Literal time travel, of course, as imagined by writers over more than a century, “does not exist. It cannot,” Gleick wrote. “There is no getting into the future except by waiting.”
He quotes Eric Frank Russell from 1941: “Your body moves always in the present, the dividing line between the past and the future, but your mind is more free. It can think and is in the present. It can remember and at once is in the past. It can imagine and at once is in the future, in its own choice of all the possible futures. Your mind can travel through time.”
Time travel as imagined by novelists, scientists and filmmakers certainly has existed since at least the 1890s when H.G. Wells wrote “The Time Machine.” His theory was that “time is the fourth dimension,” which Einstein confirmed. Human understanding of time has been changed by technology — clocks, watches, archaeology (the discovery of buried civilizations), railroads, automobiles, highways, superhighways, the telegraph, telephone, the radio, airplane and jet, camera, photograph, motion picture, microwave oven, Internet, ubiquitious mobile phones and instantanous video have all speeded up time.
“One of the ways the telegraph changed us as humans was it gave us a new sense of what time it is. It gave us an understanding of simultaneity. It gave us the ability to synchronize clocks from one place to another. It made it possible for the world to have standard time and time zones and then Daylight Savings Time and then after that jetlag. All of that is due to the telegraph because, before that, the time was whatever it was wherever you were,” Gleick said in an interview.
Youtube.com seems to make entertainers and leaders of the past almost immortal with a mere click. Mass online learning which is revolutionizing education speeds up time even more. If you’re a fast learner, there’s no more waiting for others to catch up. You can zoom ahead at your own pace. There’s no telling how virtual reality will change our perceptions of time.
“Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast?” Gleick asked, then answered. “For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end.”
Gleick then asked another question of readers: ““If you could take one ride in a time machine, which way would you go? The future or the past? Sally forth or turn back?…Do you prefer the costumed pageant of history or the techno-marvels to come? It seems there are two kinds of people. Both camps have their optimists as well as their pessimists. Disease is a worry. Time traveling while black or female poses special hazards. Then again, some people see ways to make money at lotteries, stock markets, and racetracks. Some just want to relive past loves. Many back travelers are driven by regret—mistakes made, opportunities lost.”