Writing

If I Could Turn Back Time

Somewhere in the vast library of clichés there is the saying, "there is never enough time." For many, that has never been more true than in today's world of "bigger, better, faster, more." Time management is an enormous source of stress in the lives of millions of Americans, and this juggling act has become something of a national pastime. But think, for a moment, and consider this: what if you could turn back time and catch up on all the things you did not get to in any 24-hour period? While many have written off the theory of time travel as something Einstein thought up on one of his off days, an impossibility, and a luxury for daydreamers, scientists are hard at work at a viable time travel device. The most recent news is that most scientists now believe that time travel is not only possible, it is in our not-so-distant future. There are three major problems with the actual construction of a time travel device, however: one, scientists still do not fully understand the implications of space-time; two, science does not yet have the tools and knowledge necessary to build such a machine; and three, we have yet to fully consider the repercussions if we did manage to break the space-time continuum.

Our fast-paced society-hallmarked by the Information Superhighway (also known as the World Wide Web and The Internet)-and a pervading attitude that nothing is fast enough has caused the lives of many people to be little more than a blur. Millions of dollars are spent annually on items meant to help those in a time crunch: day planners, Palm Pilots, PDAs, notebooks, calendars, laptops, cell phones... the list could stretch into eternity and take up more valuable time to recite. Suffice to say, office supply companies and retail outlets are doing a booming business. Some ingenious entrepreneurs even offer services to come and organize your life for you, creating order out of the chaos of your office or home. The thinking that we have to "do it all" can be damaging, though. "Too many of us, when rushed, do some pretty dangerous and destructive things. We floor it through yellow lights, snap at dawdling children, bark at busy receptionists, and swear when we have to wait 90 seconds at a drive-thru...Ironically, timesaving devices-fax machines, instant messaging and cell phones-deserve part of the blame" (Kelly).

We citizens of the modern era would like to think that the past was a much simpler time, but the thinking that more can be done if time is managed well probably has its roots in pre-history. Gronk, the quintessential Neanderthal, has to finish his cave painting, mend the tear in his llama-skin toga, catch dinner, start a fire, cook the meat, and he promised his friend, Ugha, that he would meet him after dinner for a rousing match of Mate Tossing. It can be assumed that this caveman example is farfetched, but it has a hint of truth: humans seem to have an innate need to not only use time to the utmost, but to control it, to bend it to their will. Since mankind mathematically discovered the premise of time, a singular thought has become the main topic of discussion: is time travel possible? "Real" science-while accepting that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is viable-scoffs at time travel; it is not possible... or is it? How much easier would it be to finish everything we think we need to if we had limitless time on our hands to do it in? Forget to write that 10-page term paper because you went out partying instead? No worries; after you sober up, you can just go back in time and do all the homework you were supposed to be doing while you polishing off that case of Coors. Didn't finish accounting for the office's year-end expenditures because you were watching Monday Night Football instead? Forget about it; now you can just step into your time machine and work on the project while your counterpart sleeps. Does any of this sound like it was ripped from the pages of a science fiction or fantasy novel? The idea of time travel appeals to many, but the theory of traveling to the past has been mostly relegated to the realms of fantasy novels and movie gimmicks. It would likely surprise many Americans to learn that the United States government has been funding time travel research since the 1950s. The overall explanation of space-time can be said thusly:

 

Imagine the Earth sitting on a grid representing space-time. Earth's mass deforms the grid like a bowling ball on a trampoline. The Earth has more than mass, though. It also has motion in the way it spins on its axis. The Earth's spinning twists space-time in the direction of the rotation, according to the 'frame-dragging' theory. Einstein's theory predicted that Earth's spin would twist the orbit [of passing satellites]...fast moving objects appear to stretch time. When ultra-precise clocks were flown on supersonic jets, they [the clocks] slowed by 0.0000001 second (Horner).

 

Though the amount of time slow down seems infinitesimal, it is significant: up until this point, science had never witnessed speed have an effect on time. About the only things science understands about time is that it can be tracked-we do this everyday with our watches and clocks-and that speed, energy, and mass have a profound effect on it. But to create a machine capable of sending people or objects back in time, we would need sophisticated tools far more advanced than our technology currently allows. These kinds of tools seem amazingly distant to our 21st century minds, but almost no one at the turn of the previous century thought that man would be able to control the atom, and yet, thirty years later, the United States ended a war with the atomic bomb.

Some scientists believe that today's first graders might be able to travel back to 1863 to research their high school history essays on the Civil War. But if that possibility becomes fact, what problems might arise? The foremost concern is that we might create a paradox. A paradox is defined as a thing which appears to contradict itself but may really be true. An example would be if a man went back in time and wooed his own grandmother, would he be his own grandfather? Would this hypothetical time traveling man cease to exist because his real grandfather never gave life to his parent? Then, the man would never be born to go back in time, and the grandfather would meet the grandmother and the man would be born, travel back in time.... "What if you went back and warned Julius Caesar that Brutus intended to stab him? All of history would be different. Little we know would exist...in fact, it's possible that we could build a time machine and find it won't solve anything. Paradoxes have led some scientists to theorize that there are many parallel universes on constantly splitting time paths" (Maney).

So, perhaps time travel will not solve our time management woes. In the end, each of us is only given twenty-four hours in a day; we can fill them however we choose. We can cram every minute full with one activity or another, we can learn to prioritize, we can develop a time traveling device to finish everything we believe we must, or we can let go of the time obsession that has gripped our culture. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Perhaps we should heed this wise man's advice and adopt parts of his lifestyle into ours. After all, our lives are already moving at warp speed, and we would have to move even faster to travel through time. The time has come that our society take a step back and make a conscious decision to slow down. But we had better make up our minds quickly; time is running out.

Works Cited

Horner, R. Scott. "Earth Warps the Material of Space and Time." The Spokesman Review. 19 Apr. 1996: C10.

Kelly, Alice Lesch. "What's the Rush?" Shape. Aug. 2001: 102-106

Maney, Kevin. "Perhaps Time Travel Could Solve Our Terrorism Problems." USAToday. 18 Sep. 2002: B.03.