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March 16, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The History of the Future

Salient editor Jackson James Wood travels forward in time to explore the philosophy of history, the wrenching effects of time travel and Wellington in the year 2040.

On the Ability of Humans to Time Travel

Humans have long debated the essence of time and what is meant by history. For us the concept of time is something that rules over us: POLS 111 at 10am, ANTH tute at 2pm. The covert hegemony that we constantly carry around strapped to our wrists is smothering. I want to break free of this linear prison that is being built for me one nanosecond at a time.

History of the future timeline

Our concept of time is molded by the fact that we, for the most part, perceive it as a one-way trip to Nowheresville.

To devise a means of first travelling forwards in time in a way so one doesn’t have to experience the time between point A and B is rather important. I am impatient and all I really want to do is figure out which iPredict stocks to buy next week. So a synergy of philosophy, history and physics is needed to prep for this journey.

A Conception of Future History

The past is gone. The future is soon and we’re stuck in now. You can’t help but live the moment. There have been many theories about time and the philosophy of history. Since time is something that is subjective to the person experiencing it, it seems appropriate that, before you can time travel, you need to be in the right mental state.

Einstein’s theories on general and special relativity are a good starting point, as are Quantum Theory, string theory and Wikipedia.

Stephen Hawking—that lazy, wife-beaten cunt—in his usual dash-everyone’s-hopes-on-the-rocks-of-his-intelligence fashion, rains on my time travel parade. He has this really logical theory that, if humans have invented time travel, then someone would be making a buck off it. No time tourists—no time travel. My personal hero—Carl Sagan—whose corpse could not only fuck Hawking up in a fight, but could make decent blueberry pancakes, said: “Fuck Hawking, time-tourists are disguised.”

After extensive reading it became apparent that the easiest way to travel through space was to build a device that could open up a wormhole. It would bend space-time in on itself and with the use of quantum mechanics could unfold space-time. This can be achieved by dividing by zero at the same time as one atom of Helium touches an antimatter Helium atom, 3He.

History, by definition, is the study of the past based on the texts of humans. There are squabbles within the discipline on the correct unit of study. Should we focus on the entire species or the individual? Are there patterns or cycles; does history repeat? [pg. 20–21] Is there an ultimate goal? If you don’t lay down a solid philosophy of future history in your mind before you time travel you risk ending up some backwater of a hole like the Palaeos Mesozoic era chatting to a Triceratops who has a better grasp on Arabic than you ever will.

Building the Device

You may have seen movies or read science fiction novels about time travel. Sexy stainless steel cars, police boxes with sexy girls in them, or perhaps buff, cut, naked Terminators dropping in from the future within a sphere of energy. They are all wrong. Time travel is not sexy at all. Well, it could be sexy. In theory you could put your device into a DeLorean and have a hot babe sitting beside you, but this is Salient, we don’t have the funds for fancy props like that. So I got stuck with a refrigerator box and Guy Armstrong.

Guy is a fairly practical man and also a whole lot more sciencey than most. After long hours drinking scotch in the office and pouring (it) over Einstein, Hawking, Sagan and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we finally had a brainwave. Buy a ready-made time machine off the internet. A quick search of TradeMe found that we were out of luck. There was however a secondhand vintage piece that some dude in Opotiki was selling. It just needed a flux capacitor.


I hit a wall. The flux capacitor that I bought off PriceSpy turned out to be a dud and my limited knowledge of quantum physics was beginning to show. “There must be an easier way to write this feature,” I thought to myself as I kicked over a bucket of spare parts. Future. Sex. Love. Sounds. Clairvoyants!

A quick search on revealed 32 listed clairvoyants—Or “New Age Professionals” as they like to be called—in New Zealand. I immediately discarded all hits that were only open during business hours and narrowed my search to ten psychics.

Grint’s Psychic Circle was the longest running and the only one that accepted the American Express card that VUWSA issued me with when I became editor. Amex in hand, I headed downstairs to Jasmine’s office to call the 0900 number.

Kicking back in the President’s office, scotch in hand and committing what is technically a handful of sackable offences, comes naturally to a journalist under pressure and I sure… “Grint’s Psychic Circle, Roslyn speaking.”

JJW: Hi, I ummmm, well I just wanted to ask some questions about…

Ros: Let me guess: The future—ahh but you are surprised, I know. You’ve come to the right place my son, we will tell your future.

JJW: But that’s the thing Ros—I can call you Ros right?

