A recent article in The Atlantic, which reported on a recent Pew Poll on attitudes toward technological advances, noted that one of the most popular futuristic devices people desire is a time machine.
It also noticed that there seems to be a split between younger and older people with the former more likely to want a time machine than the latter. The main reason that could be figured out was that older people have already lived in the past and some parts of it have been unpleasant, the deaths of friends and loved ones and so on.
This conclusion does not make any sense. There are so many more uses for a time machine than just reliving past parts of one’s life. A great science fiction examination of this question was written about 40 years ago by David Gerrold called “The Man who Folded Himself.” There are so many things one could do with a time machine that it is remarkable that anyone would not want one.
What one would do while traveling in the past depends on whether one wishes to (or could) change history. If one wants to experience history there are all sorts of opportunities for time travel tourism. It doesn’t have to involve watching epochal historical events. Watching a play by Shakespeare at the Globe Theater in London or listening to the Ninth Symphony conducted by Beethoven would be a once in a lifetime experience.
Changing history can be a little tricky because of the law of unintended consequences. Shooting Hitler when he was a young man might prevent World War II or make it worse with a more competent leader rising to power in Germany. Giving your past self stock tips or the point spread in the 1980 Superbowl has a certain appeal. But would a richer you be a happier you? There is only one way to find out. Saving a loved one who died of a preventable cause would be an even greater temptation.
Going to the future would also have some appeal. From taking a space vacation to picking up a medical treatment that would add decades to ones lifespan would certainly be good things. One should hope that the future is more like “2001” and less like “The Road Warrior,” though finding out would also be good to know.
The bottom line is, young or old, having a time machine would open up all sorts of possibilities, some good and some not so good. One would just have to exercise a little judgment before heading off to the past or the future.