John Titor

Well, the 2008 Summer Olympics have gone off without a hitch. This can only mean one thing to us in the internet/science fiction community:

John Titor was probably a hoax after all.

For those not steeped in the lore of teh intarrwebz, a primer: “John Titor” is the handle for a person or persons who  posted on a series of bulletin boards between November 2000 and March 2001 (here and here, for example). He claimed to be a time traveler from the future. Over the course of a few months Titor fleshed out a back story for himself that included detailed predictions about the near future (including the fact that, in his timeline, the 2004 Summer Olympics were the last to be celebrated before his future world went post-apocalyptic).

Titor claimed he was an American soldier who was sent back in time from the year 2036 to 1975 in order to secure an IBM 5100 computer. Government scientists in 2036 apparently need it to debug legacy equipment susceptible to the Unix Millennium Bug (similar to the Y2K bug, but centering around the year 2038, instead of 2000). He was ostensibly making a stopover in 2000 for ‘personal reasons’, and apparently stayed with his mother and young self in Florida. While in 2000, he used the internet to warn the people of our time about his dire future timeline (Sentinels not included).

Whoever he—or she, or they—was, they were up on their science. The scheme involving the 5100 was based on an obscure feature particular to that IBM model. He also spoke of what could be interpreted as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which he alleged would yield the secrets to time travel when it went online in 2001 (in reality—or in our timeline, if you will—the LHC is scheduled to come online in September of 2008). Additionally, Titor went out of his way to post images, descriptions and even the schematics of his time machine, a device that was initially installed in a 1967 Corvette (not quite a DeLorean, I suppose, but still in keeping with the tradition of riding through time in style).

He told the story of living in a future after an American civil war begun after the 2004 presidential elections, reaching its peak by 2008. This conflict would eventually split the United States into five regions. The civil war would end in 2015, after a brief but deadly Word War III involving Russia, China, Europe, and a generous helping of thermonuclear devices. Most large cities are obliterated during the conflict, so John Titor claimed that he comes from a largely rural world, where local territorial conflicts are the order of the day.

Despite the obvious holes in his story, and the predictions that have turned out to be inaccurate, Titor has proven to be an enduring meme on the internet, spawning advocate websites, books, plays, and even formal representation in the form of his lawyer, Larry Haber. Mike Lynch, a private investigator who was hired by an Italian TV show to investigate, came to the conclusion that John Titor is, in fact, an invention of Haber’s and John Rick Haber, his brother, who is a computer expert. Yet the urban legend persists. One of the reasons John Titor has proven so enduring is his own escape clause: Titor stated that in the course of working out time travel, scientists in his time had come to the definite conclusion that the multiverse is, in fact, a reality. No matter how off base his predictions turn out to be, Titor supporters can always say that we’re simply living out an alternate future than the one he came from, where events don’t unfold quite in the same way, or adhere to the same timeframe.

Regardless of its veracity, the John Titor story has the best elements of a good urban myth: an unprovable premise, enough real elements behind it to give credence to its claims, that millenial gloom-and-doom, and the romance of the SFnal and fantastic. Many (*ahem* me, that is) have wasted hours online reading about this alleged traveler from the future and his prophecies of a post-apocalyptic future.

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