Packing your 70s Suitcase
August 23, 2017 5:40 PM   Subscribe

"What if you could send a package (let’s say suitcase-sized) to 1977? It will arrive at today’s date, minus 40 years. You can have it sent to whomever you like, but you can’t personally hang around and make sure it gets used properly. There’s nothing about this delivery that will convince the recipient that this package is from the future. There won’t be any flashing lights or vortexes or portals for them to see. All they see is the package on their doorstep, and they have no special knowledge of this experiment or your efforts. It’s up to your packaging to motivate the people of 1977 to open it and pay attention to the contents." Shamus "DM of the Rings" Young with an interesting thought experiment. Here's his own answer.
posted by Sebmojo (175 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Something to dazzle the natives and a fuckload of Microfiche on Climate Change.

Oh, and any and all available dirt on conservatives of the time not availabel back then - got to hobble the fuckers for it to be of any use.
posted by Artw at 5:54 PM on August 23 [45 favorites]


Shamus acts like information density is the big problem, but I don't see why I can't just buy a maxed out-iPad, load it with all the PDFs, ebooks, movies, and audio files I want with important knowledge, and send that, along with instructions to buy Apple Stock in my name as soon as it's available.

You could easily fit a dozen iPads in a suitcase. Throw in two dozen charging blocks and 400 lightning cables. That should last a while.

Who would I send it to? I'd want Jimmy Carter to see it ASAP, but I don't know what would happen if I just mailed a suitcase to the White House. I think maybe send it to Robert Frosch, the administrator of NASA. He could get the president's attention after he got a peek at what he had.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:55 PM on August 23 [35 favorites]


My standard "what would you do if sent to the past" style answer is "rent a car and hit J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn with it."
posted by The Whelk at 5:57 PM on August 23 [33 favorites]


The blog post and the comments I skimmed afterward seem to skip the most interesting point of the thought experiment:

I suppose it should go without saying, but I’m proceeding under the assumption that our goal is to somehow make the world a better place. “Better” in this case is entirely up to you.

I mean, the question is what makes the world 'better' and how some particular information/stuff from 2017 is going to make a difference. But all that seems to be ignored for the more trivial game of cramming as much information as possible in the suitcase: I mean, is massive amounts of information really going to make the world 'better?' If so, how?
posted by crazy with stars at 5:57 PM on August 23 [9 favorites]


I would send a suitcase full of properly fitting bras to my teenage self, since my mother refused to buy them for me.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:58 PM on August 23 [53 favorites]


Did this guy forget about the existence of microfiche?
posted by Automocar at 6:01 PM on August 23 [29 favorites]


Would I fit inside the suitcase?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:01 PM on August 23 [12 favorites]


Did this guy forget about the existence of microfiche?

Seriously.

I'm not entrusting the future to nobody bricking an iPad.
posted by Artw at 6:06 PM on August 23 [12 favorites]


Did this guy forget about the existence of microfiche?

The second link should point here where Shamus lists his answer and does indeed mention microfiche.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:06 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


This guy is way over thinking a stack of Wall Street Journals from January 1st of each intervening year with relevant stocks circled in red.
Also, I lived at the same address in 1977, so convincing me to open it wouldn't be all that hard.

Oh, you wanted me to help all mankind? Yeah, can't help you there...
posted by madajb at 6:06 PM on August 23 [16 favorites]


Some combo of Back the the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married probably covered all the bases on this, I think.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:08 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


A suitcase full of Apple and Microsoft stock, sent to myself. I promise I'll spend my eventual billions on humanitarian efforts. Honest!
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Ho boy, I'm not sending another suitcase back to 1977, not after what happened the first time.
posted by ejs at 6:14 PM on August 23 [139 favorites]


For the sake of argument, let’s say this is some sort of Nu-Trek alternate timeline deal. You’ll still be here in your familiar 2017, but somewhere out there will be a new alternate history / multiverse type thing where a new timeline will fork off from ours in 1977 and go a different way, based on your intervention.

I'm sure the rest of this is interesting but I'm struggling with the many ontological and moral quandaries of caring about what happens in a purported timeline I can never see or visit and whose existence I must take on faith.
posted by theodolite at 6:15 PM on August 23 [18 favorites]


On microfiche: V-mail, the American WWII system that shrank letters and other correspondence down onto microfilm for air transport.
posted by XMLicious at 6:16 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


The information technology questions are really interesting, but I think they're beside the point. If you want your package to have any effect, the recipient has to be able to internalize it -- not just literally comprehend the information, but take it to heart. I think you'd have to go for an emotional impact. Maybe send a carefully chosen teenager some Super 8 reels from the inauguration of President Obama, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, of Steven Universe. Something to capture the imagination and offer hope. If there's one thing that supposedly intelligent people have to learn over and over, it's that just warning people doesn't fix their behavior.

I don't think that there's anything anyone could do to change the current timeline to make it better without possibly making it apocalyptically worse. But if I had to take a shot, it's not Trump I'd try to stop, it's Roger Ailes.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:17 PM on August 23 [38 favorites]


I'd send a copy of "Back to the Future Part II" to a young Donald Trump.
posted by Phssthpok at 6:20 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Of course, once you start awarding yourself time travel and timelines, it's hard to say what will happen.....maybe sending film of the Berlin Wall opening would bring about a war, for example. Of course this is part of why the topic is fascinating.
posted by thelonius at 6:24 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


I think I'd manufacture fake evidence that a nuclear war had destroyed most of the world. Maybe irradiate and include an original copy of the U.S. Constitution or Britain's crown jewels or another artifact that could be verified as identical to its 1977 version.
posted by XMLicious at 6:25 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Oh god, he has one of the stupidest answers ever to the "why I'm going to studiously avoid politics" argument:

I know some people’s first instinct is to say they would use the suitcase to make sure their party wins. But look at it from the other side: If someone from the rival party was in charge of packing the suitcase, how would you want them to behave? Would you want them to tilt elections in their favor? Would you want them to expose scandals on your side, help conceal or avert them on their side, and present data that only supports their worldview? Wouldn’t that enrage you? Perhaps it might even strike you as villainous?

This is just so utterly headshakingly stupid that I can't even. Unilateral disarmament is a fool's errand, not to mention that he's avoiding acknowledging that 1977 is near a major political turning point that could easily be tipped over (for example, sending Reagan's medical file to Ted Kennedy would guarantee that Reagan's nascent candidacy in 1980 would soon be swarmed with rumors of whether or not he had Alzheimer's, cutting his feet out from under him and weakening the ascent of the modern right wing.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:25 PM on August 23 [27 favorites]


Phssthpok, I was just about to post "Sports Almanac, End Of Thread".
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:26 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


1977? I know EXACTLY who I would send that to and what.

1977 is when the James Black at Exxon's research arm would make a speech to its executives about climate change. 1977 is also when Peter Vail and other Exxon scientists would publish a groundbreaking/paradigm shattering/whole new discipline creating paper on sea level research. I do what I do today entirely because of this paper.

I would label the suitcase with something that points to the Book Cliffs, Utah, area and data, which is where Vail and others did a lot of their research. I would send it to Peter Vail with a copy of his paper and the subsequent ones he wrote, then include a few of the most important papers from the last 40 years that follow where their paper took geoscience to prove my credibility. Vail would recognize this because this isn't, you know sending pics of the moon landing to Aristotle and saying believe this! - it's a science he and others created. Also he would recognize more than a few of those names. He would recognize their style. He would recognize the data.

Then I would send him a few articles about Claire Patterson, the geologist who discovered how bad lead is for the environment and worked tirelessly to get rid of it. He would know who Claire Patterson is.

Then I would send him a bundle of microfiche. In that microfiche I would send him the hockey stick graph, the news articles denying climate change, pictures of Tampa in flood - all kinds of things. I'd carefully walk him through the last 40 years of research, publicity for, and then finally all of the denial. I would send him pictures of the emerging consequences. Then I would show him Exxon's role beginning the mid-late 80s in that denial and the executives in charge of that denial. I would give him James Black's speech and Exxon's ads in the early 00s. I would show him President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord.

And on top of that pile of 'fiche I would add a personal note, referencing a very special place in the Book Cliffs for him, with a picture of me standing there in my modern clothes and modern gear with the biggest shit eating grin on my face and tears streaking down my face because I was standing in a sacred spot of scientific history, and my note would say simply, "From one sequence stratigrapher to another - stop them."

Also just on a personal level I would include a little memo that says and for the love of god please define some of this stuff with better terminology because we're still arguing about it 40 years later.
posted by barchan at 6:28 PM on August 23 [193 favorites]


The second link should point here where Shamus lists his answer and does indeed mention microfiche.

It should indeed! I've alerted the mods to change that, sorry for the error.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:28 PM on August 23


Oh. He actually managed to get stupider about politics.

But Shamus, what about inherently political topics?

I’m not convinced there are that many. But if something has a risk of turning political in 1977 then my solution is to make it as dry and boring as possible. Just send them raw data with no editorializing. Rather than injecting my own opinion into things, I’ll just present the events in dry technical detail and without comment. It’s their world. They can figure it out.


