Shifting Time

THE wonderful thing about humans is our ability to move through time and space, without going anywhere at all.

The ability to think about the past allows us to reflect on experiences, our own or those of others, and to learn from them.

Your author used to wonder at length during his high school history classes about the value of studying history. This was perhaps due to the long lists of dates that he was forced to remember, which were meaningless then and have now been permanently forgotten.

History has nothing to do with memorising dates, and instead has everything to do with the experiences of other people, and the lessons we can learn from them. Easier to remember, much more important, but less often taught.

History is a kind of memory that doesn’t die when people do.

This is pretty remarkable, and if our ability to remember and reflect on the past was the extent of our powers then it would probably be amazing enough. But it goes further.

We can also travel forwards in time.

Our ability to imagine the future allows us to think of things that could happen, and act accordingly. If we foresee disaster, we can prepare in advance. If we imagine being the CEO, the market leader in the industry, or the world’s leading CD distributor, then we can set out to achieve it.

But there is a catch (and you might have guess it).

If shifting through time is our super power, our Kryptonite is that we sometimes get stuck there.

Hatred and anger can lead us to constantly replay a past event. Not because we are trying to find the lesson, but because we are simply stuck in time. Stuck in time. Stuck in time.

While getting stuck in the past is counterproductive, it can be even more disasterous to hold on to an impossible future.

Why would anybody do this you ask?

We’re not sure, but it happens all the time. An example from the early Internet days is Napster and the record industry. By its very existence, Napster proved that peer-to-peer file sharing was possible, and not just possible but popular with consumers.

This changed everything.

The future that many firms had imagined evaporated, but many held on to it. In fact, instead of changing their view of the future, many firms launched law suits to try and protect their CD distribution business.

A few years later, Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, and the rest, as they say, is history.