Time Traveler's Toolkit, Part 1
What's a Speculist?
As I outlined last week, a speculist is someone who defines, looks for, attempts to unravel, or otherwise contends with what might be, what might not be, what might have been, whatever and then who takes that understanding and tries to make it into something useful. A practical time traveler is a speculist whose something useful is nothing less than a future of his or her own design.
Let's spend some time on terminology. The time travel that we're going to be talking about is not:
Those are fun concepts, and the basis for a lot of great (and not-so-great) fiction, but if you were hoping I was going to tell you how to build a time machine, well, sorry.* The time travel I'm talking about is the practical kind. It's what we do every moment. It's built into the human experience.
Time, as the song reminds us, keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...into the future. Through the course of each day, we move ahead 24 hours.
That's the basis for practical time travel.
I realize that moving into the future at the rate of one day per day doesn't seem all that remarkable. Moreover, I think some will complain (somewhat justifiably) that what I'm talking about isn't time travel at all. Just sticking the word "practical" on there doesn't make it okay to use "time travel" to describe something completely at odds with how the term has traditionally been used. "Time travel," has generally been used to describe some activity that goes against the normal course of time. The activities listed in the two bullet points above are examples. Now I seem to be using the term to mean going with the normal course of time. That's cheating.
Get a souped-up DeLorean and blast yourself 30 years into the future in the blink of an eye. Now that's time travel.
Go to sleep at night and wake up eight hours later. Would anybody seriously call that "time travel?"
It may seem slow and unpromising, but advancing through time at the rate of sixty seconds per minute is the one method of time travel available to us. It's slow, but it's relentless. The time adds up. Do you want to travel 30 years into the future? You can.
Live to see it.
That hardly sounds like a method for time travel, practical or otherwise. It sounds like more of a survival strategy or not even a strategy, really, just a kind of axiomatic statement of intent. And that's all it is. But if you can make good on that statement of intent, you will travel to the future.
Or, to be more precise, you will travel to a future. Think of your progression through time in terms of driving. Your car moves forward at a fixed speed. Everybody's car moves at that same speed. The traditional definition of time travel involves making your car go faster or putting it in reverse. As I said, I can't offer the means of doing either of those things. But there's another way to change the course of your car relative to its present course. You can use the steering wheel.
Practical time travel means learning to steer your vehicle towards a future of your choosing, or away from one you want to avoid. Maybe you can't instantaneously arrive in the future, but you can incrementally work towards a future. In science fiction stories, time travelers are invariably surprised by what they find when they arrive in the future. (It wouldn't be much of a story otherwise.) Practical time travelers have nothing against surprise in fact, they look at it as a crucial resource, as we'll see later but they don't like the idea of driving aimlessly. They have a destination in mind.
So if you can do these two things...
...you can be a practical time traveler.
The Time Travelers Toolkit is a set of ideas and strategies that enable practical time travel. In the coming weeks, we'll be taking a close look at the different kinds of future that are out there and exploring how we can interact with each. We'll look at how the rate of technological and social change opens up possibilities that were unimaginable even a few years ago. And we'll examine some esoteric notions such as thought space and possibility space, and see how our ability to operate within them can improve our ability to achieve specified outcomes.
* If you're really interested in time machines, you might try reading this:Posted by Phil at August 11, 2003 09:57 AM | TrackBack