On the 27th of January, 2001 this unusual message was posted on an online forum Post to Post, from “Coast to Coast” host Art Bell:
“Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036. I am on my way home after getting an IBM 5100 computer system from the year 1975.
My “time” machine is a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric. The unit is powered by two, top-spin, dual-positive singularities that produce a standard, off-set Tipler sinusoid.
I will be happy to post pictures of the unit.”
The poster’s name was John Titor, a man who described himself as an American soldier from the future. The reason for travelling back in time, he stated, was to retrieve an old computer which contained a component of vital importance to the future. This was a story which was maintained throughout further posts, which appeared in great number across numerous online forums.
For many who have researched this enigma, the name John Titor has been an incessant source of fascination, and obsession. This is in part due to the rich details his story provides about our future, and the nature of the universe in which we live.
In his forum posts, Titor claimed that we inhabit a superverse, where every possibility is happening concurrently across an infinite number of parallel universes. By travelling through different times and dimensions to the past, Titor stated that he would never be able to return back to the exact dimension from which he came. Instead he expected to travel to one different, but very similar, to his original timeline. The reason for this, he explained, is a divergency effect: our universe is alleged to be 2.5% divergent from his universe. This means that, Titor’s own history, recorded in various forums from November 2000 to March 2001, supposedly references a future which is 2.5% different from our own.
Who is John Titor?
John Titor described how he was an American historian with a specialism in the 20th century. His academic funding had been provided by the army, whilst he was as an enlisted soldier.
By the year 2036, he claimed, time travel had been developed by the government and had been used for several years by the time of his expedition. Titor said that he had been chosen to be sent to the year 1975, with the mission of retrieving an IBM 5100, a portable computer, which contained an outdated piece of coding that was needed in the future. The army had chosen Titor because of his historical knowledge, and because his grandfather had been one of the people who had worked on the very computer needed.
During the course of mission in 1975, Titor made an obscure promise to his grandfather that he would return to the year 2000. Whilst no details are given as to the nature of this promise, Titor maintained that it was for “personal reasons”. 1
Such was how it came to be that in the year 2000, John Titor shared his story on the Internet.
So, how likely is it that a future society would desperately need access to outdated computer technology? Whilst this part of the story may seem unusual, in 2002 NASA experienced a similar dilemma. To finish building their booster testing machines, they had to buy outdated medical equipment on eBay to scavenge their now obsolete Intel 8086 chips from the 1970s.2
In the case of the machine Titor was sent to retrieve, the IBM 5100, the time traveller described a special feature of the machine which had not been publicly announced. Bizarrely, some of these computers are said to hold a special code which stopped being used after the 1970s. In 2004, a few years after the Titor mystery, Bob Dubke, an engineer who helped design the IBM 5100, did indeed confirm that such a feature existed. 3
The fact that the IBM 5100 is portable also makes it a better candidate than its far larger cousins for this alleged, one-man time-travel expedition.
As his motive for needing to travel back in time was somewhat logical, those communicating with Titor on forums at the time were drawn further into his story.
The future according to John Titor
As well as describing his personal history, John Titor also revealed information about a future marred by warfare. A common theme in all of his posts is the detail he provides in describing alleged future events.
Civil war and World War III
“The year 2008 was a general date by which time everyone will realise the world they thought they were living in was over. The civil war in the United States will start in 2004. I would describe it as having a Waco type event every month that steadily gets worse. The conflict will consume everyone in the US by 2012 and end in 2015 with a very short WWIII.” 4
The Waco event Titor referred to was a siege in 1993 by American federal and state authorities against a religious sect in Texas. During the crisis, hundreds of federal agents attacked their compound. Overall, at least 80 members of the sect were killed, including children. 5 At the time, the siege was widely regarded as a landmark event, which turned the minds of many Americans against the federal government. By referencing it, especially with it still in recent memory, Titor insinuated the rising of tensions between local and central authorities. Indeed, the alleged time traveller described how, as a young man, his life was defined by a war which pitted the countryside of the United States against cities controlled by federal authorities6.
According to Titor, until 2015 this conflict was limited to guerrilla warfare. Across the nation, those living in the countryside took up arms against perceived federal abuses of individual rights.
“When the civil “conflict” started and got worse, people generally decided to either stay in the cities and lose most of their civil rights under the guise of security or leave the cities for more isolated and rural areas. Our home was searched once and the neighbor across the street was arrested for some unknown reason. That convinced my father to leave the city.
