Column: I’m a time traveler, and so are you

Jason-Column2First of all, if you don’t think “Back to the Future” is one of the best, tightest screenplays of the last 30 years I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.

Concepts of time travel and stories about it have always fascinated me. Although it’s something we’ve yet to achieve, and perhaps never could, it’s amazing to me there are actual theories about how time travel could be possible. The most feasible of these, at least in terms of traveling into the future, would seem to me to be time dilation, which falls under Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Basically, it would work this way.

Travelers in a spacecraft capable of near light speed could travel from Earth to a point somewhere light years away. The ship would arrive at that point, turn around and head back. By the time the ship returned, more time would have passed on Earth than on the ship because, by traveling at a rate close to the speed of light, the ship’s crew essentially experienced compressed, slower time as we observe it from Earth. For the ship’s crew, though, the time they experienced would be normal for them and, from their point of view, time would have passed faster, or indeed more time would have passed, here on Earth.

This is proven in microcosm by the fact that astronauts traveling to and from the International Space Station age slightly less than they would have if they’d remained on Earth.

Pretty nuts, huh? Look up the twin paradox. It’s real, and not actually a paradox.

Unfortunately, what does not seem to be real, or even possible, is time travel into the past. Stephen Hawking said the reason we know this is we’ve never had anyone turn up at an event in history and say, hey, I’m from the future and I’ve come to see this first-hand.

Of course, there was the matter of John Titor. There’s something else you can Google.

Anyway, in thinking about time travel, it occurs to me there are some things around us that allow us to travel through time without even really realizing it. You’re using one of them right now, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

“A Perfect World” is another movie I like. In it, Kevin Costner plays an escaped convict who kidnaps a little boy and leads the Texas Rangers, led by Clint Eastwood, who also directed,  on a chase across the state.

There’s a scene relatively early on in which Costner’s character describes the car in which he and the boy are traveling as a time machine. Beyond the rear window is the past, he says, everything out in front of the windshield is the future.

For an escaped convict on the run, those statements are likely more metaphor than theory of relativity, but it works both ways. When you drive to work in the morning, or anywhere at any time, really, you’re compressing that time, making it pass slower for you than for the person who’s walking the same distance. If I can drive to our office in Port Chester in 25 minutes, which on a good day I can, and it would take someone 25 minutes to walk a fraction of the distance from my house to our office, I’ve effectively traveled faster through those 25 minutes than the poor sap who has to walk it. I’ve reduced the distance between two points using the speed of the car relative to the speed of walking.

Pretty cool and interesting, I think.

Anyway, back to the time machine you’re using now, your newspaper. This was a concept I first saw mentioned by Stephen King in his excellent book “On Writing.” Translating it to our purposes here, basically he said this: As I write these words, I have no idea who you are or, more importantly, when you are. Chances are, you’re reading this column in the newspaper, or online, within the week it’s published.

But what if you’re not.

You could be reading these words 50 years after I wrote them. 100. 200? Seems like a stretch for these particular words but, the fact remains, these words have the possibility of surviving me, of traveling further ahead in time than I will, to arrive under the eyes of someone who could never have read them when they were written. In this way, any novel that has stood the test of time has essentially traveled from the past to meet us here in the present. Even some dusty, 50-year-old paperback you’ve never heard of in the corner of a used book store is a time traveler if you pick it up and experience the ideas and stories inside now.

I think that’s pretty cool, too, and I’ll let you in on a little secret; it’s one of the reasons writers write. Any degree of success is an equal measure of immortality, of legacy.

There’s one more type of time machine I’d like to discuss, and it’s all around us.

About a year ago, I wrote a profile in your newspaper about the Mamaroneck Playhouse movie theater. I enjoyed writing it, but I especially enjoyed the research because it meant spending time with Gloria Pritts, the Village of Mamaroneck historian. Gloria Pritts is a time machine; she saw “King Kong” in that theater in 1933 and told me a bit about what that was like. I’d have no way of knowing otherwise; I didn’t exist in 1933. But Gloria Pritts’ life spans that time and, because of that, she was able to link me to moments long past I’d never be able to get to with my car or a space ship flying at nearly the speed of light.

My interview one year ago with Gloria Pritts is still on my digital recorder. It’s the only one I kept from my time as a reporter for your newspaper. It represents the kind of time travel we can all do, and maybe should do, every day.

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