It was a hot and smoggy sunny day in Brooklyn. Very hot. I mean it was like somebody had doused a planet with gasoline and then lit it on fire. That kind of hot. I stood in the middle of a sidewalk, beside one of the few lush parks in the city. I had stopped dead in my tracks because I just had to tweet something witty. I’m so witty.
So there I was just standing there, with my new (well, pretty new) black iPhone 5 held precariously in my hand. In my claw. The iPhone 5 was held precariously in my claw hand, because it’s kind of a little too big anyway, but I get an extra row of icons so that’s really nice. The glare from that fat old sun off my iPhone screen is almost unbearable (Unglarable? Perhaps I’ll draft that as a tweet for later). I’m holding the phone at around waist level, with my head tilted down. From behind, I know this pose looks quite a lot like a man using a urinal, but I figure since I’m standing like this in public nobody will probably care.
I’ve already made my tweet and I’m just standing there, feverishly pulling to refresh. Thank god for that gesture, I mean the iPhone 5’s screen is nice but if I had to reach all the way up to the top of that screen every time I wanted to make my Twitter feed refresh, my thumb would probably fall off. Not to mention the fact that the refresh buttons are almost always on the right hand of the screen. It’s kind of descriminatory to lefties like me, but the pull to refresh gesture is an equalizer. It’s a real innovation, really.
I’m pulling and refreshing because I just know the tweet I’ve made will set some people off, and I’d really like to know what they have to say back to me. The people who follow me on Twitter are witty like me too. You have to be, because you’ve just got to be focused if you want to make an impact on Twitter. This tweet will probably get me so many Favs, too. I’ll check my email, because I know Twitter will email me when someone retweets me now too. Nothing yet.
“What’s up there doods?” I hear from behind, clearly aimed at me, because it’s one of the phrases I use when talking to my close childhood friends (we’ll always like to poke fun at Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who seems to have a good sense of humour). I don’t recognize the voice though, so I turn around.
Standing behind me is a young kid of of probably twelve years old. He’s standing in my shadow, so as my pupils adjust to the change in lighting, I conveniently start to see more of his traits. He’s skinny. So skinny (is he sick? is he eating enough?). OK. Not that skinny. I was like that as a kid, too. He’s got messy brown hair, kind of curly, but really just messy. The wind hasn’t even been blowing in Brooklyn today because it’s too hot for even that, so his hair must just be messy. He’s wearing round glasses on his somewhat broken out face, and a t-shirt with cartoon characters I don’t quite recognize (the writing on it looks Chinese, which I happen to not be able to read, but I have an app on my phone that’ll translate it for me). He’s got rather quite large Adidas on his feet. They look like worn out flippers because he clearly hasn’t grown into his feet just yet. They’re awesome sneakers, though.
Of course, all of these descriptions really happen as thoughts inside my head in less than 500 milliseconds and I have no idea how they actually work. I can’t conceive of my own brain.
“Uh, hey kid” I say with a half smile, because remember, I just turned around like a second ago, so it doesn’t seem like there was a weird gap or anything. “Not much I guess” I’m making conversation but I feel a little out of place. Grownups aren’t supposed to talk to strange kids, especially not near a park. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Yes you do. I’m you. You’re me” he says without beating around the bush. I find it kind of hard to believe, because if I were about to reveal that, I think I would have tried for a little more dramatic tension.
“I’m you. I’m a younger version of you. I travelled through time to come talk to you.” He did look kind of familiar, now that I think about it. I don’t really believe him, but I’d just re-watched “Back to the Future” a few nights ago, and so time travel was still on my mind. I thought I’d humour him. It’d make for a great story, if nothing else. People tell me I’m good at telling stories.
“Well little Jason,” I say to myself, sounding more patronizing than I’d intended, “I don’t remember travelling through time when I was your age. Shouldn’t I have remembered travelling through time and meeting myself in the future?” I know a thing or two about the implications of time travel.
“Probably, but you don’t remember because you haven’t done it yet. I didn’t come from the past, I came from the future,” little Jason said. OK, that doesn’t make any sense, I thought.
“OK, that doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “You’re what, twelve right?”
“OK, so if you’re me and you’re eleven and I’m me and I’m twenty-five, how did you come from the future?”
“Things don’t always make sense to the past,” he said. “Some things seem unreasonable to generations, but later we learn they’re wrong. And it’s hard to teach that to the past, but with time machines, it’s a little easier”
“Sure, but I still don’t see how that’s possible, even if you had a time machine.” I was more curious than incredulous.