“From the age of 8 to 12, we lived away from the cities and spent most of our time in a farm community with other families avoiding conflict with the federal police and national guard. By that time, it was pretty clear that we were not going back to what we had and the division between the “cities” and the “country” was well defined.
Due to the rising stakes of the conflict, a military career was an obvious choice for the young time traveller.
“I joined a shotgun infantry unit in 2011. I served with the “Fighting Diamondbacks” for about 4 years. […]. The civil war ended in 2015 when Russia attacked the U.S. cities (our enemy), China and Europe.” 7
The conflict then became nuclear, with America’s enemies using nuclear weapons against many cities across the U.S.A.
“Nuclear war is a very undesirable thing but it is not the end of the world. There are areas and cities we can’t enter and the environment did suffer a great deal of damage but we are recovering. Isn’t Hiroshima a thriving city today? The major physical affects include skin cancer, infertility, infection, etc. Almost everyone has some sort of physical remnant from the war.”8
Titor stated that, after the war, the USA reformed itself9.
“The United States is still a representative republic in 2036 but it was touch and go for a while. After the war, the U.S. had divided into 5 general areas based on their economic and defensive strengths. Many people blamed the government organization for the war and the last Constitutional Congress was held in 2020 to officially scrap the Constitution and start over. Fortunately, this exercise in anger pointed out how hard it was to come up with anything better. It was decided the document wasn’t at fault. As a result, there have been a few small changes to the Constitution and the executive branch but you would easily recognize it. The average citizen is more educated about the Constitution and aware of the rights and responsibilities it gives them. Federal power has been decentralized and the focus of daily politics is in the state senates. Federal law has also been streamlined but much harder to change or make additions to.”
The aftermath of World War III
In the aftermath of the war, Titor explained how survivors continued to value family and small communities. In 2036, life was described as being very different from what current society may imagine it to be.
“In 2036, I live in central Florida with my family and I’m currently stationed at an Army base in Tampa… the people that survived grew closer together. Life is centered on the family and then the community. I cannot imagine living even a few hundred miles away from my parents.
“There is no large industrial complex creating masses of useless food and recreational items. Food and livestock is grown and sold locally. People spend much more time reading and talking together face to face. Religion is taken seriously and everyone can multiply and divide in their heads.” 10
The invention of time travel
With peace reinstated, time travel was invented by the year 2034. However, Titor pointed out that – in his future – it has not yet been made available for public use.
Although it is reserved solely for official purposes, the general public are aware of its existence. In his forum posts, Titor is happy to discuss time travel at length, including its moral implications which he said are discussed in his own time. Titor claimed that the state, for example, had considered using time travel as a sort of punishment. 11
Motivations: Why did John Titor reveal all that he did?
Throughout his forum posts, it is clear that John Titor – whoever he is – is willing to provide much detail about the alleged future. He gives opinions freely, and is happy to answer questions. Yet, he had no desire to change the future to come. On the contrary, in his posts he often stated that he believed the coming conflict would be something which would help America grow in a positive way12.
“I think the war would be good for you and your society. I don’t want to stop it.”
Throughout his correspondence, there is something of a callousness when Titor speaks of the war to come. In one private message, he even revealed that he “hates” this time, seeing it as a period when people had it all, yet squandered it out of ignorance. 13
So, why, if real, would a veteran of such an active time in history so openly reveal events yet to come? This question becomes all the more mind boggling when it is apparent that Titor does not care about being believed.
“I realize there is no way for anyone to believe me with absolute certainty so I hope I’m at least entertaining.
“I realize my claims are a bit ridiculous but my intent is not really to be believed. […] In fact, over this medium, it’s impossible to prove I’m a time traveler, therefore, it’s impossible to believe.“
Yet, far from being apathetic, John Titor revealed he was afraid of being believed14.
“The reason time travelers do not reveal themselves is because your society scares the hell out of us. We do not want to end up in a cement room on a permanent supply of sodium prenatal as men with lab coats poke at our machine with a screwdriver.”
Is John Titor a Hoax?
The tenacity with which John Titor stated that he does not expect, or want to be, believed is an element of this story which – perhaps ironically – serves only to increase people’s general willingness to believe him. Unless, that was his intention all along. If an elaborate hoax, it stands to reason why someone would state this as an act of reverse psychology: a lack of motive makes the persona of John Titor inherently more enigmatic, and more importantly, more believable.