Ros: Sure.

JJW: I don’t want to know so much about my future as ours.

Ros: You and me?

JJW: No no no, I mean ours as a country. You, me, John Key.

Ros: Hold on, I’ll just have to talk to my supervisor.

JJW: [Looks over at Guy Armstrong who is toking on a bukkie in the corner] She’s talking to her supervisor!

Guy: I bet she’s like a reptilian shape-shifter from Uranus with a plus 37-damage sword of Gildor down her pants. ABORT!

I slammed down the phone and we ran giggling from Jasmine’s office back up the two flights of stairs to Salient where my time machine lay strewn around the office.

“We’ll never get this darn thing to work.”

Guy reached into his ever-present backpack and pulled out a small metal object.

“I got just what you need, baby.”

Wellington 2040

Two major events have changed the way Wellington is constructed. The first of those was inevitable: a major earthquake.

During the early hours of 21 December 2012 a massive earthquake struck the fault line that lies directly under Wellington. Premier House was swallowed into a great crack in the earth. Unfortunately, second term Prime Minister John Key was at his Hawaii holiday home for the Christmas recess.

The 7.6 Richter earthquake tore along the Wellington Fault, liquefying much of Kelburn hill. The great subsidence of Kelburn Park, Weir House, Wai-te-ata Road and Fairlie Terrace sent a wave of debris into the lower lying areas.

Many of the old wooden houses in Newtown and Aro disintegrated in a holocaust of flame. Initially helpless, as many as one quarter of the city’s population perished that day, with almost another quarter dying before the new year.

With much of the city in ruins, the capital was moved indefinitely to Auckland.

The reconstruction effort took a while to get up and going because of the geographical isolation of Wellington, since all major roads in had been severed. The Wellington City Council worked closely with central government to put in place a strategic plan to ensure that Wellington did not make the same mistakes twice.

A high-speed train connection between Wellington and Paraparaumu was constructed and the large part of Wellington’s domestic air services were transferred to the satellite city.

Strict building codes were put in place and by 2020 Wellington was rid of its communist concrete buildings and has been redeveloped to provide safe housing, open public spaces and a public transport-oriented roadway.

The second major event was man-made: climate change.

In 2009, Victoria University climate change professor Martin Manning had been predicting a rise in sea levels of between 1.6 and 2 metres by 2100. He put a big fat caveat on that though: “We are starting to see things happen so quickly that it’s a struggle for science to keep up.”

Science did not keep up to the rising water levels that hit almost two metres by 2035.

The rapidly rising water levels meant one of two things for Wellington. Either fortify or abandon. The Kiwi spirit prevailed, and construction of two locks between Palmer Bay and at the northern tip of Breaker Bay on the Miramar peninsula began in 2018.

The construction of the locks ensured that Wellington could keep using the port facilities for transport and shipping, as well as safeguarding from tidal surges and inclement weather.

This was only half the problem though. Levees were constructed along Lyall and Island Bays to ensure surges did not wipe out Wellington’s southern suburbs.

The Te Whanganui-a-Tara Locks were officially opened in 2028 by former Prime Minister and UN Secretary General Helen Clark, who was still looking sprightly for her 78 years.

These two events shaped not only Wellington’s history, but the future of the entire country.

“We’re that smart”

It wasn’t until 2017 that the government moved back to Wellington. The five years of Auckland exile had changed the politicians and the implications of such massive disasters that Government could not immediately deal with weighed heavy on the public’s shoulders.

I decided to go up to Victoria to see if anyone I knew was still hanging around.

Kelburn has changed. The Student Union Building slipped across Salamanca Road and ended up at the bottom of The Terrace Gardens. The earthquake did major damage to Victoria University and the Campus Hub Redevelopment, which had only just got underway when the quake struck. The washing of the old clay patch clean meant a new start and Shiny Things for Vice Chancellor Joe Beaglehole to play around with.

I wandered into the Politcs Department only to bump into Professor Steve Barnes, who took over as Head Politics lecturer in 2033. He filled me in on the political state of New Zealand.

“The political landscape has changed. Labour and National have faded away to become large minor parties. The political winners of the past thirty years were the Greens.

“The Party itself came to the realisation that it had to change because the environmental situation was deteriorating as rapidly as the political. They lurched to the centre but retained their ecological principles. It paid off because after a series of electoral reforms the Green Party formed a minority government with Labour as its supply and confidence partner.

