I just finished Stephen King's "11/22/63," his novel about a guy who travels back in time to try to save JFK from assassination. Just in case this tale is on your summer-reading list, I won't write any spoilers. What intrigues me are the paradoxes that going back in time presents. The hero of King's novel goes back to 1958… years before he was born. This presents the possibility of meeting himself as a kid. Scarier still, what if he ran over his kiddy self with his car? Would his adult self go "poof," up in smoke? And if that happened, would his own kids vanish into thin air, as well… two generations gone in a flash? Gasp!
Truth be told, I don't believe it's possible to go back in time, simply because the past is gone… except for memories and images and antiques. There is nothing to go back to. End of discussion, so far as I'm concerned.
Now the future is something else again. Einstein taught us that, when you travel at something close to the speed of light, time slows down dramatically. This presents the very real possibility of traveling far into the future someday. The original "Planet of the Apes" movie, the one starring Charlton Heston, ably illustrates this point. Heston and crew are placed in a state of suspended animation and hurled out into space, the plan being that they will stay asleep and un-aging until they reach some distant destination.
This movie is so old and has so many sequels that it's impossible to write a spoiler. The punch line of the original film is that Heston's ship has somehow brought him back to planet earth, but far into the future, when Gorillas and Chimps and Orangs rule the globe.
If you could travel into the distant future, would you want to do it? Let me confess that I think I would. Imagine how delighted Ben Franklin, that American Jack of All Trades, would be, if he could come to 21st century America and see all the technologies that have emerged since he demonstrated with a kite and a key that lightening and electricity are the same thing. I'm no inventor, like Ben, but I'd love to see what the 22nd century holds for mankind.
I can see two downsides to this scenario. The first, as with Heston, is that I might discover that homo sapiens blew it. I might find myself in a dystopia or even a wasteland.
The other is that, inevitably, everybody I love would be long since dead and buried. I'd have to make all new friends. I'd have to start dating again… something I haven't done in 43 years. Raise another batch of kids? Not on your life. Hmm… perhaps I would just as soon stay put in 2013.
I'd rather not know what the future holds. Call me a cynic, but I think it's entirely possible that the golden years are behind us, and ahead of us is a whole lot more of the same: economic troubles, a barren job market, and way too many McDonald's joints.
Sure, we might have some cool technological advances to look forward to, but that's nothing new. I wouldn't be at all surprised – or all that thrilled – to find out that hover-cars or air-gliding skateboards are real products in the future. After all, just the other day I read an article hailing the "XBox One" – a device that seamlessly controls all the electronics in your home – as the latest "revolutionary" device.
That's all well and good, but if the only thing the future holds is more ways for us to be efficient couch potatoes – more "technology" – I'd rather not know.
What I would like to know is if anyone is working on a way to stop, or at the very least slow down, global warming. Will there be any scientific advancement in decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which reached a record high of 400 parts per million this year; 50PPM higher than what scientists deem safe)? Is anyone working on drugs that will effectively combat the "superbugs" we're creating by over-prescribing antibiotics?
The answer to these kinds of questions is, too often, no. Because ironically, there's no money in saving the world unless you can do so with a cool looking game console. At least, not nearly the kind of money one can make by creating a fancy, gussied-up remote control. That is the world in which we live.
If things do get better, it'll be a pleasant surprise. If they don't, well, they say ignorance is bliss. I'm counting on it.