Etiquette of the ethical time traveler
Time is fragile – Do not disturb it.
Time is singular – Bearing witness is an honor.
Time is precious – Do not waste it.
Time is endless – It will survive you.
Time is fierce – Beware of it.
These, by the way, work for everyone who is traveling in time – me, who took a jump, and all of you walking single file in history.
This morning, I bought a newspaper dated 2022. Not from a museum, not from an auction. I bought it at a newspaper stand because this is the year 2022.
When I first arrived, I couldn’t believe it had worked. I thought I was in VR in some kind of 2k history fan project like they have at school, but way more detailed and grimier. I can barely remember anything from the actual trip, only that my mind felt like it was having a migraine, while my body appeared to be getting dipped in liquid nitrogen, everything was tinted in a red, darker than black, tasted like silver, and smelled of dust. I must’ve eventually passed out and when I came to, everything had changed.
Let me start at the beginning.
In 1976, David Lewis wrote in ‘The Paradoxes of Time Travel,’: “Time travel, I maintain, is possible. The paradoxes of time travel are oddities not impossibilities.” That was 131 years ago… Well, to me it was. To you it is not even 50 years, and now I am with you.
I’ve been here a while now. I might be the first person to time travel, but I can’t know for sure. This is all very exciting! I’d love to tell everyone, but that might be a stupid or even dangerous idea, so I am glad I get to share with you at least. Let’s be excited together!
You might have a lot of questions, and let me tell you, I probably have even more: My matter might still be in 2107, while I walk around here in stolen molecules. If this freaks you out, consider that the human body replaces all of its cells every so often?
I have to ask myself: As a time-foreign subject, are my actions escalating events, pushing time to a different path? Or is the radius of my behavior so small it stops below the event horizon? Let’s say I break a lamp today. Will it simply be replaced by someone in the future? Is that all it takes to erase any change in time? Or maybe I am in a so-called “closed time-like curve”. That would make me a mere probability that only exists until I leave. Except, I don’t feel like a probability. Do you? I feel very real. I have blisters on my feet from exploring your city and as soon as I open the window, I can smell the burning wood in one of few remaining chimneys down the street mixed with fried street food. Also, I have memories of this time line and mine, and both feel equally certain.
If, however, my actions do have consequences, I might not be in a curve but in a divergent reality, a parallel universe. In that case, other things than my own arrival might be different from my timeline.
200%; I don’t want to become “death, destroyer of worlds”. I could be the equivalent of a human cataclysm and not even know it. I am the first empirical trial subject, my own experiment, so I had to set myself some rules before I traveled to the past - your present.
I wonder if I’ll ever meet another time traveler. Remember Hawking’s party? This smart guy, Stephen Hawking, prepared a party, cake, music and everything, a party for time travelers. Thing was, he only sent out invitations days after, and no one showed up. I was thinking, maybe no one attended because there isn’t a way to control time travel. Or maybe they were just busy. Maybe no one attended because there isn’t a way to control time travel. For me at least, this was an issue. Or maybe they were just busy.
I will only know the answer to these theories, when I travel back and then I'll have to deal with it either way. It's kind of like asking if there is an afterlife. Assuming that there is truth to the butterfly effect, small acts can be of great consequence in the long run. We should make those acts good ones.
I am glad I can share my secret with you. It makes me feel a lot more human.
There are many places I would love to see. The Amazon still exists; the ice has not completely melted in Greenland. But a lot of things are gone already. Conflicts are only letting borders grow higher.
These are not the times to travel without papers, so I have organized some. I’ve learned that you don’t use your own name here, you just stick with one your parents gave you. Only artists and criminals are more creative with their choices. I am not sure which one I am, but I am officially a person with a passport. Suddenly the restrictions in traveling have shifted from legal to economical. Still it is unlikely, I will visit any of the places I’d love to see, and many of them are only anecdotes in my time. You think your world is completely recorded, that all the mystery has disappeared with the widespread of digital reality. It’s not. There are still adventures and explorations to be had and we are lucky to be part of one.
