Time machine

Being in a pub in Dublin, immersed in the sort of ambience of ancient tradition one does not find in New York, it was natural that the conversation with my friend this evening would turn to questions of antiquity.

And at some point I began to describe the 1957 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that I loved as a child, a cherished set of volumes which my mother had purchased, I believe, because it matched the furniture.

When I was eight, nine, maybe ten years old, I would pour over those volumes for hours at a time. Every evening I would choose one volume pretty much at random and do a deep dive.

My favorite topics where things that were no longer true — the nations that did not exist any more, the inventions that had ceased to be cutting edge, the scientific theories that had become hopelessly out of date.

Looking back on it now, I realize that what I loved most about those articles was the way they embodied a sort of time machine. “This is the way things are now”, they seemed to be saying, in a kind of etherial transmission from the past. They were a timestamp out of history, an up-to-date record of the no longer existent, a voice of Truth from a time now gone.

It is no longer so easy to have such an experience. Thanks to the internet, everything is now up-to-date. Yes, you can dig back through the archives of the Wikipedia, and discover the state of the world from an earlier time. But this is not easy to do, especially if you want a consistent snapshot, across a broad range of topics, from a specific moment in history.

Sometimes I miss my old time machine.

One Response to “Time machine”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    You could get the same effect by just taking a snapshot of Wikipedia every decade or so, though it may not match the furniture.

    Streetview has been around long enough to record serious change between snapshots. http://goobingdetroit.tumblr.com/ uses this to display the ongoing decay in Detroit.

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