How much does it suck that we’ll never, ever have time travel?

steampunk_time_machine_icon_by_pendragon1966-d5e8pr2My current obsession, shared by approximately half the world (half, that is, of my own predominantly white geeky more-or-less-affluent American world, as gauged mostly by Facebook and Twitter), is watching my way through the most recent iteration of Doctor Who (2005-present) on Netflix. I’m coming to the end of the fourth series, if you’re wondering, which I’ve gathered means the end of my time with David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor. Which is probably going to make me cry or something.

Something that’s occurred to me lately is that I have a more exacting standard for time-travel stories than I do for stories of any other stripe; they generally have to be brilliantly inventive and have actors and/or characters that really pull me in, like the most recent Doctor Who has, for me to be willing to devote much of my time to them (though of course I enjoyed the camp of the Back to the Future franchise as much as any good geeky child of the eighties and nineties). And that’s because it — time travel — is simply never going to happen.

It’s not that I have a hard time suspending my disbelief, generally. It’s not as though lasers are ever likely to make good gun-type weapons, or that we’re ever likely to get past the inherent problems posed by traveling at the speeds necessary to traverse large distances in space; that doesn’t bother me. I’ve loved stories about Hobbits and vampires with souls and grammar schools for wizards and witches and MMO players who sometimes leave their homes.

I think, rather, that it’s just that I want time travel so very, very badly. There’s little I’d like more than to be able to see where we’re headed (to know what replaces TV and the internet in a hundred years, what people look like and are eating in five hundred, if we’re still around at all in a thousand), and one of the few I would prefer may be to be able to look back — see a Shakespeare play, compare Lincoln’s oratory style to Daniel Day-Lewis’ attempt, watch Ruth and Gehrig go back-to-back (and kill Hitler and such, but that’s a whole thing).

I want that to happen so badly, and there’s just no way it’s ever going to. Even with the other things I mentioned, you can imagine the doubts away; scientists could come up with a way around the near-light-speed problem at some point, even though we can’t currently imagine what that might be. I’d make the same assumption about time travel: it’s a pretty ridiculous concept right now, but maybe some day, far down the road, some researcher could stumble upon the secret that makes it all possible.

Except she won’t. No one will. If they were ever going to, we’d have found that out by now.

I picture it going like this: the secret that may one day lead to time travel is unearthed, and the U.S. government, or whatever world government is similarly powerful at that point, quickly and silently controls it. The first time machine that’s developed is probably used under highly controlled conditions, utterly in secret, for limited military or government purposes. No one who witnesses the time traveler ever finds out, or if they do, they’re sworn to absolute secrecy or otherwise silenced.

But then, it goes the way of the fax machine, and the internet, and every other non-weapon military technology. The technology advances, becomes cheaper, slips out to the public. The future equivalent of Xerox and Minolta start producing time machines that can be had for the future-currency equivalent of $5000, then $1000, then $150, then free with the purchase of some other product. People are moving around in time by the dozens, then the thousands, then the millions.

Maybe it’s more controlled than that, but the point is this: if people were going to learn how to time travel, we’d know by now. At some point, however it might be regulated, some doofus is going to show up in the middle of the Revolutionary War in those crazy silver robes from the future scene in Bill and Ted. Someone’s going to go back and bet $100,000 on Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson. Someone‘s going to try that “killing Hitler” thing. We’d have a record, somewhere, of something that really can’t be explained except by time travel. Cave drawings or Renaissance paintings of smartphones and sunglasses and future technology we haven’t actually imagined yet. It’s not the kind of secret that a large-enough group of humans is capable of collectively keeping.

I suppose one could cook up possibilities that would explain this (maybe we’re at or near the very vanguard of all of time, all of the possible universes — maybe time travel will be possible, but not until we get there?). But if we were going to have time travel in the way it’s usually portrayed — you can travel to all points ahead and behind, with the possibility of seriously impacting your own present-day world if you go back — we would know by now, we’d be dealing with some of the implications, both good and bad.

So: no time travel, ever, no chance. That’s my sad thought for today. What say you?


What’s a Geek? Are there Fake Geeks? Do You Care?

I hate to keep relying on the same couple sources, but my internet friend Emmie keeps writing smart things. (It’s also a quantity issue, I think; by my calculations, Emmie is writing approximately 35 percent of the modern internet.) Yesterday she was at Spellbound Scribes, writing about the idea of the “fake geek” and how profoundly silly all that is. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen that subject dealt with (not by a longshot), but the writers of those other pieces typically lament (rightly) the treatment of certain women, especially cosplayers, at conferences and the like, and leave it at that; Emmie’s is a more inclusive and holistic approach. I won’t quote much, because you should go read her words for yourself, but the key takeaway: “Being a geek is about loving a thing.” Geeks know what it is to be an Other, and denying others their geekery is really just Other-izing someone else. What sense is there in keeping anyone out?

I love this. For the most part.

In addition to all the reasons Emmie gives: where does that weird geek pride even come from? I don’t get that, and I say that as a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, multidisciplinary geek; there’s just not much to be proud of in knowing every Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica episode by name, number and its three most memorable quotes. You really, really like something that someone else created; come forward and claim your cookie! Don’t get me wrong: we loves what we loves, and should feel all sorts of good things (in addition to, y’know, love) about those things. Pride, though, the kind that makes you want to keep other people out of your exclusive little club? Eh. That’s pretty weak.

I do get where the impulse comes from, I think. It’s easy to say “you know what it’s like to be Othered, so stop Othering others.” The thing is, though, that to a large degree, geekdom developed because geeks were being Othered, and was created to allow them to escape all that, to escape the whole rest of the world. It’s a step beyond the Golden Rule; it’s asking your OG geeks to treat others not only as they would want to be treated, but precisely as they were not treated, growing up, by some of those same others, which is why their little club existed in the first place. I can see how some geeks would find that sort of thing a bit irksome, and especially so when the “fake geek” looks like the kind of guy or girl who gave you wedgies and swirlies and worse in school (or who dated that first guy or girl). It’s wrong, of course, it’s stupid, for Emmie’s reasons and the one or two above. I get the impulse, but impulses can and often should be ignored.

So my quibble isn’t with that, but with this: I want words to really mean something, and I want to avoid broadening their definitions so much that every word means exactly the same thing as a ton of other words, such that we just keep sliding further and further toward Newspeak. When you hear the word “geek,” you think certain things, and even beyond the unfortunate appearance- (or even gender-) based stereotypes, you think of certain real, immutable things, too. It can’t just mean “one who loves a thing” — we have words like “fan” and “devotee” and “connoisseur” and a dozen others that all mean basically that. A geek has to love a certain type of thing (or a thing within a certain range of types of things), and in a certain eccentric way. I’m not an authority on this (or on anything), and I’m not going to tell you what those types and ways are. But I definitely envision certain qualities, and so do you, and there’s a pretty good chance that what you are envisioning right now resembles what I’m envisioning, and it definitely goes well beyond just loving a thing. There’s plenty of room for differing types and degrees, but there’s a certain indispensable character to geekery. Continue reading