Berlin has been a good place to land, for an odd duck like me. Here I am just a drop in an ocean of individual weirdness. I got a barista job, to get by. Imagine me, standing in front of an old-timey coffee maker, a bridge between coffee and coins. People here must do odd labor in order to provide for their livelihood. They have that ingrained in them as unwavering reality, the only possible reality…
That is the most particular difference between now and then.
The way I grew up, digitization has played a part in favor of people, only after work became disconnected from wealth. But the future is entropic. Equality wasn’t achieved without a struggle. It became easier over time, as societies started favoring progress over tradition.
Things were pretty messed up before. Some of the bigger companies had completely taken charge and basically bought countries, making deals with them to pay off their national debt. In exchange they became a sort of fifth pillar of government while slowly overpowering the others. Work couldn’t provide for people’s livelihood, neither could authoritarian leadership promises. I think the disruption came at the right time. The /hack was the beginning of an uprising. The /hack is shorthand for a complex of events rather than just one. It was named /hack longer after the fact. Imagine if you lived in the land of Amazon (the company I mean), where everything is available but nothing is affordable to you. It’s not very hard to picture, is it? Shortly after a Zambian crypto-startup found a way to fight quantum crypto with quantum machines, the algorithm that more or less replaced any other currency, things hit the wall in a major way.
When it happened, people were lost, because their values stopped functioning. No one figured out how the hackers organized themselves, as everything from the following years wasn’t recorded. I doubt they used digital communication, it would have been intercepted.
The infrastructure of money was broken, and while there were forces trying to fix it, society fixed itself before the old system could re-establish. It is the least documented time since the invention of the net, because there was no net for a while.
You might argue that society tends to return to previous modes of organization. But what if that is an illusion of a narrative that seems linear in hindsight? I feel like even in your history groups and ethics and rules were formed and reformed and questioned over and over again. Humanity became aware of their collective responsibilities. From my perspective, your present is a lot harder to understand than mine. You have all the solutions in your hand, yet short sighted decisions bring the planet to the brink of self-destruction.
This all happened before I was born. My generation is the first, who are benefiting from de-nat and de-cap. People found that better distribution meant less existential angst, and since there was no need to collect tokens anymore, time became the most valuable thing. You can’t tell from the depressing news right now, but your generation will be the beginning of a real shift and you are along for the ride.
You are the beginning of a change that is going to sweep across the planet. Be brave, be bold, be kind.
I've been thinking about time and space a lot recently. Physics has always had this calming quality for me, when my mind can’t get quiet about the small stuff, nothing soothes me more than looking up and finding peace among the stars. Now I can appreciate their ambivalent honesty. They just are, as everything is. As shall I be – flying through space at 220 km per second. Thinking about the endlessness of time is such a great equalizer. Not a constant, but a bunch of instances. It's the same with space. In the grand scheme no one really belongs. We are lucky anomalies. If we were all aware of this, the world might look a lot different…
Sometimes I daydream of crystalline structures, prisms, and fractured light. If matter moves fast enough, it becomes energy. Light is right in the middle between there. That’s where information needs to be transformed to store and send it. Besides the energy that’s necessary to process, the Doppler Effect or red/blue shift needs to be considered. If the wavelengths dissipate from each other, information (or transformed matter) will be corrupted. You need a filter for that, accounting for the possibility that light might be deflected by refraction, not gravity. This comes handy in determining coordinates for landing points. You want to be thrown back into time at the right point, after all.
It is important to consider the re-transformation of information back to matter. Best practice is to imprint information onto pre-existing matter rather than sending matter through space time, but that is rarely feasible. The information will have to make due with the mass at hand. The feeling of dissolving is painless, but intense and hard to describe. There is a stark dissonance between perceived time and flowing time, it tingles the brain stem.
I try to put down my thoughts and what I recall from the trip, but it takes me forever to write a text on a keyboard. It’s frustrating! You are reduced to fingertips and eyes. I feel bad for your imbalanced brain chemistry. font-family: "Times New Roman",serif;mso-fareast-font-family:
We work with personal encrypted AI for things like this instead and they inhabit a space in our daily life that is somewhere between a pet, a friend, and an extension of the self. Here, all you have is a megalomaniac search engine that will try to manipulate its user into buying a certain kind of footwear.
