6 Time Travel Realities Doc Brown Didn't Warn Us About
No one can deny that having your own time machine would be pretty awesome. Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to go back in time and hang out with some of the most important figures in history, like Abraham Lincoln or Tyrannosaurus Rex?
Unfortunately, even if you survive the accidental rewriting of history and/or destroying the space-time continuum, time travel will also make your own life pretty shitty as well.
You Die Faster
To borrow from Professor Rufus of Bill and Ted University, "No matter what you do, no matter where you go, that clock, the clock in San Dimas is always running."
"However, time will never run out on these sunglasses."
So you get in your DeLorean and you leave 1985 to go on an adventure in the past. Say it takes you six months to accomplish your goal (ie, nearly making out with your mom) and when you're done, you go back to your own time. Maybe you go back to the very moment you left.
But you are six months older. There's no way around it. The time machine can't adjust your age backward--if it did, it would be altering your brain at the same time, wiping out the memories of what you experienced. No matter how many rejuvenation clinics from the future you visit, you will always age along your own timeline just as certainly as Marty did throughout Back to the Future.
Poor kid aged five years in one damn weekend.
When you get to the core of it, traveling through time is pretty much a deal with the Devil. Yes, it will enable you to save John Connor and get to Muggle Studies on time, but it will shave several months to several years off your life depending on how much you abuse it. These are precious moments from your twilight years that you will never get back: one last weekend with your wife, your granddaughter's graduation and the inevitable cloning of John Candy.
In short, when you've managed to hit age 89 in seven years and you're lying on your deathbed, will it really have been worth seeing everything time had to offer just to miss out on your own life? Sure, things may suck now, but you have no idea what it's going to be like in the future. By rewriting it all, you may just end up missing out on your own God-authored happy ending.
You Couldn't Eat Anything
So let's say that somehow you've come into possession of Bill and Ted's time-traveling phone booth. Awesome, now you have the opportunity to find out for yourself what it was like when the Mongols ruled China, among other things.
Travel back to a time when Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves were the exact same level of famous.
After a run-in with Napoleon at Austerlitz, you decide to tackle the Western Movement in America in 19th century New Mexico. After some Reconstruction Era sightseeing, a saloon catches your eye. You are totally thirsty, and they are totally not carding!
Unfortunately by beer #2 and plate of wings #6, your insides are starting to feel like a sitcom on TBS. Why? It's kind of the same reason you don't want to drink the water if you take a vacation in India. There is, uh, stuff in it that the locals have gotten used to but you haven't.
Likewise, mankind's history of purifying food and water for the past thousand years or so has significantly weakened your modern stomach's ability to tolerate impurities, such as all the microbes, piss and yes, even shit you'll find in most foods and beverages from the past.
"Well you're just shittin' up a storm over there, aren't you?"
As a result, should you eat or drink anything prior to the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, your less-than-ironclad digestive system will start tearing itself apart like the flight crew in Event Horizon. So, unless you are willing to prep yourself in advance by consuming a well-regulated diet of historically-accurate shit sandwiches, we are sorry to report that you must abstain from all the delicious meals time travel has to offer you.
Nobody Would be Able to Understand You
So you've got an HG Wells-esque time machine, which, if two separate movies are any indication, means you'll be able to fling yourself 800,000 years into the future. Think of all you'll have to learn by talking to the locals! Don't worry, they all speak perfect English, with only a slight accent. Language is pretty much the same, everywhere, forever, right?
Hmm.... let's try it the other way. Let's go backward in time, not 800,000 years, but just 1,000. You step out, grab some English reading material and find that it looks like this:
Well, this isn't right! After all, even the freaking monkeys in Planet of the Apes (SPOILER: It's future Earth) spoke plain English. What the hell?
Hollywood has mislead us, friends. Even though English is one of the most common languages on Earth, it gives you a splash-range of only a few centuries when it comes to linguistically "safe" places to travel. This is because the phonology of most languages is ever-changing, and it goes way beyond throwing in some "thee's" and "thou's" and referring to women as "my lady."
They aren't a "lady" if they wear pants.
No matter where you go, you'll have to speak both period and possibly even regional dialect to avoid coming off as a spy, a rival neighbor, a hillbilly or a crazy person who may or may not be possessed by the devil.
