You’re a time traveler stuck in July 2012. How depressing. You have time on your hands. Time to kill, that is. How to pass the time?
Twitter, naturally. Great time waster. A true time sink. What to tweet about? Maybe the death of Ernest Borgnine or the Syrian uprising? Nah. Who wants to spend time reading that kind of thing? Why now tweet about stuff nobody yet knows about, stuff you do know about since you’re from the future!
You’d lead off with, “How about that #popefrancis?” followed by “Nobody saw #cometison coming. Heh.” And, because you’re a playful sort, you’d mix topics: “#cometison. A harbinger of #popefrancis?”
Of course, since Comet ISON wasn’t discovered until 21 September 2012 and Cardinal Bergoglio wasn’t made Pope until March 2013, nobody would have a clue what you’re going on about. You’d gain no followers. People would think you, like so many others on the interwebs, had slipped a knot.
But late in 2013 if we were to search for people using these hash tags, we’d be able to figure you were a time traveler, because how else could you know?
This kind of searching was the idea of Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson from the Department of Physics, Michigan Technological University, the true winter wonderland, in their “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers.”
Only it didn’t work. No time travelers came back to 2012, or slightly earlier, to tweet about a yet-to-discovered comet or yet-to-be-installed Holy Father.
The authors called the kind of tweets they did not discover “prescient information”, figuring only a time traveler would know about future events and then blow his cover on yakking about himself.
[T]ime travelers who want to advertise their presence may do so ineffectively, those who want to hide their presence might make a revealing mistake, and those indifferent might or might not leave traceable Internet content…
Were a time traveler from the future to access the Internet of the past few years, they might have left once-prescient content that persists today. Alternatively, such information might have been placed on Internet by a third party discussing something unusual they have heard.
What about the comet and pope?
Not being time travelers ourselves, we cannot know for sure what present-day labels will remain popular into the future, but focusing on modern renditions of terms used by historically long-standing and internationally known institutions seemed pragmatic. Based on these criteria, two main labels were chosen: Comet ISON and Pope Francis.
So there. Incidentally, why did they use Twitter and not Google?
Although providing the ability to sort identified content by date, several exploratory tests on Google found an initially surprising number of web pages that contained seemingly prescient information. Upon further inspection, however, all potentially-prescient content on those web pages was clearly non-prescient.
Anyway, all that passive searching didn’t work. Why not something bolder?
A post was created in 2013 September…[and] time travelers were requested to respond with a communication including either the hashtagged term “#ICanChangeThePast2” or “#ICannotChangeThePast2” on or before 2013 August.
If a time traveler saw the message and then came back he’d surely admit whether he’s there to see who won this year’s World Series and so alter his bank account. Right? Consider: “in a plastic history universe, a time traveler might have the ability to go back and change history so that the Wars of the Roses never occurred”. I’d rather the time traveler stopped World War I, but we all have our favorites.
Bad news, though. “Unfortunately, as of this writing, no prescient tweets or emails were received.” But the good news about science is that the research never ends. “[W]e will continue to search, on occasion, for active tweets and emails involving potential time travel.”
I don’t see how time travel tweets don’t involve the standard and well known time-traveling paradoxes, but I’m willing to be educated. Maybe there’s some other way to use the Internet to smoke out the time travelers among us. You guys have any ideas?