My AI :mosiva and I were in a band together called 16bit:wolf. It was intense. When you can collaborate with someone who is configured to your creative flows, it is an almost spiritual experience. I missed making music a lot, so I borrowed a guitar. I love how vintage it is, no binary converter, no augmented sonic system, very different.
Oh my dog, carnists! I completely forgot you still eat animals in the 21st. I mean, the plant-based movement has started, still called veganism here-, but when you walk through the streets it smells like burning flesh on almost every corner. It’s mixed with another very distinct smell, which took me a while to figure out. It’s gasoline – the sweat of the 21st. All the virtual exhibitions you may have visited cannot prepare you for this. Everything smells chemical, even the people. I took a walk yesterday, through a public park. The nature here, as dirty and polluted as it may be, is so beautiful.
I have to tell you, when they teach you about the early 21st century they don’t tell you there is plastic EVERYWHERE. Single-use bags, wrapping material. The waste we are still dealing with? It’s being produced here in quantities that make you want to pull your hair out.
I still have a hard time fitting in, but I have already learned more than I could ever find out through the half sunken half-truths of information overload your social media left archaeologists in my time. I’ll try and be as unbiased as I can and keep my observations scientific, but honestly, my knowledge of your future is probably making that quite a challenge.
Animals and plants I've only seen on screens are still alive and thriving here. Between plastic bottles and paper cups, cigarette butts and candy wrappers, there are murders of crows. They sit around decorated by daisies, ignorant of the paradise demising around them.
In my time we had to come up with the pollynator. Bees are very rare, so this squishy friend hovers over fields of flowers and pollinates them.
I walk around here at night because foxes are not extinct yet and sometimes you can see one, beaming at you with their reflecting button eyes!
We don’t have those anymore.
Sometimes I feel like screaming: “Look around, you live in a magical time and you are bent on obliterating it.” But I’ve seen the death blow happen. I have wondered whether I, now part of the past, could do anything to stop it? And doesn’t this apply to everybody who is alive now? The only difference is that I have seen one possible outcome of our combined actions.
I am glad I brought a remix bird with me, a small bot with a rotor on its top not only to keep it in the air, but also used as a randomizer. It records things that internal computing units remix into instant little artworks, like little memories, that it projects on the ground, in the sky or the net.
Berlin is so much smaller than it will be in just a few years and it’s empty, especially Mitte. It feels like the buildings are hesitantly waiting for occupants to finally turn them into homes. An artist from my time invented a huge soft-bot called the big hug. What it lacks in face, it brings on in compassion. You will find it covering sad buildings and places that need roofs.
I have a friend who works in a biosphere close to Sinus Aestuum ocean. She is planting hemp and researching the mutation capability under high exposure of interstellar radiation. She told me that a neighboring project is trying to clone extinct critters, so maybe we will get some foxes in orbit? There have been some amazing things happening, because the work up there is super motivating. You know, nerds and their compassions, all up in space. They have fun.
People in this time mostly dread work, and it is unbreakably tethered to existential fear. My job at the coffee place is like that, but I get to talk to the patrons, so it’s still a better job than a lot of the ones I’ve seen. If you want to take away the fear, you have to untether survival from jobs. There is enough stuff to go around, probably even too much. We have started to be a lot more experimental with distribution. Basic needs are covered for everyone, that is a given. But for example, someone has built a small machine called traveling riches. Whenever someone feels they have too much, they will put it in there. Whoever feels in need of something, can take it out. It chooses its paths randomly.
Materialistic ownership is not a goal anymore, but a burden, a responsibility not to be taken on lightly. And the future survived because of it, not despite it. A humanity united by compassion has used their force to tackle the screwed up environmental, economic and violence filled disaster they inherited from the past.
Here, People are doing Nothing-jobs. And still, automation is seen as a threat rather than a promise.