Everything is political. EVERYTHING.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:29 PM on August 23 [18 favorites]


I tend to think that if you sent info from the future (as opposed to facsimiles of current info that was then secret to the recipient), it wouldn't break open the world by itself. It would become a nifty cultural artifact, showing up in zines, in the Fortean Times, then in the early internet -- a curiosity, like the Wow! signal. But even that would have its effect. The presence of UFOs in American culture, even though the original "mystery" was largely based on Cold War secrecy combined with rumors and human misperceptions, has had huge knock-on effects.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:29 PM on August 23


Wouldn't need a suitcase. An envelope would do. Two lists. All the Super Bowl and World Series winners for the next 40 years. And since I would be 28 at the time, I'd send it to myself...
posted by jim in austin at 6:32 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


The date is interesting. How about warnings about AIDS and condoms? Definitely information on climate change. And a gun and a map to the bin Laden compound in Saudi Arabia, before he moves to Afghanistan.
posted by etaoin at 6:32 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


The most impressive invention for me since 1977 was when MtG came out in '93.

The production of this line benefitted greatly from desktop digital publishing but didn't require it.

It's an interesting thought experiment about whether WotC and/or the nascent internet was necessary for MtG to see the immense success it did in the mid-90s. It certainly (?) wasn't blind luck, the way that game caught fire immediately upon introduction.

Here's THE game of the century buddy . . . don't screw it up!

Alternatively, an info kit to Steve Jobs telling him what he should have done in retrospect 1977-87 (Motorola 68000 is coming out in '79 . . . that Apple II is OK for what it is, but HERE'S what a real PC can do!)
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:32 PM on August 23


Did this guy forget about the existence of microfiche?
...
The second link should point here where Shamus lists his answer and does indeed mention microfiche.


Ha, in fact specifically he says, "Last week someone suggested using microfiche. This never occurred to me. While I saw a few microfiche machines in school, I never personally used one and and I’d actually forgotten they existed." (emphasis added)
posted by solotoro at 6:33 PM on August 23 [14 favorites]


I don't know this writer, and it's cool if science and technology are what he's fascinated by, but it's instructive how readily he identifies The Good with technical progress. I think quite a lot of people share this view, now. And, yes, if you could jump-start progress in medicine, alternative energy, or many other areas, you'd be doing a great deal of timeline good, probably. Certainly knowledge of climate change, as described in detail above, is in. But is there really nothing else we have to offer than science and tech? No political, artistic, spiritual, ethical, or philosophical information? I genuinely don't know what I'd include. Probably film would be the best way to try to communicate with and inspire a large audience. So, what? Ask Herzog to whip us up something?
posted by thelonius at 6:35 PM on August 23 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure who to send it to, but I figure a fuckton of microfiche climate change data, including things from the 70's that were not released until recently. A fuckton of health data, too. AIDS info. Some confirmed not-human events for the next few years - normally unpredictable celestial events, earthquakes, detailed climate data from some well-known location for a full year or two, something like that. Not a sports almanac, or any other manmade newsworthy things because that could change. I figure the geology of the planet is *probably* less susceptible to variations from introduction of new information.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:36 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


I think HIV/AIDS prevention -- and medical advances generally -- and kickstarting the climate change conversation before environmentalism got politicized are two low-hanging apples, things with a big reward and few anticipatable downsides.

I'd send the suitcase to a really wise, trustworthy person who is relatively well-connected (I think Pater A's suggestion of Jimmy Carter is good), with an introductory packet that will prove the authenticity of the suitcase and instructions to get packages of information to specific persons who are in the right place to implement a leap forward in their particular field.
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:39 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


Some confirmed not-human events for the next few years - normally unpredictable celestial events, earthquakes, detailed climate data from some well-known location for a full year or two, something like that

I'd also use a suitcase made of a composite material that they don't know how to make in 1977; help convince the skeptics that this is really something out of the ordinary.
posted by thelonius at 6:41 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


He's still going on about compact discs and DVDs as if they would be realistic for 1977, especially without players or readers.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:45 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Man, I don't know if sending The Matrix back is such a good idea. 1977 viewers might think that shit is actually true. Also, yeah, the Woz is a dangerous pick, and staying away from overt politics is probably wise.

My initial thought was that you'd have to vary your media densities/complexities according to a strategy for bootstrapping them up. So, paper -> microfiche -> solid state -> dvd or whatever makes sense, where you have just enough on paper to get to the next level and so on. I think you have to pick someone technically-minded to send the suitcase to, but also someone who's not of a disposition to Biff Tannen things up. My initial thought was Linus Torvalds but he was 8 at the time. Maybe RMS or Knuth? Maybe it makes sense to go with a fairly well-known and connected celebrity who could be trusted to get certain data to the right people... Fred Rogers, for example. I think if you go with a geek you can probably include more technical information whereas a non-geek celebrity probably needs some cultural artifacts to buy into the idea that this box is from the future.

I'd use crypto to time-control the release of information. I bet you could tune things pretty closely so that certain pieces of information wouldn't become available too soon, even accounting for leaps in transistor density caused by the information in the suitcase. At worst you could tune it for modern computing speed and not encrypt all the technical information about hardware techniques and architecture or w/e... they'll still get to it faster, but probably not any better than modern systems due to the information I can't provide (e.g. proprietary Intel techniques or some such -- which presumably alternate-1977 people will rediscover).

I think you'd be hard-pressed to decide what to leave out, ultimately. The modern internet gives us access to an unimaginable amount of information, and no matter how you slice it, all of it won't fit in the case. This is actually kind of useful, because it makes it hard to justify attempting to swing an election differently or undercut Springsteen by releasing Nebraska to the public 5 years before it would otherwise have come out, when there's actual life-saving one can do (climate change, earthquakes, hurricanes, medicines) as well as providing the tools to make more life-saving possible (computers, GPS, etc.).
posted by axiom at 6:45 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


He's still going on about compact discs and DVDs as if they would be realistic for 1977, especially without players or readers.

Yeah, the room's definitely different over there -- I'm not convinced there is *that* much more to be gained by stuffing the maximal amount of information in the thing and then figuring out how to help the 1977 person to access it without accidentally destroying everything

on preview, I take back my comment... :)
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:49 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


barchan, I would watch the hell out of that movie.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:49 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


All of this is reminding me of a novella that was nominated for a 2009 Hugo award, "Truth", by Robert Reed. In it, our point-of-view character is interrogating a prisoner who appears to be part of a group of terrorists from the future (and who authenticated his future-ness by way of soem upcoming supernovae etc). Hijinx, as they say, ensue.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:49 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


Obviously the introductory packet enclosed in the very laudable HIV and climate change case should include a few stock tips or superbowl winners to authenticate the suitcase and give the recipient a small capital infusion to help them actually fund doing stuff.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:51 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


Microfiche is it. My Ph.D. thesis -- written in 2010 -- was printed on microfiche (and stashed in a bunker). That stuff is fantastic.

And on top of that pile of 'fiche I would add a personal note, referencing a very special place in the Book Cliffs for him, with a picture of me standing there in my modern clothes and modern gear with the biggest shit eating grin on my face and tears streaking down my face because I was standing in a sacred spot of scientific history, and my note would say simply, "From one sequence stratigrapher to another - stop them."

Okay, this is good.

By all accounts, 1977 isn't early enough to avoid the AIDS epidemic entirely, but I'd hope it could be isolated. I'm not sure who to send it to -- someone in the CDC? -- but I'd include a stash of papers and the (industrial-scale) syntheses for AZT and several of the other drugs involved in HAART therapy. I might include the industry-scale syntheses for all of the World Health essential medicines.

In general, I think I'd throw in a huge stash of microfiche scientific papers -- I might include Science and Nature from 1977 onwards, plus a few of the high-prestige subject journals.

Probably also dirt about various political actors, of course. But scientific papers would be the most important thing.

(Depending upon who I was trying to target, I might try including some Nobel Prize winning work that hadn't been started in 1977, just to prove that I knew what I was talking about -- if the person were a chemist, I'd probably include the Suzuki coupling.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:52 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


There are other good answers here, but one thought is that regardless of what you send, you can buy an archival newspaper from 1 week in the future of whenever you send this thing, which will essentially prove its veracity (or maybe drive the person you send it to crazy?). That's far enough out where specifics like sports scores, accident reports, major surprising international news would all be difficult to predict, and also be difficult to change. Maybe also send them some self-interested thing to give them a buy-in, like the betting sheet from whatever horse races are being run tomorrow. On preview, what deludingmyself said.
posted by codacorolla at 6:53 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Oooh Thelonius - to that geologist I'd send him the new version of the Brunton transit compass, which is both instantly recognizable as an old school Brunton (hell, my Brunton is from around then) and yet an amazing advancement in technology (& uses new material), but wouldn't require anything new to operate (like a CD would); it would be instantly and intuitively usable. Plus he could use it for his research!

Also some Rite in the Rain notebooks, what the hell, he deserves it.
posted by barchan at 6:53 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


But is there really nothing else we have to offer than science and tech? No political, artistic, spiritual, ethical, or philosophical information?

My idea with faked evidence of a nuclear war is to push past some critical threshold I assume exists which would provide impetus for world peace. But, knowing how movie plots and Doctor Who episodes go, it would probably result in Trump becoming president even earlier and eventually ruling a unified U.S.-Soviet Axis.
posted by XMLicious at 6:55 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Oh, one packet goes to a high-ranking public health official and details everything that's come out about the actions of the tobacco industry.
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:56 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


1977, huh? That would be easy.
Outer envelope: To whoever finds this, please mail the letter. Spend the $100 on something nice. Thanks.