“There is a lot more emphasis on individual responsibility. After the earthquake—well you couldn’t count on the government to ride in and save the day like they had for the past 100 years. It is done in a typically Kiwi fashion though. It is a real community feel where you help those around you and they help you.”

Then I asked the question that so many essays have been written about: is New Zealand a republic yet?

“You’re just in luck, during the election of 2035, New Zealanders voted on whether to become a republic. The resounding answer was yes, with almost 70 per cent of people voting in favour of the change.

“We didn’t do it willingly though. Australia became a republic in 2028. We still didn’t have a constitution then, let alone discussion. We’re that smart!

“Mind you, we did a pretty good job of ensuring that things didn’t change too drastically. The President is appointed by a super majority of Parliament. We got our first president last year, in time for the bicentennial in 2040…”

And just who was our first president, Professor Barnes? “Do I have to say?” he answered, “let’s just say that 10 years after winning the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1987, some of the citizens felt very strongly that if he could lead us to victory of the field, he could lead the country.”

I left Steve to facepalm out of his depression that our first President was indeed an All Black captain.


As I walked around Kelburn campus I got to thinking about how weird it is that this generation of people—poised on cusp of generational shift—have never known life without the internet. Generation-W(iki), as they’re now called, appear to know everything. But the illusion is fleeting.

Well, over 95 per cent of New Zealanders have internet access primarily on WiMAX MIMO-AAS networks, which cover 98% of the country. If you imagine the speed of internet in 2009 and then quadruple it, then quadruple that again, then you are somewhere in the range of what data speeds are like.

The internet itself has grown exponentially. There are now over 5 trillion unique URLs— although this has proved to mean nothing as the ongoing trend to store your entire life in electronic form has reached an almost perverse conclusion.

Neural networking software is starting to come into the mainstream. Although opposed initially by the Green government in 2034, legislation was passed in 2038 allowing computers access to the every thought, emotion and chemical imbalance of its owner.

I talked to some students about their workloads, and found that nothing has changed. Still the same minimal state support for students, huge loans, long working hours in hospitality jobs, et cetera. I bumped into Tristan Egarr, who took up a professorship in History in 2037 after a long and prestigious academic career at Otago University.

Times had not changed with Tristan. He actually had this very article with him, tucked away in the back of a manila folder, and creased with time.

“Should I just read off it?” He asked me, “Perhaps I could just give you this copy of an article that you haven’t written yet. Would that be plagiarism? Who knows? Oh, I have been waiting for this for quite a while, Master Wood.”

Just as Tristan would have done in 2009, he launched into some sort of metaphysical debate, not really with me, but more against himself.

“Your journey through time contradicts the common view—often traced back to Christian eschatology—that time runs in a straight line from Creation to Armageddon, with a bit of a redemption party with Jesus’ wine at the end of it all. However, Saint Augustine believed that all time exists at once in God, and that only the imperfection of the human mind makes it appear linear; Heidegger, despite his atheism a great admirer of Augustine, believed the imperfection is a fear of death, this fear forcing us to view time as a journey towards death.

“You have cut this lifeline, though perhaps your non-linear trajectory was itself inspired by a desire to put off your impending death. And of course, much Hindu philosophy had already described time as circular, long before Augustine hit the scene, in which case you have crossed from one point in the circumference to another by passing through the diameter, rather than taking the everyday long route around the outside.

“If we return to a moment to what Saint Augustine said about the human mind forcing time into a line, the historian Hayden White argued that most accounts of history force chaotic historical occurrences into four narratives: the romantic, in which the hero transcends the story; the tragic, in which he is broken down by the impending weight of the story; the satiric, in which the story ironically knows that it is lying to him; and the comic, in which it all works out okay.

“White believed these narratives were falsely created by historians, but another historian, David Carr, argued that people force time into narratives as they live it and that such narratives have very real effects on events—so, for example, Hitler interpreted Germany’s defeat in World War One as part of a grand narrative into which he attempted to plot its future—but because there are always multiple protagonists acting at once, the narratives of time are all incomplete and in conflict with each other.”

Seemingly content with his soliloquy Tristan shot me a wry smile and pulled a fifty bag out of his duffel coat and said: “It’s legal now, meow!”

A Death in the Family

As the 55-year-old Tristan and I hazed out in the remains of the Mount Street cemetery I had one of those painfully lucid moments that only comes when you’ve inhaled copious amounts of ganja. “Am I still alive? Can I meet myself?” I asked Tristan.

