Visions of the Future

Yesterday, I touched on time travel, the present we inherit from the past, and our perceptions of time. I want to start with perception today, as I think about other aspects of time travel in fiction.

Meanwhile, my fiancé reminds me that we’re supposed to be watching Back to the Future III today, so therefore I have to be quick. Time. Never enough of it.

We are all subject to time. Whatever you measure it with, it slices our experience of the world into regular segments, neatly numbered. We can spend it or save it, but we can’t survive it – but we can experience it at different speeds.

Time drags when we’re bored, and flies when we’re busy. For all that our divisions of time are rational, our perception of time is fundamentally illogical. And we can escape it for a while by slipping into stories.

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Back to the Future Day, Time Travel and Perceptions of the Past

In honour of Back to the Future Day, a few thoughts on time travel.

Why are we so drawn to stories of moving in time?

The idea that time is mutable isn’t a new one.Time-travel stories feel like a new, science-fiction phenomenon, but they’ve been around for thousands of years. But I think it’s interesting to read them in terms of a more modern understanding of culture, of the individual, and of the power of choice.

We all carry history with us. We’re surrounded by things that were built long before we were born, and will endure once we’re dead. And as we live our lives, we tell stories about how things happened and wonder “What if something else happened instead?”.

Those idle daydreams where we pick over the decisions and moments of the past and re-play them to our own satisfaction (or worry) offer us glimpses of what we could describe as “alternative realities”. We often wish we could go back and give our past selves advice, or even that someone viewing all the paths of our lives could categorically say, in the moment of an agonising decision, “This is the right choice for you to make”. (Some of us do this with future worries, too.)

“What if?” is at the heart of all storytelling. And time-travel brings to life the “What if?” that changes all the world around you.

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