If you look closely, you can feel the shift coming. It is very interesting to see –like an evolutionary missing link. In some areas the age of angst really stays true to its name, filled with so many conflicts, over resources, power, religion. In Berlin things are still fairly rosy. If I had landed a few years later or a few hundred kilometers south or east, things would have been much trickier.
The coffee drinkers talk about jobs and the stress of having them, poisonous work environments, intrigues, dramas and so on. Usually they introduce themselves as: I am this, I do that. Their job, however taxing it may be for them, is a big part of their identity, their corporate identity. They are valued by functionality in the workforce.
Every day I am amazed by how available and present coffee is. There are already warnings about the diminishing wild coffee species and their relevance to culture’s more resilient plants, but it will take a few more decades for it to become a rare delicacy. We have access to printed versions of the molecule structure; however, the smell of freshly ground and roasted beans is lost. But the coffee production, as prominent as it is, unsurprisingly is full of human rights violations.
Some foreshadowing here: it will get worse before it gets better. You might think of yourself as being on the verge of the apocalypse or the brink of a bright new future. It’s kind of both. The hyper capitalistic system is going to cause society great harm and deepen the divide. But as utopian as post-capitalism sounds to you, no one from my time can really understand how their ancestors, you, self-destructed for so long.
With safer technology and higher living and education standards we also advanced to a higher level of direct participation. Some responsibilities still are distributed by voting, but the nature of work and hierarchies have changed. We mostly worry about minimizing the destructive aspects of climate change. We solved the Energy crisis, but in a very old-fashioned way. We just consume a lot less of it and use purely regenerative electricity. Well fusion sometimes, but that’s mostly for outer orbit transports. This sounds boring, coming from a time traveler, but trust me, sometimes boring is good.
I don’t think the data you leave behind on social media, the data our archeologists work with, reflects how lonely and sad some people are.
We have research about the adverse effects of super-individualism and point reward systems, as well as about attention craving mass media vs. individual humans, but the disassociation from each other doesn’t fully come through in digital archeology.
Social media will become a great tool to better the world, once it’s no longer a tool for corporations. There are many sick aspects associated with it right now. Basic design that’s made for addictive behavior instead of educating and nurturing social acts. But that’s a systemic issue, not a media intrinsic one. Imagine social media as just another form of communication, side by side to spoken language, mimic, culture, gestures and other signifiers. It really all depends on how you use it. Communication in my time is, like today, partially digital, partially face to face, depending on your physical location and condition.
The real advantage of social media is that it can scale, which is important for global issues like the climate shift. When we began to use it for registering quick local weather changes, scientists could use it in addition to macro-observing satellite data and develop super-fast warning systems. Anthropologists use it to create a more accurate picture of our history, subcultures and the emergence of new cultural phenomena.
For example, there is this group of teens a few hubs south from where I hang out, who have trained with their A.I. to build some sort of flying ballet, using scrap metal and nano-bots. They work with an orchestra 2000 km East from them, who design the lighting for that show, and two elder ladies who wrote the music 40 years before, are updating it now. I am registered as an observer on their communication, but I also get to mediate, if I find hang ups, bottlenecks or subconscious biases or manipulation. There are pretty good algorithms for that, too, but I or an A.I. can apply to become a subroutine. In my time, social media helps people to be psychologically healthy by dissipating stress, instead of making them sick.
Today I saw the sun. It reminded me of the lantern ghost, a care-machine, attached to a lamppost, but reaching various heights it will find areas where someone might be scared and shine on them.
In my time winter is much harsher until it gets cut off by a burning summer. Save for a week in March and maybe two in October, I’ve never experienced a climate this mild. This sun was one of those fleeting, magical moments life gives us. It’s shining on my spirit and on the street that’s suddenly full of people. Maybe they hibernated, who knows. I was riding my bike and the entire street turned their faces to the yellow globe like a choir of meerkats.
None of today ‘s bikes are A.I. enhanced, but otherwise they are not so different from the bikes we still use in my time. Few things have lasted this long with so little change.