He giggled and replied, “I was wondering when you were going to ask that.”

He took me back to his office. “You see, Jackson, after China landed three Taikonauts on the moon in 2020, the race was on to get back there. The Helium-3 alone was enough to make it worthwhile and with the Space Elevator completed in 2038, well, you get the idea. Commercial companies started offering trips. Just so happens you were on the unlucky flight… sorry man.”

“You mean I died in a huge flaming ball hurtling though space?


“Cooooool! I can live with that.”

Reversing Polarity

It had to happen sometime. I had to get back to the present day so that I could write this feature for all of you to read, although I will be surprised if you make it this far. Tristan left me with some touching parting thoughts for my journey back to 2009.

“The great earthquake of 2012 allowed the University their narrative of community reconstruction and renewal, but this conflicts with the narrative of the prophets for whom the earthquake proved forever the futility of building Shiny Things.

“Your own personal narrative skips the events that made the aforementioned narratives possible, but is in itself just as valid. Finally, it is worth considering the revelations of the great multiple-worlds philosopher Terry Pratchett, who described a group of History Monks who pump excess time from where it is not needed, such as the inside of a mountain (after all, how much time does rock need?) to where it is needed, such as factories and university examination rooms.

“It may be that you were wasting your own time running a magazine for apathetic students, and that, realising University Management would need more time to rebuild after the earthquake, the monks took some of your time and gave it to Pat Walsh. Given that this means you remain young and handsome while Pat remains a zombie, I must concur with the monks that their decision was correct.”

A quick hug from Tristan and a conversation about the paradox I was creating in the time-space continuum was all I needed to crash-land back four months prior to me leaving.


About the Author ()

The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (9)

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  1. Graeme Edgeler says:

    Stephen Hawking … rains on my time travel parade. He has this really logical theory that, if humans have invented time travel, then someone would be making a buck off it. No time tourists—no time travel.

    I’m not usually one to think myself smarter than Stephen Hawking, but the standard theoretical mechanism for time travel is a worm-hole. You create the worm-hole, and move one end of it really fast (or stick one end of it in a high gravity field, then go through it at some point in the future. Time has moved on at one end of it much faster than the other, and you can either go forward in time, or go back from the future, but you cannot go back to a time before the worm-hole first opened without having the moving end of the worm-hole break the speed of light.

    The problem

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    Graeme is sucked into a wormhole half way through writing his comment

  3. Kerry says:

    J –
    you wasted yourself on a Pols major, you should so have been doing Modern Letters. Your fiction is far better than your journalism (assuming the definition of journalism as a treatment of facts, in due time to inform readers of events…)

  4. Moomama says:

    I don’t get it….

  5. goku_karori_28 says:

    smirk nice back to the future fan fiction heh

  6. Jackson Wood says:

    Prediction-fiction? Is there such a genre? Most of what happens in this is based on studies, actual planned dates and reasoned guesses.

    The thing that interested me the most—Rory put me on to it—that Generation Wiki, people who have only ever known the internet (Bks!? WTF?!?!?!?!1), will be the movers and the shakers in 30 years time. I wish I could have concentrated on that a little bit more.

  7. Superior Mind says:

    More reliable that Nostradamus and less cryptic too.

    Basically I want to know what you guys at Salient are on this year. Reading Salient through lectures is no longer an option because people are starting to complain about the strange snorts and supressed giggling heard from somewhere down the back of the lecture theatre. I tried to explain about the mole people that live in the depths of Hugh MacKenzie, (just beneath the surface of theatres 001, 002 and 003,) but no-one seems to believe me because of the stupid grin plastered across my face.

    Which is stupid right because everyone knows about the mole people.

  8. Jackson Wood says:

    I’d like to think that it is my editorial leadership. But alas, it has very little to do with me, and more to do with the people I have assembled around me.

    The answer—by the way—is: cocaine. Sweet, sweet cocaine. The office is awash with the stuff after Seb got back from South America.

    Come by the office sometime: I’ll give you a handful or two.

  9. Patrizia says:

    The way you presented the dates and events is highly subjective and provides a distorted picture of what really will be going on — or has been going on, depending on when you actually are. For instance you don’t mention the sudden increase of the divorce rates by three times in 2013, although you provide quite a lot of information about this specific year, and neither that German tennis star Boris Becker breaks or broke his leg one year later. But well, maybe you only provide the political and not the social history of what you call future. Anyway, my main complaint is that I am not mentioned, either.

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