Perhaps some readers on this oglinda will appreciate a brief summary of what’s been happening in the world of time-travel since Quast first came up with his equation in 1962. I don’t know what sort of information has been circulating down here, and I don’t want anyone to feel left behind.
The early 1960s witnessed great leaps forward not just in time-travel technology, but in the technology of teletransportation as well — which is to say dematerialization of the body, and its rematerialization elsewhere, but without any measurable “metachrony”. By late 1966 poorly regulated teletransporters had begun to pop up on the State Fair circuit, tempting daredevils into ever more foolish stunts. But this practice was curtailed already the following year, when, expecting to reappear kneeling before his sweetheart Deb at the stables with a ring in his hand, Roy Bouwsma, AKA “the Omaha Kid”, got rematerialized instead with the stable door cutting directly through the center of his body from groin to skull — one half of him flopping down at Deb’s feet, the other half falling, like some neat bodily cross-section carefully made for students of anatomy, into the stable with Deb’s confused horse Clem.
But while this atrocious moment, broadcast live on KMTV, nipped the new craze in the bud, the technology underlying it had already been adapted for use in what was then called “Tempus-Gliding”, which had the merely apparent advantage of concealing from those in the present any potential accident in the rematerialization of the voyager to the past. Of course, accidents continued to happen, and news of them eventually made its way back from past to present, bringing about all sorts of familiar paradoxes in the spacetime continuum. Tempus-Gliding, like any metachronic technology relying on body-transit, was a door thrown wide open to all the crazy scenarios we know from the time-travel tropes in science-fiction going back at least to H. G. Wells: adults returning to the past and meeting themselves as children, meeting their parents before they were even born, causing themselves never to have been born and so suddenly to vanish, and so on. By the end of the 1960s people, and sometimes entire families, entire lineages, were vanishing as a daily occurrence (just recall the 1969 Harris family reunion in Provo!). You could almost never say exactly why, since the traveller to the past who would unwittingly wipe out all his descendants often had yet, in the present, ever to even try Tempus-Gliding.
A campaign to end the practice quickly gained speed. By 1973 the “Don’t Mess With Spacetime” bumperstickers were everywhere, and by the following year Tempus-Gliding was outlawed — which is to say, as is always the case in such matters, that only outlaws continued to Tempus-Glide. Scattered disappearances continued, public outcry against illicit Tempus-Gliding became more widespread. In 1983 Nancy Reagan made an unforgettable guest appearance on Diff’rent Strokes to help get out the message about the dangers of illegal body-transit (“More than 40,000 young lives are lost each year to illegal Metachron gangs.” “What you talkin’ ‘bout Mrs. Reagan?”). By the late 1980s a combination of tough-on-crime measures and transformations in youth culture largely ended the practice, and time-travel would likely have remained as dormant as moon-travel if it had not in the last decade been so smoothly integrated into our new mobile technologies, and in a way that overcomes the paradoxes and inconveniences of Tempus-Gliding. It does so, namely, by taking the body out of the trip altogether.
This is the mode of time-travel, of course, that has shaped a significant subcurrent of science-fiction scenarios, notably Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), later adapted into the better known Bruce Willis vehicle 12 Monkeys (1995). While these films might seem exceptional, they also share something important with the great majority of what may be called time-travel tales avant la lettre, in which, typically, a man such as Rip Van Winkle goes to sleep for a very long time and wakes up in “the future”. The “zero form” of time travel, we are reminded, is simply to live, which is to say to travel forward in time at a slow and steady rate that only appears to be sped up or “warped” through deep sleep.
Be that as it may, when the new app-based time-travel technologies began to emerge in the late 2010s —relying as they did on a loophole in the 1974 law against time-travel that defined it strictly as “metachronic body-transit”— they were all confronted by the hard limit on innovation already predicted by Quast, who remained commited until the end to the impossibility in principle of future-directed time travel. “If you want to get to the future, you’re just going to have to wait,” Quast wrote in an entry in his Hefte dated 6 October, 1959 (SB-1omk 21.237). “To live in time is already to travel in time. So be patient” [In der Zeit zu leben, das ist schon in der Zeit zu reisen. Hab also Geduld]. Rumors of future-transit apps downloadable from ultra-sketchy oglindas have been circulating for years, but I’ve never seen any, and having studied Quast’s work I have come to believe that they are a theoretical impossibility.
The earliest apps, popping up mostly from anonymous sources, were mostly perceived as too dangerous and illicit to gain widespread appeal. “We’ve got that legal cannabis here in California now,” Whoopi Goldberg said on an episode of The View in September, 2019. “If I want to take a little trip, I’m sorry but there’s edibles for that. I’m not messing with spacetime [audience laughter].” In an echo of the panic leading to the prohibition of Tempus-Gliding in the early 1970s, the government began to issue PSA’s sensitizing the public to the serious psychological trauma that a return to our own pasts can trigger. “This is not lighthearted fun,” the messaging went. “Metachronism can ruin your life.”
The campaign against these new technologies would probably have killed them, or at least pushed them so far down into the oglindas as to occlude them from the public’s consciousness, if in 2021, at the worst moment of the pandemic, the ChronoSwoop company had not appeared as if out of nowhere and dropped its addictive new app with its signature “Swoop left/Swoop right” functions. Key to ChronoSwoop’s success was the discovery that users will draw significantly more pleasure from being cast into random moments in the past (Swoop left), than from being permitted to choose particular moments they have deemed significant in the post-hoc construction of their autobiographical self-narrative. And if you find yourself thrown back into an unpleasant or dull moment, then a single swift Swoop right will bring you immediately back into the present. You can of course go into your settings and laboriously reconfigure the app to permit you to choose your precise dates, but the great miracle of ChronoSwoop’s success is that almost no one bothers to do this. The people want their time travel to come with streamlined, easy interfaces. They want to move through the past like they move through their feeds: going nowhere in particular, with no clear purpose.