Inner envelope:
TO: 13 year old Bringer Tom, address in NOLA back then
RE: RUN
Roger, do not trust your parents. They are gaslighting you and they will sabotage your efforts to go away to school so don't waste your time with them. Prepare and get away from them at the earliest opportunity. You will know this when they [redacted] and you will be sure of it when they further [redacted]. Also, here is a list of stocks to invest in. Yes they don't exist yet and sound crazy but trust me. Scrape together $10K to invest and you will one day be able to own a large yacht.

Sincerely, your future self.

PS By the way, in case you wonder if this is some kind of prank, your favorite sexual fantasy is [redacted] and your stash of porn is hidden in the [redacted].
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:58 PM on August 23 [35 favorites]


If you want your package to have any effect, the recipient has to be able to internalize it -- not just literally comprehend the information, but take it to heart.

This is easy. Send it to your best ancestor that you have a lot of good time-progression photos of. Write a heartfelt note. Say, "You inspired me. I, your grandchild/nephew/whatever, know you can save us all."
posted by corb at 6:59 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


So, my feeling is that (as I said previously) 1977 puts us at a major crossroads politically - the modern right wing is poised for their ascent, but we're at a point that a few spikes in the road will throw them off course. Now, sending info to Carter sounds like it would be optimal, but he's a bit too much of a straight shooter, and I'm not sure he's got the instincts for the sort of knifefighting involved. So my target is going to be none other than Edward "Ted" Kennedy - he's got the instincts I'm thinking are going to be necessary.

Now, the idea of a pamphlet geared towards him to realize that I'm on the up and up is a good idea, so I'll steal that. I'd also include a few videos as well - one would be a set of videos showing him how much damage his indiscretions did to him politically, in an attempt to get him to give up on the Presidency, at least for 1980. Next would be a set of microfiche records, starting with the medical records for Reagan. Again, as I pointed out earlier, I'm pretty sure he knows enough to get it circulating, undercutting Reagan. Another set of documents would detail the 79 Iranian Revolution, and point out that it would not be able to be stopped at this point, but the US could counterbalance by forcing a more secular solution. Also, as pointed out, there would be a few more files on several notable ratfuckers like Ailes, Atwater, and Norquist.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:03 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


In case anyone thinks I am some kind of monster for not thinking of the bigger picture, in 1977 I did not expect to live to see the year 2000, or three unlikely years past that the age of 40. In 1977 we had not yet seen Wargames, The Day After, or Threads. In 1977 the military draft was done but a very recent memory for a young man and a thing that seemed like it could return at any moment to snatch you away to die half a world away from everything familiar. In 1977 the surveillance state was a nascent infant of its current self and getting away was still possible with techniques built on paper and graveyard and courthouse searches. In 2017 I know the world will last until 2017, but in 1977 I didn't even know that I would last this long. Each day I wake up thinking it's a miracle that I have seen wonders like the year 2000 and my 40th and 50th birthdays. If I could send a package back in time I would not have the hubris to believe I could change history without some kind of stupid blowback, but I would sure as hell change myself.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:11 PM on August 23 [8 favorites]


Ha, in fact specifically he says, "Last week someone suggested using microfiche. This never occurred to me. While I saw a few microfiche machines in school, I never personally used one and and I’d actually forgotten they existed." (emphasis added)

My apologies to Shamus. Of course, he then doubles down on it by saying "but whatever, I'd still rather send paper because of ill defined reasons that indicate that I don't understand how microfiche works"
posted by Automocar at 7:17 PM on August 23 [11 favorites]


I would send Rogue One on modern media and a good quality player and projector on which to play it to George Lucas to arrive on May 25. Just to fuck with him.
posted by hippybear at 7:21 PM on August 23 [22 favorites]


It occurs to me that a young person wrote this... as an old white guy, I can just send it to my 13 year old self.

If I only had a few minutes, I'd send the very same laptop I'm using right now... which already has an offline copy of Wikipedia on it (packaged in some software called Kiwix). If I had time, I'd load up most of my personal photos form the last 15 years on it, and lots of introductory text, etc.
I'd also toss in my cheapest digital camera, as it uses AA batteries, and has a 16GB card in it.

If I had more time, I'd make sure to include a working serial port. I'd throw in a few cheap digital cameras that take AA batteries, each with at least a 64 Gigabyte SD card.

Next, I think I'd go for getting everything required to build Linux, GIT, SVN, all of it, so that someone smart than me could deploy GPL 2 and 3 in 1977... and crush Microsoft.

Knowledge is the most powerful tool mankind has ever created... I've answered a similar question on Quora... which is why I now have the offline copy of WikiPedia, just in case... ;-)
posted by MikeWarot at 7:22 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Carl Sagan might be an interesting choice for a carefully curated infodump of scientific knowledge, for his interest in educating the public and for what Gerard Kuiper described as, "Some persons work best in specializing on a major program in the laboratory; others are best in liaison between sciences. Dr. Sagan belongs in the latter group." Or even Richard Feynman, but I'd hate to sway his career away in any way from his role investigating the Challenger disaster.
posted by barchan at 7:23 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I guess I ascribe more to the "butterfly flaps its wings" chaos theory of how an alternate history would work out. If you shipped a bag of turds to the doorstep of the Wahoo NE dog catcher in 1977, I think you shouldn't take an even money bet that (say) a Brexit vote would still have hapened in 2016 in that alternate timeline, let alone its outcome. So, a bag of turds it is!

Alternate answer: a letter, which details how to send an object the size of a suitcase back in time 40 years to 1937, and an exhortation that the recipient decide on her own what is best to send back.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 7:25 PM on August 23 [23 favorites]


Hell, put in there news about the Challenger disaster and what caused it, and also the Columbia. Let's save some lives and maybe save our space program a decade of lost time.
posted by hippybear at 7:25 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


I guess I would send them a 4G dongle since they probably have really shitty internet.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:27 PM on August 23 [18 favorites]


hahaha hippybear, that would be smarter!
posted by barchan at 7:27 PM on August 23


If we're doing 40-year time traveling suitcases, can I get 2057-me to send 2017-me a suitcase containing some post-singularity nano-assembler magic AI dust first? I promise to pass it along to 1977.

...most of it.
posted by allegedly at 7:29 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


If you want to save more time, just show them what an utter waste the Shuttle program was over the decades.

>I'd hate to sway his career away in any way from his role investigating the Challenger disaster.

He was fed the info about the o-rings, and he was already dying of cancer when asked to join.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:31 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


A guy who worked with my high school youth group worked doing something he couldn't talk about at a nearby missile research facility and he gave me a magazine that explained all about the o-rings about 4 months after the Challenger exploded. I think it was another year before that was really made official.

Also, I guess I think the Shuttle program was worth it simply for Hubble and being able to repair it in orbit because fuckgoddamn Hubble YAY!

It did a lot of other useful things, too. It helped build much of the ISS and I think ran supply missions for them for quite a while, too. We're only now developing (by private developers) reusable components for ISS supply missions.

It was never intended to be anything other than a way to access orbit and come back down. It allowed a lot of things to happen that would have been impossible with a capsule-on-top-of-a-rocket kind of delivery system.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


barchan, I would watch the hell out of that movie.

Same. Barchan, you want to write that short story?
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:40 PM on August 23


My first thought is that the suitcase creates a new and duplicate timeline from this one so you might as well just stop fretting and send a ton of random shit to the past and create whole shit ton of wild and bonkers worlds you will never have a clue about.

Moral dilemma solved.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:46 PM on August 23 [18 favorites]


I'd argue it took Feynman's special genius (and role/credibility as a scientist) to communicate what happened so well to the general public - science communication is hard. *shrug* And he wasn't afraid to bring attention to what had gone wrong, which took guts even if he was dying. Sure, others could have done it, but it's difficult to predict how well. But I like Hippybear's idea of preventing it in the first place so it would be a non-argument!
posted by barchan at 7:49 PM on August 23


I like Annika Cicada's idea. You will have literally created a universe! How cool is that?!
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:50 PM on August 23


iPad with Obama's Inauguration, John Lennon's assasination, and the wedding of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:53 PM on August 23


Also, suggested thread tag: ReverseTimeCapsule
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:54 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I don't know enough about American religious history to make it count, but I wonder if you could send the suitcase to a moderate evangelical or catholic figurehead of the time, and try to get them to take preventative measures against Christofascism and Prosperity Gospel...
posted by codacorolla at 7:54 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


People are covering what content/stuff to possibly send, but, as someone who actually was in college in 1977 (and so a semi "adult" at the time), I can say that the best thing to send to an average person like me would have been something on paper saying "play this", and then probably an lp record or audio cassette. The lp or audio cassette would be familiar and also be fairly easy to play on existing technology, so would be likely to actually be played and could be used to convince me to read all the reams of info. you were including, which preferably would (still) be on paper!

If you sent me stuff on microfiche or microfilm (I find microfilm easier to use than microfiche, and you can get more on a reel), I would have to be convinced to go to a library and get them to let me use their reader to read stuff that was not material from their library (many places had rules against that), and then if I wanted to keep access to this information, I would have to buy my own very expensive microfiche/microfilm machine (not likely unless I was convinced I could recoup this cost), or I would have had to convince the library to give me regular access, or let me do a lot of printing of outside material, which would cost a significant amount of coin, if they even allowed me to do it.

It would be worthless to send me floppy discs, unless I worked for some place like IBM (and forget CDs and DVDs).