So unless you remembered to download a protocol droid app for your iPhone, your best bet is to pass as a mute no matter where you go, lest you open your mouth and risk getting into a situation that could potentially cost you your life. Even something as innocent as asking a peasant for directions could come off as unfathomably bizarre to your new peers. And in a great many places in a great many time periods, "unfathomably bizarre" gets your ass burned at the stake.
Not like you'd have anything to say to people anyway. After all...
No Matter Where You Go, You Don't Exist
Let's say you're not just traveling as a tourist. Maybe you've got one of those time machines where it's a one-way trip, like if you're Kyle Reese and you just defeated the Terminator, only without dying this time. So, what next?
Aliens, The Abyss and Tombstone, followed by dozens of mediocre character roles, that's what.
Well, probably a lifetime working menial jobs for less than minimum-wage, if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, you're probably a very low-rent whore because now you're not only penniless and hungry, but you have nothing to confirm your identity. You're an adult with no ID, no Social Security number and no birth certificate. You also have no friends, family or references. You have no paperwork that any self-respecting institution would require you to have before even considering passing over your job application. Furthermore, you would have no way to even get any of these things, because each one of them requires the other to achieve, sort of like the power ups in Super Metroid.
The Canadian passport upgrade lets you spit maple syrup.
This is not a minor problem. In every civilization ever, a weird-talking, penniless stranger with nothing to vouch for who he is means he's insane, a fugitive, a vagrant or all three. In short, you are going to be living life as an illegal alien.
So yeah, welcome to Arizona.
Behind that truck is Sarah Palin's 2012 campaign.
You Would be Broke
Congratulations, that little Ocarina of Time you bought on eBay actually worked! Your plan to return to New York in June of 1938 and snag as many copies of Action Comics #1 as you can carry seems to be going swimmingly, provided you can get your ass back to the present before you spill coffee on them or something.
Retail value as of 2010: $1.5 million.
But as it turns out, you are totally screwed the second you pocket your time traveling pan flute. Unless you had the tremendous foresight to stop by a coin-collector before you left, all the money in your pocket is officially bogus. Not only do your dollar bills look ridiculous, but that surly-looking guy at the newsstand is pretty pissed over those Roosevelt dimes you keep trying to push on him. You sure as hell can't take your fakey toy future money to a bank to exchange it for real money. Your little business venture into the past could end up putting you in Sing Sing for counterfeiting (on the plus side, all the inmates will be uproariously entertained by your time travel story).
They probably won't stab you more than three times.
Ah, but that's just yet another reason to travel into the future instead! It's the magic of compound interest, baby! You know, put some change in the bank and then go a thousand years into the future to collect your riches. Well assuming your financial institution even still exists that far down the road (and given the current state of the nation, this seems highly unlikely). Hell, that's assuming that the country still exists. Or the currency.
Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg, because...
The Future is a Blind Leap
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: One thing time travel movies never address is the fact that the Earth moves. Your time machine can't just move forward in time, it has to be able to travel through space with perfect precision. After all, you have to account for the fact that the planet is flying through space at 70 thousand miles an hour, and you've got to know exactly where it's going to be at the exact moment you arrive in the future. Oh, also the planet is spinning really fast.
But let's just assume that Doc Brown and the Terminators and all the other time machine inventors figured out a way around that. Even that doesn't account for the fact that the landscape is ever-changing. This...
...was a forest 400 years ago. So you leave from a nice, open valley and arrive embedded inside several million tons of concrete for a new dam they built decades after you died.
Of course, even that is the optimistic view. Unlike going back in time, where any decent history book can serve as a travel guide, visiting the future means you have to prepare yourself for any of Earth's potential mass extinctions, world wars and malevolent dictators.
Even if there's no worldwide disaster, who can vouch for the particular spot you're standing? Hiroshima was a pretty nice city for 350 straight years until somebody dropped a gigantic bomb on it.
Even if you show up and things look fine at a glance, who knows if your race/ethnicity/hair color won't make you part of a persecuted minority in that time period? Trust us, ethnic cleansing is one thing that never goes out of style on planet Earth. And 500 years from now, Iowa could be the new Darfur. So who knows what horrors Doc Brown's magical flying train would have found at the end of Back to the Future III?
"...is that Christopher Lloyd in a flying train? Everyone else is seeing this, right?"
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