It’s time to start training time travelers.
Picture the scene at the NATTA (National Aeronautics and Time Travel Administration). There is the time traveler (NATTATT) in period costume, and surrounded by his or her advisors who give advice on language, usage, accent, on local history, on the anthropology and sociology of life in the time period, on politics, family life, food, clothing styles, on built form, material culture, and popular culture.
Our NATTATT must “pass.” He or she must escape detection. For the consequences of detection are cataclysmic. The NATTATT would be quizzed, perhaps tortured. Secrets of the future would be revealed. People would begin betting on imagined scenarios. The past would go ass over tea kettle and so would the present. Imagine leaving in a present that had new turbulence in its past. We think we live in a turbulent world now.
1) time travel will someday be possible. We will move through time as we move through space.
2) even if time travel is not possible, we should prepare for it anyhow. Why? It is, I believe, the single best way to teach history at high school and college.
NATTA colleges will be a lot of fun. Deeply grumpy historians will begin each term with a new cohort of recruits. Kids with more daring than brains or skill. The instructors will take them through the exact details of life in, say, 19th century London or 18th century New York. The students will be smart alecks who believe themselves invincible. Our grumpy instructors will have to persuade them otherwise. They will have to soak these kids in knowledge. And unlike some history courses, this will be knowledge with an edge, a purpose, an urgency.
Training a NATTATT will be like training an actor, spy, historian and improv artist. They will want deep resources of knowledge. It will take ‘just in time’ recall and, when necessary, daring and imagination. They must work with what they know and fake what they do not. They will have to swim like fish through conversations that are barbed as anything. We can craft our time traps to elicit breathtaking acts of improv (or failure). "Sorry, kid. You are not ready. One more failure and you must ring the bell."
Look at it this way. That person sitting beside you. She could be a time traveler. She is doing a wonderful job of passing. You would never guess. But what if she is, a time traveler? Certainly, it would explain why she choose to combine that scarf with that sweater. And that’s the thing, even tiny errors can be telling. (I have a friend who speaks English perfectly but he speaks it as a second language. He was "found out" when he said he was putting a billiard ball in the "middle" of the table instead of the "center" of the table. I know. This is a distinction too subtle for me. Still, he claimed it gave him away.)
After a term of exhaustive instruction, we will send the NATTATT into a “time trap” to see if they are ready. The time trap will be furnished with every kind of puzzle and temptation. The NATTATT will need to be able to spot the anomaly. The NATTATT will have to manage conversations at the bar, hotel, shop, and opera house. Is this person dressed in a way that signifies mourning, status, eccentricity, or fashion? The NATTATT will have to know how to respond. He or she will have to perform flawlessly, finding their way through conversations as if their lives depend upon it.
Of course we may never invent a time machine. But we can fund our preparedness out of an educational program that will achieve great things even if our students never get out of the 21st century.