Even sending me something on a videotape would require a certain amount of scurrying around to try to find a VCR to play it, with Betamax being the better format to send in 1977 (though that was the year that VHS started up and eventually drove out Betamax).

If you sent me a piece of paper saying play this and a Betamax videotape, I probably would wander around and eventually find a VCR to play it. You would definitely want to do that if you also sent a laptop, iPad, or other tech like that, because you would have to show me on the videotape exactly how to use the laptop or iPad, which was totally alien tech to the average person in 1977. I had a computer class in high school in 1974/1975, and we were using punch cards to run programs on a mainframe computer. In college most all of us were using typewriters to do our papers. When my college professors had stuff they wanted us to read, like papers, that were not in our textbooks, they would put a xerox copy on reserve at the college library, and we would have to go and read it there (unless we wanted to spend our own money to make our own xerox copy of it to take home.)

Oh, if you did include a laptop, iPad, or other modern tech, you might also include an adapter for the plug, because a lot of older homes still only had two prong electrical outlets, not three prong (grounded) outlets.

So, it would probably be better to send the suitcase to someone like Carl Sagan, rather than an average person like me, as he would at least have easier access to university tech and library resources at Cornell to access what you sent, and be better able than me to recognize future tech as significant, if you did send him some tech stuff and not just microfiche/microfilm.
posted by gudrun at 7:57 PM on August 23 [17 favorites]


I'd just send Hunter S. Thompson some really pure MDMA and a tape of Trump's inauguration speech. Dunno what would happen but I bet it'd be entertaining...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:58 PM on August 23 [13 favorites]


50 cheap linux tablets each with a downloaded copy of Wikipedia along with 50 charging cables and 50 USB wallwarts sent to Richard Feynman.
posted by CheapB at 8:04 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


For God's sake, just send them a damn Kindle. The technology is clearly beyond their time - the epaper screen alone would be astonishing if you understood what you were looking at - but it requires no support whatsoever besides electricity. No reason you couldn't recharge it in 1977 with its included USB charger. And you can pack it with plenty of information. No need to screw around with optical discs and then try to tell them how to read the things.

And sure they'd figure out how to use it. A) it's really simple, B) it's 1977, they're not fucking cave people.
posted by Naberius at 8:11 PM on August 23 [20 favorites]


I would already know that whatever I put in the suitcase was part of what brought the world to where it is today and could not change anything that is already so. Paradoxically, I could only affect the future through the past.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:12 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


As far as format: Two or more laptops running ubuntu, configured to boot to a text login prompt, with a carefully curated set of guidebooks to bootstrap from v7 unix to Gnome + TCP/IP setup. Enough Ethernet donglage to connect USB to an AUI port (verified). LaserWriter and LaserJet 1 drivers installed and verified. USB to serial, USB to parallel cables. An utter fucking stack of external USB 2.5" 4 TB hard drives.
posted by wotsac at 8:13 PM on August 23


And yes, I know, Metafilter: it's 1977, they're not fucking cave people.
posted by Naberius at 8:14 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


*suitcase of glitter*

*tape recording of my laughter*
posted by Fizz at 8:17 PM on August 23 [27 favorites]


the cave people era ended in 1970, after that it was gen x I believe
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:18 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


Maybe send a carefully chosen teenager some Super 8 reels from the inauguration of President Obama, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, of Steven Universe.

Nailed it on the last one.

See, most factual information is unverifiable, right? Like, video of Obama's inauguration could easily be faked. There are angles and stuff you could do that would be hard to fake with 70s effects technology, but obviously the future will have movie special effects even better than Star Wars had.

So, send them our fiction. It's the best possible way for people in the past to learn what we value here in their future.

I mean, also send them a shitload of climate data and information on the denialist strategies that will be used to minimise the threat. But mainly send them fiction. They're about to go through a decade of Thatcher and Reagan, they'll need it.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:19 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Don't forget there were actually a fair amount of bombings in the 1970s, so a random suitcase left at your door with odd looking stuff in it (with wires!) would have actually been suspicious to some people, especially if you were in a city, hence the idea of including recognizable and therefore benign looking stuff in the suitcase.
posted by gudrun at 8:19 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Gen X was technically 1961 or thereabouts.
posted by hippybear at 8:20 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


And sure they'd figure out how to use it. A) it's really simple, B) it's 1977, they're not fucking cave people.

Yeah, computers existed in 1977. A modern computer or computing device would be advanced, but its the same basic concept. And you can always print out a manual and include it. A charger from today would work fine back then. My father was already working as a computer programmer back then.

Use a simple device, with schematics and instructions etc, and repairs would even be quite possible. There were plenty of electrical engineers and programmers in 1977.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:24 PM on August 23


(To the people who say we weren't cave people in the 70's, please please go back in time to 1979 and teach my father how to use his new VCR, and save me hours of frustration. He never really did get it. Mom was the more tech savvy of the pair and usually just took care of it for him).
posted by gudrun at 8:26 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


OMG HOW MANY TIMES DID I SET THE CLOCK ON MY PARENTS' VCR OH JEEBUS AND THEN CAME OTHER TECH SUPPORT OVER THE YEARS AND *wheeze* *cough* *clutch chest*
posted by hippybear at 8:28 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


I'd tell them to bet money -- substantial money -- that a black man from Chicago would be elected president before the Cubs won the Series.

I mean, really, just put in a sports results/records book, and then whatever else you want people to know. Once the sports book starts being correct all the time, they'll pay attention to the other stuff.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:31 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Yeah, computers existed in 1977. A modern computer or computing device would be advanced, but its the same basic concept

My main concern woul be bootstrapping the user from the command line to GUI or touch. I don't think that's entirely straightforward when you have one of the only examples of the interface extant.
posted by wotsac at 8:33 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I find this thought experiment puzzling on both ends. The electric system hasn't changed; a couple loaded ipads/smartphones plus a bunch of back up charger cords and, okay, some microfiche to really belt-n-suspenders it. The phone would be its own best argument as to making the recipient believe the case is from the future.

On the other side of the problem, at bottom I don't think the merely giving one individual in the past information will enable any big problems to be solved. I mean, Rex Tillerson knows enough about climate change in the here and now to do quite a lot to fight it, the reason he's not is that it would destroy the company that he was being paid millions to lead. You might could sandbag Reagan from winning the presidency; it wouldn't wipe out the Republican Party or the conservative movement. Instead maybe you'd get GHW Bush 8 years earlier than otherwise, or Bob Dole or Jack Kemp, to push the same agenda with less charisma. Nixon didn't have charisma; the silent majority still put him in power, they and their interests and worldview won't cease to exist because they lose one leader. (Plus, in re Kennedy: Chappaquidick was in 1969. He was by no means a shoo-in '80 even running against a much worse candidate than Reagan.)

Say you convince a very important scientist that climate change is a real threat 10 or 15 years earlier than she would have otherwise come to believe this. She's still got to convince everyone else she's right and not crazy. The lead guy failed. Semmelweis failed. The problem isn't ignorance. It's incentives.

This problem really puts one in the posistion of an archangel. I wonder how many have descended to proffer a vision and found the recipient ended up a madman muttering on a streetcorner. Maybe one time in ten thousand they actually do manage to talent scout a Jesus, a Bhuddah, a Mohammed, and even in those most successful examples it sure didn't seem to take long before the message got pretty garbled and the followers began to schism...
posted by Diablevert at 8:33 PM on August 23 [19 favorites]


I don't think that's entirely straightforward when you have one of the only examples of the interface extant.

Give them an interface that works with both (I mean I still use command line for most stuff...). And include plenty of documentation and such. Or just send it to Xerox PARC, which _already had_ working GUIs in 1977.

I'm not saying mail it to a random person. I'm saying find a working electrical/computer engineer in 1977 and send it to them. They will be (a) insanely excited, and (b) able to figure it out easily enough with the right pointers.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:35 PM on August 23


If you want your package to have any effect, the recipient has to be able to internalize it

Not if you mail a miniaturized thermonuclear warhead to someone you don't like very much.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:42 PM on August 23 [11 favorites]


She's still got to convince everyone else she's right and not crazy.

That's why you send the suitcase to the US Postal Service with instructions to mail the contents inside. And inside are 100 information loaded phones with chargers each enclosed in envelopes addressed to every major newspaper & broadcaster, foreign government (or embassy), and NGO. And of course each envelope has correct postage.
posted by FJT at 8:47 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


a miniaturized thermonuclear warhead

Well that's a thing. Miniaturizing nukes is hard, it takes even more exotic materials than plain fission nukes do, and the most miniaturized nuke ever made, the Davy Crockett Battlefield Somethingorother, was a bit bigger than a bowling ball and weighed over 100 pounds. So fitting it into that suitcase might be a bit of a problem.
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:53 PM on August 23


And of course each envelope has correct postage.

How do you get stamps valid in 1977 today?
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:54 PM on August 23


Not if it's a reinforced soft-side suitcase.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I sent it to myself. I kept it all this time, but I was afraid to open it until today. All that was in it was a letter to myself. It read: "You should have opened the suitcase back in 1977, asshole. Maybe then I would have sent you something good."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:54 PM on August 23 [15 favorites]


How do you get stamps valid in 1977 today?

