An old photograph from a British beach shows an idyllic, happy scene of people enjoying the sun during the summer of 1943.
Everything looks perfect, until one looks a little more closely. There’s a man in the picture, wearing a suit and standing alone. He appears to be sending a text message from his smart phone.
It’s an incongruous part of the photograph. Smart phone technology was still decades away in the early 1940s with the earliest small handheld units appearing in the first decade of the 2000s. How did this man acquire such a device in 1943?
One suggestion is that the man in the photograph is a time traveller, a visitor from the future.
If this sounds like a science fiction story, it’s because time travel is a recurring theme in science fiction.
Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story, A Sound Of Thunder, features time travel to allow hunters to go back in time to shoot dinosaurs. His 1950 short story, The Fox and the Forest, has people going back from the future to Mexico in 1938, to escape a totalitarian society.
More recently, the 1985 movie, Back To The Future, along with two sequels in 1989 and 1990, also deals with time travel.
The six Terminator films, from 1984 to 2019, also explore the concept of time travel.
Michael Crichton’s 1999 novel, Timeline, has present-day characters visiting medieval France. The novel was made into a movie in 2003.
It has been said that today’s science fiction can become tomorrow’s science fact. However, I’m not convinced the ability to travel back in time would be a good thing.
There are some potential benefits. It could help historians as they are able to examine details of past events. And it could be a refreshing reprieve to spend some time in a nostalgic world of yesterday.
But some might use this technology to go back in time to change aspects of the present.
Theoretically, one could return to the 1980s and purchase stock of Apple and Microsoft. The stock values have increased significantly over the years, which means a small investment in 1987 could be worth a small fortune today. Or one could find the winning lottery numbers from a past draw, buy the ticket and enjoy sudden wealth.
It is also possible that a time traveller could have the goal of killing a tyrannical ruler before the ruler could assume power. Whether this would be a good use of time travel technology cannot be known. If one despot is eliminated, would someone even worse rise to power instead? If one war could be prevented, would something more destructive occur later?
I don’t know what the time traveller was doing in the world of 1943. He may have been on a field trip from a future history class. He might have been relaxing after spending the previous days investing in stocks he knew would skyrocket in value. Or he may have done something to alter the course of the future.
If he prevented something from happening, we today would have no way of knowing. The future we know would have happened without any traces of the future that might have been.
Talk of time travel is a nice diversion, but at present, it doesn’t exist – at least not to my knowledge. The more likely explanation for the man in the picture is that he is rolling a cigarette, looking at a pocket watch or jotting down the telephone number of someone he has just met.
On the other hand, if time travel works, it’s possible a future version of myself has gone back in time to write this column, after first stopping in the 1980s to buy Apple and Microsoft stock.
This future me, now extremely wealthy, has returned to his own original time and is enjoying a nice cup of tea.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.