“OK, let’s take an example they teach in kindergarten. You’ve got two metal balls of the same size, one weighs four pounds, the other weighs two. You drop them both at the same time from the same height and see which hits the ground first. In old times, people used to think the heavier ball would fall faster, because it sorta makes sense. They couldn’t understand how both would fall at the same rate”
“You could show them, but that really wouldn’t convince them. Believe me, I’ve tried. But here’s the trick. Here’s how you get them to understand something that seems impossible. And it doesn’t always work right away, and it’s not an easy trick, but here’s what you do. You don’t convince them of anything, but you instead get them to convince themselves that it’s true.”
“And how do you do that?”
“You take another two pound ball, and you tie it together with the other two pound ball. The tie weighs nothing, so now you have a new shape that weighs four pounds. It’s made of two, two-pound shapes. How could it possibly fall any slower than the other four-pound shape?”
“Wow. Hmmm. That’s a neat way to look at it.” OK. He had me there.
“But I didn’t come here to talk about balls, Jason,” said little Jason.
“Well so to convince people of the past of these seemingly impossible things, you’ve got to get them to convince themselves. Sure, that makes sense. But what still doesn’t make sense is how you came from the future and yet you’re younger than me. You haven’t got me to convince myself of that yet”
“That’s what I came to talk about,” he said with a grin. “I can’t do it yet. I can’t actually get you to convince yourself that I’m you and you’re me yet, because you need to invent it. The tools you need to reason in that way just don’t exist yet.”
My phone in my pocket buzzed twice. This probably meant I’d gotten an email about a retweet. Yes.
“You’re telling me you travelled through time to convince me to make a tool to convince myself that you in fact did travel through time?” To say the least, I was little perplexed.
“Clear as mud?” His face told me he understood this clear as day. Meanwhile I understood this about as clear as the smoggy Brooklyn day.
“It seems like a pretty roundabout way to get things done.”
“Convincing yourself is just one implication of what you need to do. It’s a bonus, a result, but it’s not the goal you’re after. It’s not the goal we’re after.” he said to me. I said to me? “Don’t worry about the time travel details. Don’t worry about how I got here, or how old I am. That’s not important. What’s important is what you need to do. You can make things better.”
“Am I not doing that already?”
“You are, but you can be doing better. As generations go on, society as a whole learns more and more. They get smarter than those who came before them. They create new art, new forms and expressions, new tools to help them reason. These things extend our reach and let us think new thoughts we couldn’t possibly think before. They take the good and spread it around to everybody so everybody grows up in a better world.”
“This is pretty deep for an eleven year old. You sound like you know a lot.”
“Compared to the eleven year olds of today, I do. Because the time I live in, people have more tools at their disposal, they can think in more powerful ways, because they have tools to help them imagine new things. We’re running on the same brains you have here, but we’ve got help from our inventions. I need you to help invent those.”
“How do you suppose I do that? I’m don’t think I’m as enlightened as you seem to be, kid,” I said.
“And that’s my whole point. You’re not enlightened now, but you’ve got to start. Make a tool, reason better, so you can make a better tool, and reason even better. And so on. That’s how it goes. You start slowly, for now you’ll have to make ‘software’, I guess. It’s the best tool you have in your time.”
“I already do that. I make software for a living, you know.” It’s my job and I’m quite proud of it, I thought to myself. “And besides, software is for networking and photos and news and videos anyway,” I said.
“You’ve got the right skills but you’re doing terribly limited things with them, you know. Your software pulls information from one computer and shows it on a smaller computer, and sometimes it sends it in the other direction. Who is doing higher reasoning with that?” That hurt. “It’s like you’re a really great drawer, but all you draw are stick people. That’s great and there’s a time for that, but there’s so much more to the world. You could discover some of the really big things my time is based around. You can’t even see it yet. At all. But you can get there.”
I felt like I was going to collapse. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was what little Jason had just told me. Maybe it was what little Jason had just convinced me of. My phone buzzed furiously in my pocket.
“Leave your phone, it’ll wait. You can’t explain this in a tweet. You can’t explain this on your website, although I’m sure you’ll try. You won’t be able to explain it with your software, just quite yet, but you can get closer,” he said.
“Do you ever get the feeling like there’s something you’re missing? Like something standing right in front of you, but it’s invisible? You can feel the wind, but you can’t see it and you don’t know what the air is, but you know it’s there.” I could feel the air.
Little Jason smiled. “Chase that feeling. Humans figured out what the wind was. We built microsopes to see things our eyes couldn’t. And you can make tools to help us think things our brains couldn’t.”
My phone stopped buzzing.
“I’m young and this is the future I want to inherit” he said.
He said goodbye and hopped on his bicycle. His meager little legs pedalling with ease, he biked a lot faster than I could run.