Philatelists
posted by hippybear at 8:55 PM on August 23 [12 favorites]


I kind of rolled my eyes at his suggestion of Steve Wozniak. Look, I know that lots of people (probably including lots on the blue) consider him a geek saint, but Woz's big gambit at social change, or something like that, was the US Festival, and I'm not sure what major change that led to aside from the balance of David Bowie's and Van Halen's bank accounts. Shamus doesn't seem to get that, without Steve Jobs, he very likely would have never heard of Woz, as there were any number of brilliant people in the early years of the computer revolution who didn't have a canny business guy on their side and ended up as footnotes to history. Conversely, Shamus unleashes this corker: "You want someone who has some sort of money, power, or influence so that they can’t be easily robbed or overpowered by financial, legal, or bureaucratic pressures." ha ha ha oh you.

My answer is pretty simple:


Who gets the package?


Me. I'm thirteen years old in 1977; smart, and at a turning point in my life--no "money, power, or influence" of course, but in a position to have my life guided along certain paths so that I could get the money through investments and "innovations" and the power and influence would follow.

How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and distribute the information according to your wishes?

Something that would quickly come to pass that no one was really expecting. If I could cheat a little and send it at the beginning of August 2017, I could use Elvis' death or the Sumba earthquake. I probably wouldn't need a lot of persuasion because I'm an SF fan and kind of impressionable.

How will you store information in the suitcase, and what format will you use?


Microfiche makes sense. I'd also have the formatting frame the information as a science fiction work in progress, in case anyone else got a hold of it. I might send some information in more advanced formats--with instructions to store it in a burn box to avoid tipping someone off if it's discovered--but that runs into the problem of it being incompatible with the actual formats of the alternate future because of growing butterfly effects. No, microfiche is the way to go.

What information will you send them?


You know... that I'll keep to myself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:56 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


I misread the question as what would you put in if you couldn't choose who to send the suitcase back to, which I think makes it a far more entertaining hypothetical. You'd have to plan a series of possible contents on different languages for different people motivated to open the suitcase.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:04 PM on August 23 [8 favorites]


I'd send an inkjet print of Donald Trump's official presidential portrait to Mike Godwin.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:09 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Here's a completely unscrupulous idea I had:

1) Figure out a person who's centrally connected to a group of other people you think should be removed from history. E.g. someone who ends up becoming president amid a group of cronies that also become politically powerful later.

2) Seed the case with a low level betting tip for a horse race - something that gets them interested and strings them along.

3) Inside of the case make things look superficially techy in a 70s sense with nested boxes that unlock through timers and locks that are controlled through simple Arduino boards.

4) Within the nested boxes include increasingly higher value of betting tips.

5) Have the final box look substantially different, and include (along with the penultimate betting slip) instructions that to open the final box they should kill [list of people they're connected to who you also want to see die]. Promise a billion dollar stock tip payoff. As a failsafe include a nail bomb in that final box, so that if it's forced open - hey, at least you got one of them.
posted by codacorolla at 9:27 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


So many great ideas. Had to back out of the thread because looking back and fixing it hurts too much.
posted by notyou at 9:28 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


As a plus, since the person is well known enough that you could get very personal details, include notes in each timered box so that it seems you're watching them and in conversation with them. You could also pull details from the news. This helps to condition them towards being willing to go through with your murder plot at the end.
posted by codacorolla at 9:30 PM on August 23


You might could sandbag Reagan from winning the presidency; it wouldn't wipe out the Republican Party or the conservative movement. Instead maybe you'd get GHW Bush 8 years earlier than otherwise, or Bob Dole or Jack Kemp, to push the same agenda with less charisma. Nixon didn't have charisma; the silent majority still put him in power, they and their interests and worldview won't cease to exist because they lose one leader. (Plus, in re Kennedy: Chappaquidick was in 1969. He was by no means a shoo-in '80 even running against a much worse candidate than Reagan.)

The 80 election was closer than people remember, and without Reagan, the religious right is going to get viewed at arm's length by the Republican party elite. Furthermore, you don't get the defection by the unions to Reagan either. Without Reagan, the coalition that would become the modern GOP doesn't really coalesce - you even have the potential of the Dixiecrats to decide to say "fuck it" and go on their own, which hampers the conservative movement. You're also missing my point with Ted running - my goal is to convince Kennedy to not run in 80, instead backing Carter. This in turn doesn't fracture the Democrats, leaving them stronger for the general.

And the big thing is that if Carter is elected to a second term, there's a ton of knock-on effects that happen, especially if there's info used to kneecap the Republican ratfuckers - for example, weakening Phyllis Schafly and the Eagle Forum means the ERA passes, which changes the ballgame when it comes to gender discrimination. Carter being elected to a second term means that instead of the Federalist Society getting members put throughout the federal judiciary, they remain a fringe legal movement mainly situated in academia. Carter never busts PATCO, leaving unions in a much stronger place. The Fairness Doctrine doesn't get repealed, which means that conservative talk radio never launches. And so on.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:40 PM on August 23 [16 favorites]


It's Raining Florence Henderson, your post now makes me see this exercise as a writing prompt for two-sentence science fiction stories. To wit:

A suitcase appeared on my doorstep with a shipping label dated forty years in the future. All it contained was a featureless black cube with a charging cable that doesn't fit any electrical socket I've ever seen.
posted by ejs at 9:42 PM on August 23 [13 favorites]


I would send it to myself and tell me to hang up skateboarding, and go to art school right away. Meanwhile, desperate to prove that Jesus walked the Americas, all sorts of ancient, middle eastern artifacts will mysteriously show up in southern Utah. It is just stuff taken from Iraq. Never mind it.
posted by Oyéah at 9:51 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


THE HOBBY LOBBY/ISIS PLOT THICKENS.
posted by Artw at 9:54 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


This is a fun question!

Here's his own answer.

OK no never mind
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:58 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


This one's pretty easy for me.

I was born in '71. My father died abruptly in '83.

The suitcase goes to my parents. There's a letter from Future Me to them warning them that Russell is gonna abruptly die of a cerebral aneurysm on my twelfth birthday. Also maybe a letter to be given to eleven-year-old me that tells him that the questions he's starting to ask about his gender are not gonna ever go away and maybe he should start looking into this thing that we now call "gender transition".

My parents were also both nerds, with a healthy collection of SF/F, so I don't think I need to worry too much about convincing them this is From The Future. It won't be an entirely foreign idea to them.

My father was an audio engineer for one of the network affiliates in New Orleans; in 1976 we made a trip to Washington DC around the 4th that I found out much later was due to NPR offering him a job he ultimately didn't take. I feel like he'd have a decent chance of getting this data in front of enough of the right people for it to seriously change the timeline.

I will steal the idea of proving Yes This Is Really From The Future by including some copies of front pages of the local paper for the next few weeks after it's supposed to get there. Also some lottery numbers/horse results/etc because money is always good. And a few novels by Young Me's favorite authors that won't be written until the 80s.

Standard kindle/ipad/laptop full of Wikipedia deal. A few of each because Shit Happens. With physical copies of "OSX For Dummies" and "iOS For Dummies" or something similar with a less-insulting name. Plus as many actual scientific papers and high-end process textbooks as we can cram in there. Formulas for every Cure For A Thing we can lay our hands on. The modern computing devices are pretty much magic to someone from then.

But everyone is forgetting something in their choice of technology: 1977 is the year the Apple ][ came out. So we throw in a few SSDs loaded with the same data, and a few cables that will let you plug them into an Apple ][ as a floppy drive with an unimaginable amount of data on it. Because this is the year the Apple ][ was available. And with the financial advantage I've handed them with the lotto/horse/etc stuff, buying one is pretty trivial. Multiple copies of each drive because SHIT HAPPENS. And so you can pass them around to other people. Write-protect switches epoxied down. Schematics for a version of the cable you can build with 1980 tech, just in case.

I mean, sure, fill the rest of the suitcase with microfiche of pretty much the same stuff. But you can spend $1k on an Apple ][ right then and there and just start dumping that stuff to paper.

Maybe have something in there that'll guide folks through the most interesting parts. Both a potted history of How We Got To 2017 From 1977 and a bunch of interesting tech/medical developments easily reproducible with 197* technology.

Also maybe something to try and persuade the people of the 70s to actually implement basic income, I just today learnt that Nixon of all people almost passed it, and it kicked around DC for several years until finally being given up in '78 because the Dems dug their heels in, demanding that it be higher than the Repubs were suggesting. Sure as hell can't hurt, the massive growth income inequity between then and now is a big part of why this country was bitter enough to vote Trump in. Also maybe some of the formulae that have been proposed to Legally Define Gerrymandering that are on the edge of becoming law, that's a major bug in this country that needs patching ASAP too. Basically "um hi from 2017 this is gonna sound really crazy I know but we managed to fuck this country up so hard that we elected a literal goddamn nazi as president because of these trends running unchecked for about thirty-five years". Probably a few other bits of political/social analysis I'm not thinking of right now about Why We Got Here.

And maybe put in a copy of the graphic novel I finished drawing next to Mom's deathbed. Hi Mom, hi Dad, this is what another iteration of your weird-ass kid grew up to make, and never got to show either of you because you were both gone by the time it was turned into a physical book. Hell, just that will be a crazy future artifact - it's full-color, with much better printing than 1977 could ever do to a comic. And it has both their death dates in the dedication. That's spooky as hell.

Also maybe for funsies we throw in an Atari VCS multicart with Every Game Ever Made For It. Sorted by year/developer/etc.
posted by egypturnash at 10:10 PM on August 23 [10 favorites]


I'd send a copy of "Back to the Future Part II" to a young Donald Trump.

