Photo: Chris J. Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
What if one day you found a smartphone that could travel backwards in time? And that you could command to video previously unrecorded events. What event would you send that smartphone to?
Your first inclination might be to dismiss the possibility as preposterous. Or as a plot for a science fiction story. You might say, “Time travel is impossible.” Many would agree.
Yet there are some who believe they have found a way to travel back in time. For instance, astrophysicist Ron Mallet, a tenured physics professor at the University of Connecticut, told CNN in 2019 he had written a scientific equation that could theoretically make time travel possible.
Personally, I’ve been hooked on time traveling from my comic book reading years. I think I know every line from the 1967 Star Trek TV episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” when Captain Kirk goes back to the 1930s. He falls in love with the character Edith Keeler. But he realizes that for him to return to the future he came from, he must let Edith die in a truck accident.
From its introduction the smartphone has intrigued me as it has been continually improved. At times beyond our imaginations. The smartphone also reminds me of Dick Tracy, a comic strip character from my youth. As a police detective he would use his walkie talkie “wrist radio” to call his sidekick Sam Catchem. Back then I wondered if such a device would ever be invented.
The recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Walter Scott in South Carolina led me to think of past unrecorded events. Some known as feats of accomplishment…other instances known only to the perpetrators. That prompted the idea for the time traveling smartphone.
So, I emailed various colleagues and family members asking for examples of past events to which they would send smartphones. Responses varied. But many wrote of incidents about family members or their personal lives. Examples included the wedding of parents, the arrival of a grandmother at Ellis Island, and the memorial services for a mother.
One person opted for Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag. Which is more legend than fact as there is nothing in writing to verify that. Two mentioned the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Three chose Abraham Lincoln at various points in his life. One wanted to see him delivering the Gettysburg Address. Another one opted for the day he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. A third wanted the smartphone to film him signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Well, Lincoln was born in 1809. So, he would have needed a time travel machine to go back to 1776 for that signing. Now, John Hancock was the first signatory for the Declaration of Independence. What if Lincoln had traveled back and become the first one to sign instead of Mr. Hancock? Would that have changed an established American adage? Instead of being asked for our “John Hancock” signature, would we have been told, “Please put your Abe Lincoln on the dotted line!”
As I thought more about what led me to think of sending a smartphone back in time my curiosity grew. I wondered how much of history had gone unrecorded. An internet site Quora had it “around 90 percent.” This figure is no surprise considering how long we humans have been on this earth. After all, the written word supposedly is no more than 5,000 years old.
This prompted me to consider sending my smartphone back to prehistory at least 100,000-plus years ago. Chances are people then may have faced challenges no different from today, such as feeding their families and staying safe.
Times and environments may change, but people, daily lives, and circumstances, minus modern amenities, remain constant. Wasn’t it Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Greek philosopher, more than 2,000 years ago who wrote “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book!” (It’s possible he’s given credit for something he never said.)
So where would each of us send a time travel smartphone back to if we had that choice? Far back into time to video feats of accomplishments, such as the building of the pyramids and the wall of China? Or something more recent?
Today’s smartphones are storytellers of the immediate past. They have become tools of justice. It’s hard for them to mask truths their lenses so unquestionably display. As a start I would send my time travel smartphone to video past unjust taking of lives, if only to reaffirm inequities we already suspected had taken place.
Juan Negroni, a Weston resident, is a consultant, bilingual speaker and writer. He is the chairman and CEO of the Institute of Management Consultants. Email him at email@example.com.