The debate surrounding the reality of John Titor is not an easy one to unpick. Both sides make genuine and sympathetic points. On the one hand, it all seems rather fantastical, and, as we already live in this future, redundant. Yet, the 2.5% divergency effect neatly explains away any inconsistencies, thus redeeming the argument.
John Titor’s time machine
Titor’s knowledge of science and technology is another aspect which seemingly adds to the case’s legitimacy. The alleged time traveller is very forthcoming with information about his time travel machine. Titor even went so far as to post online photocopies of the manual for his time machine, supposedly developed by General Motors and the government in the future.
Photocopies of the “time displacement unit”‘s operating instructions
As well as the manual, he also uploaded several photographs of something he claimed to be the machine, which he took in the present day.
Theoretically speaking, all of what John Titor claimed in his posts is possible. One person by the name of Martin Pohlman took Titor’s ideas and documents one step further, and in 2004 filed for a U.S. patent for a time machine. It was published in 2006, and has since been considered an interesting, if albeit theoretical, application for the possibility of time travel. 15
All of this increases the stakes. If a hoax, it is a highly elaborate one, thoughtfully engineered by an educated individual, or group of individuals. John Titor could simply not have been invented, in all his complexities, one weekend by the average bored teenager.
Another theory is that John Titor was devised for social control. As the year 2036 is painted in a very specific manner, some people have claimed that Titor is a right wing personality, invented in order to instill fear of the federal government. However, in one of his posts he advises people to not hoard guns, explaining that it will only work to make you a target. Since gun ownership is a maxim of the Republican right wing in America, it would almost amount to heresy to not include the necessity of personal gun ownership in a bleak pro-Republican future.
Titor touches on an uncomfortable reality
Regardless of the persona of John Titor, his future does touch upon one aspect of American history which is very true: the inherent conflict between the countryside and the cities. Such a clash of ideas has been present since the foundation of the United States of America. The rights of individual states being one of the factors that led to the American Civil War.
The conflict between countryside and cities is not going to go away anytime soon, either.
Alongside the perceived erosion of civil rights, the technological advancements championed by the cities are disenfranchising many in the countryside. Those who rely of traditional methods of employment, are witnessing their livelihoods being threatened. Coal mining and its future relevance, for example, was a heavily contentious issue in the 2016 election. And, it is predicted that many labour intensive jobs will be done by robots by 2040. 16 As technology continues to encroach on what is seen to be traditional countryside economies, it is not unbelievable to imagine a future in which those who have suffered under the technocratic age should come into conflict with those who are profiting from it. Such a conflict would be a timeless example of a class struggle in an age of change.
It is this chord which Titor struck with an America that had recently lived through the tragedy at Waco, as well as the Oklahoma City attack of 1995. This attack on a federal building was committed by a man who believed that it was necessary to draw attention to the violation of Civil Rights.
In many ways, John Titor was the perfect apocalyptic prophet for the year 2000. If anything, he was too perfect, and this observation is perhaps the most suspicious element of the John Titor case. History very rarely reveals itself to be as predictable as the picture he painted. World War One, for example, defied the logical progression of a civilisation which regarded itself as going through a golden age.
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However, the 2.5% divergency effect will always give John Titor a metaphorical “get out of jail free card”. Whilst it may be a fascinatingly elaborate hoax, his story cannot be argued against completely. If all possibilities are happening concurrently across an infinite number of parallel universes, who is to say whether or not the future Titor described isn’t one of them. Whilst predictable, the alleged time traveller does describe underlying problems which has led the United States to war once before.
Is 2.5% divergence enough to make our future look very different from the one proposed by the mysterious John Titor? After all, our past is filled with small moments that become history defining. If something had changed in these moments, even ever so slightly, history could be have ended up being different. In 1914, for example, if Archduke Ferdinand’s driver had taken but 2.5 seconds more to think about where he was going, would he have taken that wrong turn which led straight to the front of the cafe where the Archduke’s assassin just so happened to be? Without that wrong turn, that small moment of chance, would World War One have ever happened? Or, would World War One merely have happened at a later date, driven by the same underlying problems, but triggered by different circumstances? Thus, just because the future hasn’t unravelled precisely as John Titor described it yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all.
And that is part of the reason why the mystery of John Titor will forevermore remain that – a mystery.
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