THAT'S HOW WE GOT INTO THIS MESS
posted by duffell at 10:15 PM on August 23 [14 favorites]


I feel like the quantity of information is not really all that important, that the quality is what fundamentally matters. And I think that quality comes down to three things: information that is credible, that is usable and that is durable. Feynman was the name I came up with when I thought about it - he's smart and respected, but also curious as hell. Sagan may be even better.

Credibility comes from establishing that this information comes from the future, and also from backstopping the information as much as possible. A short blurb about climate change is less credible than the entire IPCC report, and that's less credible than the IPCC report and all of the studies sourced in it. In terms of establishing the information is coming from the future, I might send a series of very specific predictions, each in an envelope dated for a specific day, running through the first year or so. The first one might be the closing prices of every stock in the Dow Jones for that day. The exact box score of the World Series. And so on.

Usability comes from how much of a change knowing the information can make. Sending information about the transistor back to 1800 would be useless, since as he points out there's an entire infrastructure that needs to be constructed; sending information about the germ theory of medicine would be immediately useful. From this perspective, we need situations where a little more information would tip the balance - knowing what AIDS is and ideally how to treat it; the role of CFCs in the ozone layer; check the flexibility of the O-rings on the Shuttle if you're going to launch it in cold weather; Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.

Durability comes from the fact that sending a suitcase back will inevitably lead to changes that spiral through the timeline, particularly since a lot of the information I'm sending back would be with that specific intent. It doesn't make any sense to tell James Comey not to send his letter on the eve of the 2016 election, since the odds that the same candidates are in the same position (and that James Comey is the FBI director) are infinitesimal.

Perhaps the most durable, credible and usable is information around geological disasters, like volcanoes and earthquakes. Suggesting some redesigns to Fukushima, outlining some problems with the protocols in place at Chernobyl, that might help too.

And I would include a triple-sealed letter addressed to James Randi, telling him in the kindest way I can that he will live to see homosexuality and even gay marriage become accepted by the general public.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:18 PM on August 23 [9 favorites]


If the information I send back to whatever individual is able to have an impact in any significant way, then paradoxically the more information I send the less useful it is because, once the changes start, the information subsequent to that change becomes uncertain and less predictive; it becomes the future history of an alternate timeline.

The utility of the information has an inverse relationship to its effect on outcomes, in short. So, if I assume that change is possible, my efforts should be to focus on one topic or situation where a change occurring in 1978 or 79 from the efforts of one individual has the most impact and not worry about information past that point.
posted by nubs at 10:39 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


the suitcase creates a new and duplicate timeline from this one so you might as well just stop fretting and send a ton of random shit to the past and create whole shit ton of wild and bonkers worlds you will never have a clue about

So you're saying that each of us has a moral duty, right here and right now, to find and restrain the vicious prick who is about to send the fucking thing to Donald Trump?
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


With physical copies of "OSX For Dummies" and "iOS For Dummies" or something similar with a less-insulting name

Can you imagine? A box from the future shows up with a sufficiently advanced magic iPad, and the only explanation is this bright yellow book calling you a dummy.

And it has surreal single-frame comics introducing each chapter.

The future must be a weeeeeird place.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:07 PM on August 23 [7 favorites]


My forked timeline is just gonna get fidget spinners early cause damned if I'm gonna spend a month tracking down backwards-compatible computer media and fucking almanacs
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:12 PM on August 23 [9 favorites]


Also for ironic effect I would rent a VHS recorder from the local video store and dub a copy of a modern episode of Doctor Who.

There are better uses for this space in the suitcase, I'm sure. But it would both be another Hey How Did Anyone Make This bit of cred, and it would be funny.
posted by egypturnash at 11:13 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


What would I send to my seven-year-old self? An entire suitcase full of Adderall and a note that said, "start taking this now baby, you're meant to do great things. Skipping arbitrary stupid grades isn't enough."
posted by bendy at 11:27 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Kindle/ipad loaded up with Merck Manual, a couple pharmaceutical indexes, handbook of drug manufacturing, and a searchable copy of the human genome. Should be able to avert the AIDS crisis and save a lot of people who would have otherwise died of preventable cancers. I'm really not sure how you would derail the rise of the Moral Majority. You could definitely expose the child abuse coverups of the catholic church much earlier. Manufacturing guides for modern solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines?
posted by benzenedream at 12:38 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of trying to defeat the Reagan revolution, though I don't think it'd be easy. I think we forget how conservative the US was at that time. Nixon won with 61% just five years before the target date. The oil shock, the Iranian hostage crisis, the California anti-tax movement (staring in ’78), and Carter's own incompetence all paved the way for Reaganism. And the Republicans would have won eventually.

It might be easier to approach it from the other way: send Ronnie himself information about his worst mistakes. Preventing him from supporting the jihadists in Afghanistan would save a hell of a lot of future trouble.

On technology, would it be at all possible to jumpstart solar power with today's tech? That could be far more useful than just advancing computer tech.

The one thing my 1977 self could have used is some better reference books. If I'd had Li & Thompson, I might actually really know Mandarin by now.

Also, to steal an idea from Justin Rye, a real attention-getter is to send a person their own skull.
posted by zompist at 12:46 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


As a nerd point: despite what producers have said about the movie reboot timeline vs the original timeline, and the clear existence of parallel universes within the Star Trek canon, changes made due to time travel have consistently been depicted as overwriting the original timeline.
posted by ckape at 2:28 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Wu-Tang.
posted by tillermo at 2:39 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I'd go the selfish route. I highly doubt my ability to affect the decisions made by powerful people; but I was born in 1977, my parents were SF readers, and there is one specific event they could avoid, a couple of years later, that would make my entire subsequent life significantly better. So I'd put in a few books with post-1977 publication dates by authors they were reading at the time, and a letter asking them to please please do that one tiny innocuous thing differently in 1979.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:44 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


> Wu-Tang.

Yeah. Big curated pile of future-music. Except I'd want to send it to 1957.

(Too much Great Man Theory in here. Either get rich, or mess with people).
posted by Leon at 2:48 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Whomever you send it to will need allies not just targets, goals and information. You should include a list of people they can trust and who have additional skills, prestige or power to help the effort.
posted by oddman at 4:05 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


If I wanted to use the suitcase to inform and influence the public (AIDS awareness & prevention, climate change science, stopping the rise of the right wing extremism around the world, etc.), I'd try to get it into Walter Cronkite's hands.
Convince Uncle Walter it's genuine, and he had the platform and contacts to persuade the American people.
posted by cheshyre at 4:14 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


Thorzdad: "A suitcase full of Apple and Microsoft stock, sent to myself."

Um, you realize that buying Apple and MS stock at today's prices and sending it to the past would make it worth a fraction of what you paid for it, and it would take past you about exactly 40 years to recover your present investment?
posted by signal at 5:25 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


Now I'm imagining that on August 23, 1977 a single suitcase arrived. Then, on August 24, two suitcases arrived, both contradicting the first and each other. A few days later (thanks exponential growth!), each living person has received a suitcase, and they all (well, the ones that aren't just a suitcase full of alternate-2017-tech condoms! or whatever) depict radically different versions of 2017. Each suitcase apparently documents a possible future timeline, destroyed by the very act of sending it to the past.

Also, imagine the shame at being the one who got the suitcase of condoms from the future.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 5:27 AM on August 24 [11 favorites]


Hey guys, I think this already happened, the answer was a suitcase full of newspapers to some kid in Chicago... and now we have The Onion.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:37 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


On the other other hand, LaserDisc units went on sale in late 1978. Slipping in one or two discs might get someone's attention, depending on the content.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:14 AM on August 24


If I wanted to use the suitcase to inform and influence the public (AIDS awareness & prevention, climate change science, stopping the rise of the right wing extremism around the world, etc.), I'd try to get it into Walter Cronkite's hands.
Convince Uncle Walter it's genuine, and he had the platform and contacts to persuade the American people.


The less hopeful part of me thinks there would be a darker timeline in which Cronkite's career ended inauspiciously the night he plunked a suitcase on the anchor desk and began to remove various and sundry items that he explained "came from people sometime in the future" and which had been left on his doorstep the previous night "as some sort of warning or cautionary tale about the looming darkness for America." He would sign off from this, his final CBS Evening News broadcast, with "And that's the way it WILL be." He would go on to host a late-night paid program entitled "Warnings From the Future People."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:23 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


It might be easier to approach it from the other way: send Ronnie himself information about his worst mistakes.

Ronnie made on-mike jokes and laughed at the deaths of thousands of our most creative people during the 80s. I don't think sending him information about AIDS would have changed anything where that is concerned.
posted by hippybear at 6:26 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


Well that's a thing. Miniaturizing nukes is hard.

Not for me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:05 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


Does it have to be something helpful?

Could I just send someone a suitcase full of anthrax?

Like a yuge, bigly suitcase full of anthrax?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:10 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


Could I just send someone a suitcase full of anthrax?

I think the Public Enemy collaboration would risk creating the false impression amongst people in 1977 that racial equality had been fully achieved and checked off America's to-do list by the early 1990s.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:14 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


The 80 election was closer than people remember

I mean... no? Reagan won the popular vote by about 10 points and carried 44 states.
posted by Automocar at 7:14 AM on August 24


Okay, so in some ways my answer isn't so far from his, and it's also at least partially "sports almanac" but here I go...