Other than that, the trend to create tech from science fiction stories continues, like the tricorder that became the cell phone. The attitude we decide to propose to the world will shape it, so in that sense, the future isn’t a foreign country, it’s a variation on a theme.
However, there are also some things, nobody could have predicted. For example, instead of a bike, you could use a so -called Tired Worm. This is a very slow bot that works like a park bench you can cuddle into while it moves ahead unhurried. Technological marvels and medical wonders aside, the most incredible thing about the future isn’t what it has produced, but how the people have changed.
By empowering a system that prioritizes humans and community over wealth and power accumulation, the highest virtues have become empathy and kindness. We even have a landmark reflecting this sentiment; a soft-bot called the very high smile. If your neck hurts from looking at your phone? try a stretch to look in the sky, you will be greeted somewhere between 3 and 17 smiles.
It started as a temporary sculpture, but people liked it a lot, so it has stayed around for a long while now. Like a mascot of the city.
Did you know one of the first occurrences of time travel was in the Japanese fairy tale?
Over 15 hundred years ago, the Fisherman Urashima Taro was kind to a princess disguised as a turtle. They married and lived for three days in an ocean palace, then he wanted to return to land. She cried and gave him a gift, making him promise to never open it. He went back to land, gift in hand. But time had been different in the ocean palace, and in his village three hundred years had passed. Everyone he knew was dead. He got sad and wanted to return to his wife, but couldn’t find the way back to the ocean palace. Finally, he opened his wife’s gift. In it were his mortal years, he instantly aged and died.
I don’t plan on living in your time forever. To become old, before I am even born. I am a little homesick, you see, so I’ve started to build my return vehicle, dear listener. It is time to trade the coffee machine for a new time machine.
With all this knowledge about the future and its development, I couldn’t rebuild any of the technology I had access to on a daily basis just months ago, so I had to improvise. The 3D Printers here are imprecise and I am still not used to button keyboards, so I definitely won’t go into mass production. This machine really looks like an eerie creature of beautiful horror, a scrap metal beast. The first thing I tried to wire through was a carrot. It disappeared for a few seconds and then it returned: looking like someone burned it on one end and froze it on the other. That was scary, but also promising.
It might be a good thing that time machines are not household items, because I really don’t think you want to end up like that carrot.
I need to get perfect information compression, this can be done with fracturing light via a prism cone that would allow you to place matter inside. The information gets sorted, compressed, and stored outside the timeline via the event horizon propulsion. It re-enters a timeline through the same machine or a variation thereof, and there is this one shape that is perfect for this kind of compression.
Did you know that the hexagon is nature’s perfect shape? It has all the advantages of the circle – namely the least surface area to most volume ratio – but comes with the additional perk of being stackable without losing space in between. That’s the reason you can see it everywhere in nature, from beehives to snowflakes, to crystal structures, to turtle patterns. Even our own main building blocks, carbons, tend to arrange themselves in this chemical pattern because of the high energy efficiency. The hexagon is a perfect compression of information. There is a storm on Saturn’s pole bigger than Earth in diameter, which has been raging for at least 35 years in its hexagonal space! If you’d blow a pile of bubbles, they would assemble themselves in a pile of hexagonal bubbles at 120 degrees in a 3D space. That’s why I decided to use it as an outer shell shape for the machine.
This fixed the most terminal bugs, but traveling back still won’t be without side effects. Thinking of my arrival here, I wish I could pack some sick bags. I think I might fast a few days before using the beast. I am excited to go back, but I wonder: Am I missing in my time? When I return, will it be to the instant after I left or does time move along, like it keeps moving along for me now? I guess I'll find out.
It is, well, time. I wanted to thank you for staying with me, sharing this trip with me. I hope you found it as exciting as I did. For now, we might be the only creatures who skipped ahead some pages in the book, offering some spoilers. I can see your problems developing on the horizon. But I also have the luxury, to know, where you can only hope. Until we find a way to make time travel safe enough, you will have to take my word for it: We can be better and we will be.