Traveling through time – what trade goods should we take?
7/5/2011 4:42 PM EDT
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for stories about time travel. In 1963, when I was only six years’ old, I remember watching the very first episode of the now-world-famous British television science fiction series Dr. Who. I observed this spectacle from a position of safety behind the sofa in my parents’ front room. I was hooked from that point on.
As an aside, if you are a Dr. Who enthusiast, you can still get your hands on those first episodes (Click Here for more details). These early, low-budget programs are now really dated of course, but it’s a great trip down memory lane for those of us who were there at the time.
And what about the 1960 version of H.G.Wells’ Time Machine (Click Here to see the DVD on Amazon) – the one starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. I don’t know how old I was when I first saw this; I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have let me see it when I was too young, but I do remember it being a real thrill. In fact I was just checking it out on the Wikipedia; I knew that the lead character was called George, but it’s only now that I discovered it was supposed to be H. George Wells himself (there’s always something new to learn).
With regard to the new Dr. Who, I just finished watching the complete fifth season a couple of days ago - the one starring Matt Smith. What a nail-biter that was toward the end – I was completely drained at the conclusion of the final episode. I was also a little sad, because now I have to wait for the sixth season to come out on DVD. But I was just bouncing around Amazon a few minutes ago when I discovered that there is a Christmas Special called the Dr. Who Christmas Carol – I have no idea how I missed that – I just ordered a copy so now I have (a) something to look forward to and (b) a silly grin on my face.
Do you recall my earlier column What’s the best time-travel book/film ever? In the comments, someone recommended a story called Lest Darkness Fallby L. by Sprague de Camp. Although this tale – which involves a guy from "our time" being transported back to Ancient Rome – was written quite a while ago, it’s still well worth a read.
Obviously I know that the chances of my travelling through time are on the small side (apart from the way we all do it, aging day after day, which isn’t quite the same thing as hopping in a time machine). However, I often ponder what trade goods I would try to take with me if the occasion ever arose (seriously, doesn't everyone?)
Let’s start by considering what would be good to take if you were traveling backwards in time. Thinking about it, you would probably want to take different things depending on how far back you were going. So let’s say we’re going back 2,000 years or so. It’s a one way trip and we have to pick some trade goods to take back with us.
The main thing is that whatever we take needs to be relatively small and light and (in my case) affordable. Let's set some limits and say that whatever we take has got to be something we can carry in backpacks and/or as hand baggage. Also, it’s got to be something that the folks we meet back then will accept as something that could be made by someone somewhere, even if they don’t know how. In particular, we can't take anything get us mistaken as practitioners of evil magic and dealt with accordingly. Having said this, it would probably be a good idea to take a gun and sufficient ammunition to protect our wares until we had established ourselves.
Small mirrors might be good to have, because even the ones you can buy from the “Dollar Store” these days are far superior to anything they had back then. Another thing that might go down well would be aluminum foil. And what about fish hooks?
The thing that started me thinking about this again is that yesterday evening I saw a television advert for the Easy Thread Needle (I just found the same video clip on YouTube as shown below).
This really blew me away. If there was one thing I couldn’t imagine improving it would be a sewing needle – and yet someone has managed to do it. Now, imagine taking these needles (along with a lot of reels of modern sewing thread) back through time. Surely there would be some trading potential here…
Alternatively, what about a trip in the other direction? Suppose we had one day to prepare for a one way trip 1,000 years in the future? We obviously can't plan for every possible eventuality (like being faced with a radioactive wasteland), so let’s assume that we are reasonably confident that humankind won't have wiped ourselves out and that our decedents have actually done quite well for themselves; perhaps they even have colonies on the Moon and Mars and some of the moons of Jupiter.
So what could we put our hands on now that we could take with us that would have value in the future? Any ideas?