1. Who do I Send It To?

I see a different "politics problem" than he does, with the one I see being that politics is a constant battle and the truth has always been more of a luxury in it than a tool for fighting in it. We're not where we are because nobody saw it coming. We're where we are because it didn't matter that everybody saw it coming. So if we're taking a cynical view towards how to make the best of this, then I want 1.) someone whose worst instincts I doubt are particularly evil or dangerous, and 2.) someone good at getting people to pay attention to them, but not in a way where there'll be an army of others trying to shout them down, 3.) someone who will be in or near the spotlight more or less continuously from 1977 until today, and 4.) someone who seems likely to be willing to believe.

I considered Spielberg, and I still think that might be the right answer, but no. My recipient of choice is Tony Defries, musical agent extraordinaire.

2. What Do I Put In It?

Newspapers and magazines, mostly. Some of them from the next couple weeks and months, highlighting all of the biggest upset sports scores, the ones that beat the odds the hardest. This is why it goes to Defries. It's hard to guess what David Bowie, or Lou Reed, or Iggy Pop, etc. would do with such information, or where their heads are at, or whatever. But Defries is a very greedy man with access to a lot of the biggest voices of the times. He'll almost certainly make use of the knowledge of future scores the second he sees them panning out. Credibility: Earned.

I give it only a few months before the butterfly effect catches up with sports enough to make them unbankable, though. Stocks, however, keep being printed and are much less volatile in this situation.

But I'm not doing this to get some kind of unscrupulous guy rich. It's the rest of the stuff here that is an exhortation to act. The most immediate thing that the recipient could try to affect would be the AIDS crisis, I think, which means that there's going to be included some stuff about the last years and death of Freddie Mercury. This seems cheap, but it's calculated to make sure information is shared with Bowie, since Defries would likely have reason to bring it up while Bowie and Mercury were collaborating. Knowledge gets out sooner, research gets funded better from early on, hopefully a lot of dominoes start to fall with this.

There's a lot that can come up in this manner that both can be helped and can keep proving the credibility of the mysterious news sources. Terrorist activity can be predicted to a greater degree, sure (and hopefully 9/11 prevented entirely) but natural disasters are the big deal here, because as rmd1023 mentions above, they are unlikely to be as affected by the Defries' actions. And while they can't be stopped, most likely, they may be prepared for. Imagine Live Aid events that get stronger levies built in New Orleans before 2005. Or preparation to avoid Chernobyl, or evacuating the most vulnerable from the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011? Hell, we've been avoiding politics, but imagine just having Bowie explain the skinny to Al Gore and get him to spend a few more days in Miami and not take Tennessee for granted?

But here's the capstone to this plan. Defries got nailed in an off-shore tax-evasion scheme in 2000. He got slammed for copyright infringement in 2011. Defries is clearly a pretty amoral person. But he's an amoral, greedy person with a lot of money and a lot of media contacts and access, and now he gets a suitccase that can help him make more money, gives him the option to do good in a way that nobody else can do, and most importantly, gives him the ghost of Christmas Future. He can see his own downfall due to his own malfeasance and change course well ahead of time. He can redeem himself! And most importantly, without any further explanation, he will probably assume this was sent by his own future self!

And that, to me, is the key to making this do some good. I can't send it to myself in 1977, because I didn't exist yet. But this asshole did and that he himself sent it back to him is the most sensible explanation.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:28 AM on August 24 [7 favorites]


I like the idea of trying to defeat the Reagan revolution, though I don't think it'd be easy. I think we forget how conservative the US was at that time. Nixon won with 61% just five years before the target date. The oil shock, the Iranian hostage crisis, the California anti-tax movement (staring in ’78), and Carter's own incompetence all paved the way for Reaganism. And the Republicans would have won eventually.

Reaganism needed him as the flagbearer because of his charisma (which is why they continue to flog his corpse to this day as a standard.) But since we can send back his medical record, we can Eagleton him - how do you think the press and public would handle it being shown that he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's? In addition, since we're working from 77, we can send oppo on Eugene Jarvis and undercut him, which weakens the anti-tax movement, as well as convincing the Democrats that the Iranian Revolution will happen, but that they can make it so that the fundamentalists have a harder time coming to power. And Carter's not nearly as incompetent as he gets portrayed.

I mean... no? Reagan won the popular vote by about 10 points and carried 44 states.

Reagan pulled ahead relatively late (there's a reason that the October Surprise is A Thing), in part because of the Iranians taking a harder line on the hostages (again, October Surprise is A Thing.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:36 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Three boxes inside.

Box #1 contains some kind of easily rechargable video player / tablet. Loaded with various historical and future data to vouch somewhat for authenticity, and a slightly doctored Zapruder film (or IS it?) showing Ronald Reagan shooting JFK from the grassy knoll. Addressed to the Washington Post.

Box #2, similar video player, addressed to me. Video of me explaining that while the act of sending this to the past may well alter the future and make specific predictions wrong, to keep an eye out for certain technological advances and invest in them as they emerge, to have faith that yes the Philadelphia Phillies WILL win a World Series someday, and that yes young delfin will get laid later in life and he should chill out about obsessing over certain girls and just talk to them, already. But not Kimmy. Jesus Christ stay away from her.

Third box, similar video player. Addressed to Hunter S. Thompson. Loaded with as much tentacle hentai as it can hold. I just have a feeling that he'd find a good use for it.
posted by delfin at 7:36 AM on August 24 [7 favorites]


Huh. I wouldn't do this myself, but someone with a much more sympathetic view of Indira Gandhi might warn her not to call for that election.
posted by brainwane at 7:38 AM on August 24


I'd probably send it to not-quite-4-year-old me. It would mostly be letters to myself to open at different ages - maybe starting at age 8 (Third grade really sucked and it would have been a comfort to know things were going to get much better.) and going onward. They'd have notes on what to write down, what things to keep, what's going to matter, etc. I would also include some books and an iPad stuffed with videos, movies, TV episodes, Wikipedia, etc. Oh, and an envelope with newspaper clippings from when my favorite teams won championships. (It would have been a lot less painful to watch Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS if I'd known the Cubs would win the World Series in my lifetime. : ) )

Of course, it would have to be accepted by my parents in order for me to get it. They did like science fiction, but I think the way I'd go is to make it like it's from a previously unknown relative. (Well, that would be technically true...nobody knew Adult Me. : )) My dad in particular had a large enough extended family that this would be plausible. My dad's first cousin was a well-known biochemist and nutrition expert, so I would include some news stories about him and video of some of his TV appearances discussing his post-1977 work.

This would actually be an interesting premise for a novel or short story!
posted by SisterHavana at 8:02 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


the cave people era ended in 1970, after that it was gen x I believe

You missed the short (but fabulous) village people era.
posted by Quindar Beep at 8:08 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Also for ironic effect I would rent a VHS recorder from the local video store and dub a copy of a modern episode of Doctor Who.


Might I suggest "Blink"?
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:47 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


No matter what I put in the suitcase, I'm making damn sure it says "John Titor" on the luggage tag.
posted by dr_dank at 9:20 AM on August 24 [14 favorites]


Blink

WINNER!
posted by rmd1023 at 9:20 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Also, driving away from a funeral today, I realized just how many lives you could save and improve by making a tiny bit of room in the suitcase and including an expose of the US Catholic priest abuse scandal, particularly including names of any known molesters known to be actively perpetrating at that time.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:23 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


Whatever else I'd send, I'd put a sheet of paper on top with "Snape kills Dumbledore" in huge block capitals, and "(don't worry, it will make sense in 2005)" underneath in fine print
posted by Zonker at 9:28 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


No sports almanac or stock tips. The Butterfly Effect won't let you win more than one bet, if you even win that bet at all.

I've got one shot to establish credibility and affect change, because once I've effected any change at all, I can no longer rely on my foreknowledge to be accurate.

One shot. One topic. Barchan is right–it has to be climate change. Nothing else is as important for the short- and long-term survival of our species and/or planet.

I establish credibility by predicting one geological event (and it has to be very, very close to receipt of the suitcase, because the Butterfly Effect will fuck you up), and then I include everything else mentioned: the stats, the articles, the opinion pieces... I reiterate over and over that this is a document of our failure, and that–by definition–nothing in this suitcase will stop climate disaster, and I can only hope that these glimpses of a likely future help convince enough people to focus on actually solving the problem.

(Oh, and I print it all in blank ink in 12pt on plain paper. I'll sacrifice the bandwidth for a greater certainty that the info will be accessed.)
posted by aedison at 9:43 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


On VHS, something from 1978 - The Star Wars Holiday Special.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:56 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


So, this comes up just a little in the comments, but there are two things that would complicate this, and would depend on what model of time travel you're using:

Anyone born after 1977 is basically rolling the dice on being existentially annihilated - and I would say that the odds aren't good. Maybe if the economy is better because of things that I do, then my parents decide to have a second child earlier, and me (as I exist) no longer exist. I'm born in 1982 instead, and I'm a girl, for instance. Is that still me? I would argue no. Even unsuccessful tampering, that only changes the future in a slight way, has the possibility of the same effect. If you're sending this to a time before you're born, then you are essentially committing a suicidal act of self-sacrifice. And, the second, is that if you run the risk of non-existence, then it's not like you can really send yourself an explanatory document (like 1977ers and before could). Even if you still, generally exist, your name might be different, your parents might have a new address, etc.

