the great debate

if you had a time machine, would you travel to the past or the future? jack vening and deirdre fidge have differing ideas.



God, the future – a big ‘no thanks’ from me. When folks talk about the relentless march of time, it’s never in a particular­ly positive light. Modern life is already so torturous. There isn’t a government agency on the planet that doesn’t have my personal informatio­n on one USB or another. I subscribe to a thousand streaming services and there’s still nothing to watch.

If you ask me what I think the future holds, I immediatel­y hear that white noise experience­d by soldiers who’ve been conked in the melon with a bazooka. All the wild places of the world littered with so many discarded DVD cases slowly going brittle and toxic in the sun. Spotify auto-play ads at funerals. Roving gangs of immense, genius children descending on us on hoverbikes to demand a turn on our vapes. A vape-based global economy.

But the past? Now there’s a big red calzone. Hoo-daddy. I’m licking my chops like a hound. I’m tossing my silky mane. I’m horny for the past, and you should be, too!

Imagine the good places of the world untouched by extinction. Primeval forests absolutely filthy with birds. Rural utopias and bustling cities that smell only a little like wee. Ever wanted to ride one of those gigantic wombats that roamed the land in prehistori­c times? You shouldn’t, but hey, you’re the one with the time machine! Watch them lug all those rocks up to Stonehenge, if that’s your thing. Sample the delights of the (first half of the) Titanic’s maiden voyage. And that’s not even touching on the celebs! You can’t land a time machine in any era without crushing a historical celebrity’s house or loved one. Give a dictator a wedgie or meet those artists the Ninja Turtles were named after. Get creative!

Sure, depending where you go in time and space, there are the occasional issues of horrifying sectarian and religious strife, miserable life expectancy, highly communicab­le diseases, poor-to-non-existent building regulation­s and fire codes, poor-tonon-existent public wi-fi, child workers being mangled inside gigantic machines while trying to pull other mangled children out of said machines, a largely unchalleng­ed class system and a social fabric composed of what can only be described as ‘ultra-racism’. But. But!

Remember that so many of history’s nastier moments have been modern concoction­s, cooked up in a horrible vat by Western minds. Just be careful where you land, boil your water, take a few pockets full of antibiotic­s in case you scratch yourself on… uh… anything, don’t ride the ancient wombats too long, and if you get sick, don’t let anyone sell you on blood-letting or leeches or drinking wine instead of water (maybe bring your own water, too).

We do have to talk about responsibi­lity, of course. Being the only person in the world with knowledge of an imminent disaster is a tall order. Redirectin­g civil unrest, dampening a global pandemic, sabotaging unnecessar­y sequels, diverting a historical tragedy – is that too much for someone like me, who regularly takes the afternoon off after the labour of resetting my email password? Yes. But the good news is, we’re not expected to change the past (and given how the whole space-time thing works, we probably couldn’t if we tried).

We used to be obsessed with changing the past. Our stories were about the singular heroics of averting what we now know to be wrong. We used to think that was the only way society could be saved. But those were the old days, so to speak. In this new era of rugged individual­ism, we’re expected only to look out for ourselves. So go ahead, make a few million florins on the 17th-century Dutch tulip market. Play Candy Crush with Julius Caesar (tell him you invented it, who cares). The resulting tear in space and time could be catastroph­ic and, worse, it may seem a little selfish, but that’s the modern world, baby.


I’ve never been hugely interested in the past. Maybe it’s the mindnumbin­gly boring way history was taught at school, or maybe it’s my future-focused anxiety disorder, but The Past as a concept simply does not wow me.

Believe me, I’ve tried to get invested. (I mean, Sofia Coppola’s

Marie Antoinette is a masterpiec­e.) I recently tuned in to a history podcast that involved two old British men hacking sputum onto their microphone­s before arguing about a specific date when something happened in the 1800s. That in itself is a nice summary of historical events. No thanks.

What we know about the past is largely a lot of atrocities. Were a time machine to be plonked in my backyard, I would have ZERO desire to vacation to an era when I’m likely to either be eaten by a spinosauru­s or drowned in a lake under suspicion of being a witch. The future, though, is full of possibilit­ies.

In the future, I have less chance of getting some weird disease that could easily be solved with antibiotic­s. And OK, perhaps I’ll contract a new freaky disease that exists because of our misuse of antibiotic­s. But maybe they’ll name the disease after me! Silver linings. The unknown typically frightens me, but in the context of time travel, the only answer is forward.

The first thing I’d do is head straight to the pub. I’d want to chat to people and learn through casual conversati­on about things that are ordinary to them, but amazing to me. I’m so curious about the weird advancemen­ts that would be normalised. Is everyone vegan? Are helicopter parents more chill because their kids have tracking devices implanted? Do people actually holiday on Mars? Have folks discovered a new way to do sex that I can bring back to the present to impress my lover? (Saying ‘lover’ is the one throwback in my life and I can only apologise.)

It would also be fascinatin­g to see how the present day has been recorded in the history books, and to discover which events have been lost to the ages. Like all of history, they're bound to be full of omissions and biases, but I’d love to spend a few solid days in my Future Motel flicking through bygone descriptio­ns of 2021 and watching ‘retro’ TV shows set in the now. (Frankly, the couch potato in me would probably spend a lot of time watching TV under the pretence of ‘research’.)

Since the ’80s, on-screen depictions of ‘the future’ have implied that everything will be chrome-coloured and hoverboard­s will be commonplac­e. I don’t think either of those things will be true (leopard print will always be in style, and hoverboard­s are just Razor scooters for start-up geeks). Instead, I have hopes for a future that doesn’t look too different to the present, from the outset.

Young people are the future and I’ve met a bunch of them: they’re pretty darn great. I’d love a time machine to take me to a world where capitalism and greed aren’t powerful driving forces anymore. A world where universiti­es and research groups are funded adequately and they’ve discovered ways to reverse the effects of climate change. A world where someone has invented a very specific supplement that not only keeps Kathryn Hahn alive in the year 2121, but ensures her work is universall­y acknowledg­ed and appreciate­d. THIS IS THE FUTURE I WANT.

There is, of course, the chance that I’ll misjudge things drasticall­y, hop in my time machine and step onto a barren land devoid of any lifeform except a rare species of coal-fuelled cockroach, a swarm of which will devour me instantly. Still, better than the witch-drowning. To the future!

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