Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Do You Choose a Time-Travel Destination?

My eighth-grade history class is currently studying the Roaring Twenties. Yesterday, one of my students asked me what time period I would travel to, if I could choose only one. She said she would have picked the 1920's.
"I actually think about that a lot," I told her.
"So what time would you pick?" she asked.

I realized that despite frequently pondering life during different eras, I didn't have one picked out.
So I decided that I wanted to run a two-part blog. Part 1, which you are currently beginning, will deal with the criteria for choosing a time-travel destination. Part 2, which I will post later this week, will detail my top choices for time periods I would like to visit.

Part 1--How Do You Choose a Time-Travel Destination?

There have been many great stories, literary and cinematic, about characters traveling through time. Some of the most famous are H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Steven Spielberg's Back to the Future. However, in those stories, the characters usually end up time-traveling by accident. Here's another of my favorite examples:

But what if you could pick your destination, instead of accidentally stumbling upon it like Marty McFly or the Ninja Turtles? That's what we're trying to delve into here.

First, a few simple rules for this exercise:
1. You must go back in time as you are now. In other words, you can't pick to be a king, emperor, or wealthy lord. So if I am a 26-year-old, skelly, broke man now (and I am), that's also what I'll be during the time period to which I travel.
2. You can't bring knowledge of the present back with you. This rule is meant to prevent time-travelers from, say, buying Apple stock in 1978 or warning Julius Caesar about the Ides of March. It's not about how you can take advantage of the past, it's about enjoying the experience of living during another time period.
3. You can't bring objects with you. This rule is geared towards people that say things like, "I would bring a gun and ten thousand rounds of ammo to ancient Rome and crown myself emperor." No dice.

Here are the major questions I would ask myself if I had a choice of my time-travel destination.

1. Would I have lived past 35?
According to, as recently as 100 years ago, only 4% of Westerners reached the age of 65. And during the time of Jesus, the average life expectancy was 33. So, yeah, that would suck.

2. How was the food?
I am a carnivore, so I would need to go to a time and place abundant in delicious-tasting animals. Some possible candidates for me are the times of Beowulf (mead and mutton), Native Americans (buffalo is delectable), and medieval times (love that restaurant).

3. Was the technology advanced?
This is coming from a guy that doesn't even have text-messaging, but I still enjoy some of the finer technology of today's world. I would, therefore, like to travel to a place that was ahead of its time in terms of technology. This consideration adds to the appeal of ancient Rome (Aqueducts!), Renaissance Europe (Da Vinci was a baller), and early 1900s America (Cars!).

One more important point: toilet paper counts as technology.
Many different variations of T.P. have been used throughout history, with some of the highlights being:
--Early Eskimos--Snow and tundra moss
--Vikings--Discarded sheep's wool
--Ancient Romans--A sponge soaked in salt water, at the end of a stick
--Ancient Indians--Water and your left hand

I don't think Ancient India was on my time-travel radar to begin with, but this was the clincher. I like my left hand too much to subject it to that.

4. Would I have been a slave?
Many groups of people have been enslaved throughout history, from the Israelites in ancient Egypt to Africans in the United States and elsewhere. So before time-traveling, I would definitely consider whether my people would have been enslaved or otherwise mistreated. As a Christian, for instance, I would not travel to ancient Rome for fear of being thrown into the arena with blood-thirsty lions. And as a person of Irish descent, I would definitely avoid traveling to the land of my ancestors during a time of British oppression. (So, basically, I would not be going to Ireland at all.)

5. Who would I want to meet?
Part of the lure of time-travel is meeting historical figures. I'd obviously want to meet all the Bible characters in my hypothetical crew, but I'd also be a little intimidated by some of them. Other people I'd want to meet while traveling through time: Mark Twain (genius), James Naismith (genius?), Ty Cobb (meanest S.O.B. ever), Julius Caesar (and his buddy Brutus), Mother Teresa (Was she kinder than my Grandma Theresa?), the Beatles (Lennon and McCartney) ... and the list goes on.

So those are at least five of the key questions any time traveler should ask. I'm going to ponder them for a few days, then I'll lay out my top choices for a time-travel destination.

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