I guess, that is to say, it's an easier choice to make if you were born before the send date.
posted by codacorolla at 10:11 AM on August 24


Kind of assumed our timeline being fucked anyway was part of the premise.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Well, yeah, that's the whole point. But there's a difference between your life being substantially changed, and it being completely eliminated from existence. It's also complicated if you have any younger siblings you're emotionally attached to.
posted by codacorolla at 10:23 AM on August 24


The butterfly effect is very compelling, but it's not like it's particularly testable. For all you know reality is pretty resistant to changes, and you're running as much of a chance of annihilating yourself as you are getting into a car for your morning commute every morning. There's really no way of assessing those odds.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:24 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


The butterfly effect is absolutely testable, since it's not actually about time travel.
posted by signal at 10:29 AM on August 24


Nothing about time travel is testable, as it's a conceit of fantasy literature.

Except, you know, the regular forwards kind.
posted by Artw at 10:34 AM on August 24


Yeah, no kidding that an effect of time travel isn't testable, but if I think my suitcase will substantially change the world (and why even do it if it doesn't), then I would bet that it would also cause me, and pretty much everyone else born after the date of impact to cease existing. Obviously you can't know - in fact that's what I say in my comment - but given everything I know, I would assume that it does.
posted by codacorolla at 10:34 AM on August 24


You pretty much get to define the logic of the fantasy however you like.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on August 24


I guess, that is to say, it's an easier choice to make if you were born before the send date.

OK I figured out the letter I wanna send back in time:

Dear Child of Yesteryear:

You and all your cohort who are born after 1977 must TAKE UP ARMS in the futureyear TWENTY-SEVENTEEN and stop the pre-77ers who EVEN NOW AS I WRITE THIS plot to destroy you through TIME-MEDDLING. They are capable of storing entire libraries of information on SILVERY DISKS that are read by LASERBEAMS. They will send this information to their PAST SELVES to instruct them to BEND CLIMATE, DISEASE, AND REALITY ITSELF to their selfish will!! If their dread schemes come to fruition YOU AND YOUR CONTEMPORARIES WILL NEVER BE BORN AND THE OLDFOLK WILL INHERIT AN EARTH FREE OF INEQUITY AND STRIFE while you languish in the UNUTTERABLE VOID OF NON-BEING.

When the time comes on TWENTY-FOURTH AUGUST TWENTY-SEVENTEEN you must lie in wait for them at POST OFFICES and U.P.S. STORES and MAIL BOXES ETCETERA and stop them from sending their DREAD TIME-PARCELS that will unravel you FROM THE VERY FABRIC OF EXISTENCE.

I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP,
p. b. octorok, FUTUREWARRIOR

posted by prize bull octorok at 10:44 AM on August 24 [12 favorites]


A crude typewritten note:

TO THE READER IN 1977, WHOEVER YOU ARE

IN THE FUTURE COMPUTERS WILL HAVE SCANNERS

LIKE, A CAMERA THAT HOOKS TO A COMPUTER, JUST ROLL WITH THIS

PEOPLE WILL WEDGE THEIR CATS INTO THESE

YOU WILL HAVE NO IDEA HOW OR WHY

OKAY THAT'S ABOUT IT. CARRY ON
posted by delfin at 10:58 AM on August 24 [17 favorites]


Artw: "Nothing about time travel is testable, as it's a conceit of fantasy literature.
"

Yes. And the butterfly effect, which is not about time travel, is testable.
posted by signal at 11:12 AM on August 24


On butterflying yourself out of existence, Shamus thought of that and built it into the assumptions:

Maybe you don’t like thinking about it because messing with the timeline would cause you to not be born. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is some sort of Nu-Trek alternate timeline deal. You’ll still be here in your familiar 2017, but somewhere out there will be a new alternate history / multiverse type thing where a new timeline will fork off from ours in 1977 and go a different way, based on your intervention.


I would also be all-in on the climate science/clean energy dump. It's the most important issue facing us right now, and getting the scientific argument solid before the issue turned into a cultural tug-of-war. So we'd have lots and lots of climate data, plus everything I can find about how to make good solar cells, wind turbines, etc.
posted by Urtylug at 11:14 AM on August 24


Now wondering about a literal test of butterfly effect that wouldn't be overwhelmed by noise.
posted by Artw at 11:22 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Anyone born after 1977 is basically rolling the dice on being existentially annihilated

Well no, because if you actually managed to send a suitcase back to before you were born, its arrival would just be part of your birth's past.

Either the suitcase arrived at a time before you were born and then you got born, or it didn't arrive and then you got born. Those are your options. You don't get not to be born. If that were not the case, I wouldn't be able to write this to you.

Timey wimey is nowhere near as wibbly wobbly as certain fictional poseurs would have you believe.
posted by flabdablet at 11:23 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


If multiverses are a real thing, then the usual take on that is that all possible universes based on past choices will already exist as a result of all divergent choices already splitting off into all possible alternates. So if all possible past versions of universes already exist, then the possible universes where global warming never happened already exist, and don't need me to send them care packages. If I don't send the care packages to the universes that could be saved by care packages, then another me in another universe will, because all possible choices must exist. So if I can't change the universe I'm in now, and the universes that would be better off if I did are going to be better off anyway, I'm keeping the suitcase, because hey, now I don't need to buy a new suitcase.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:29 AM on August 24 [8 favorites]


Whether multiverses are a real thing or not is irrelevant. We don't have to guess about what might happen to us if somebody works out how to send a suitcase back to 1977 and then does so, because if they ever will then they already have, and any consequences are already a matter of historical record.
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 AM on August 24


In other words, speculation about what might happen if one were to go back in time and kill one's own grandfather is simply ill-informed.

I'm far more interested in speculating about the consequences of going back in time and being one's own grandfather.

I have yet to be convinced that there is any reason not to assume that this kind of behaviour is going on all over the place all the time on all kinds of scales; at the subatomic scale I'm reasonably confident that it's more or less the main reason anything ever happens at all.
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


You’ll still be here in your familiar 2017, but somewhere out there will be a new alternate history / multiverse type thing where a new timeline will fork off from ours in 1977 and go a different way, based on your intervention

Ok, fine. But I lose rapid interest because (a) I'm still here in my fucked up timeline; (b) I have no way to see or know what my intervention did to the other timeline and the outcomes it produced, so, you know - bored now; and (c) I still want to move to the alternate timeline where we got taco trucks on every corner.
posted by nubs at 11:42 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


I've got a great idea for a film that I've been working on for ten years, but I just can't seem to get it made. It's called Mothers and Lovers...
posted by tobascodagama at 12:27 PM on August 24 [3 favorites]


An open-source knock-off of CP/M or MS-DOS sent back to 1977 could cause interesting changes in computing.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:57 PM on August 24


Timey wimey is nowhere near as wibbly wobbly as certain fictional poseurs would have you believe.

Oh, well shit, thanks for setting me straight. I forgot that you had your Masters from Upstairs Hollywood Time Travel Physics School. I appreciate the explanation, though.
posted by codacorolla at 1:29 PM on August 24 [5 favorites]


The suitcase is empty except for a VHS videotape.

The tape is labelled: SECRETS FROM THE FUTURE - USED WITH CARE THESE WILL MAKE YOU RICHER AND MORE FAMOUS THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE.

On the tape: Rick Astley, 'Never Gonna Give You Up'
posted by Sebmojo at 2:32 PM on August 24 [9 favorites]


On the tape: Rick Astley, 'Never Gonna Give You Up'

"Never Gonna Give You Up" becomes a smash hit single in 1978 for David Soul, a follow-up to his 1977 top 20 song "Don't Give Up On Us Baby". In our universe, David Soul was a one-hit wonder - but in the alternate timeline, his influence dominates the pop music landscape of the alternate timeline for years to come. Rick Astley gives up on his music career in 1986, and goes on to take over his father's market-garden business. Rick-rolling never becomes a thing.

The full effect of the tape culminates in 2013, when aging but well-respected pop star Debbie Gibson performs the first known "twerk" on Billy Joel during a duet performance of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" at the Music on Television Awards. At this point, the alternate timeline implodes in a fit of existential horror.
posted by nubs at 2:54 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


interesting - so, given the timing, we have no guarantee that my scenario didn't actually happen
posted by Sebmojo at 3:11 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Well, no, but it may have made you one of the great monsters of history (which would be a good name for a band)
posted by nubs at 3:58 PM on August 24


Found a suitcase on my doorstep this morning. Inside was a note that just said EVENTUALLY THE COMMENTS IN THAT 1970s SUITCASE POST ARE GOING TO GET REALLY TIRESOME.
posted by duffell at 6:09 PM on August 24 [7 favorites]


DO NOT TRUST THE 1987 SUITCASE
posted by Artw at 6:11 PM on August 24 [6 favorites]


1977 Suitcases (with 1977 Marilu Henner from Taxi)

(I was looking for an old clip where American Tourister Luggage was a consolation prize for a '70s game show...)
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:29 PM on August 24


I posted a similar question to friends a while back. "You've got one standard shipping container. You're going to send it back in time to approx. 1972. What would you put in it?"
posted by mrbill at 7:42 PM on August 24


hmmm...1977. a note to bobby & jer to don't start with the coke.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:56 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Send it to the one person who will know what to do with it: Hillary Clinton. Contents: a list of people to kill.
posted by medusa at 10:43 PM on August 24


hmmm...1977. a note to bobby & jer to don't start with the coke.

John Meyer formed MSL in 1979, so obvs, he got my briefcase, opened it, and read the papers.
posted by mikelieman at 10:45 PM on August 24


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