Musings on time travel in media

Tim found his childhood bike in his dad's woods

Time travel has always been an implicit function of media.

A book gives us tangible access to the past, present and future. The way in which a book is constructed reflects the way we Westerners view time. For we consider time to be an arrow targeting the future, which in our culture is in the right-hand direction; while the past is the shaft of the arrow to our left.

While reading a page of a book, or any print media, I am always in the present on the page I am reading, yet I have ready access to both the past (pages I have already read) and the future (pages I have not yet read). In fact, I hold past, present and future in my very hands.  I can feel the weight and heft of the book and can even see the edges of the pages. I can easily and quickly see any page I want to see.

On the other hand, the browser, the electronic book reader, and the web application tend to extend the duration of the present moment.  These offer the promise of time travel, but haphazardly deliver. A dead battery, a failed connection, the wrong password, and you are trapped in the present and cannot do anything about it. It’s like listening to a public speaker with a stammer. In attempting to surf on a wave of information, one experiences not simply a gap, but an expectation that is not filled, creating an unpleasant experience of duration, leading to frustration.

The sense is one of being trapped in the present time, poised to move forward, but stymied.

When we go “back”, we don’t really go back in time. We’ve gone into the future by reading history.

The real problem, however, is that applications and sites are currently architected and designed according to the “time as arrow” paradigm, whereas folks in general are moving rapidly towards a “simultaneous time” state of mind. For how we live in time is a mass hallucination, which, like all forms of information, evolves. But that’s another story.

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