TEDGlobal: Chris Wild wants to show you his time machine

Chris Wild modestly tells us that he’s created the best chat-up line in history: would you like to see my time machine? He’s happily married, so not in a position to use it, but he can show it to us.

The retroscope is an online portal made from hundreds of thousands of pieces of online content assembled into a timeline and structure for us to curate and explore.

He shows us a wormhole which begins from an image of the Oxford playhouse theatre. We can peer through the wormhole and see it in 1935, 1907… going down the street, we watch the change of Oxford College. And around the corner, we can go back and see the palace that existed on the corner through etchings from the 1600s.

We flip backwards and forwards in time, through the physical geography of Oxford and the underlying timeline.

Why do this? Wild tells us that, as a child, he wanted to go back in time. He told his career advisor this, and the man – wisely – encouraged him to work in libraries. And he did, but it wasn’t enough. Wild didn’t just want to learn about the past – he wanted to be there, to see what was lost and could be retrieved.

Most of us think about time as a moving pavement, taking us into the future, with our eyes fixed forward. Looking backward can be uncomfortable as you move forward. You can hear it in the dusty, sepia-tinged name: the past. So what if we tried another model of time? The sun radiates light, further and further. The first light is now the furthest away. Instead of looking back, we could look out at the timescape, as an index of creative possibilities – drafts of ways of being in the world.

Wild invites us to join him in investigating this set of possibilities. He reminds us that Joyce said, “I’ve created nothing… but I’ve forgot nothing as well.”

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