory (which has been done to death in Terminator movies), what about more evolved animals, such as superintelligent octopi? Or non-Earth creatures? Or (dare I say it?) faeries. Why else would you enter their hill for a night and show up again the next morning to find out it's 20 years later?

December 2016

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