On November 2, 2000, “Timetravel_0” logged into a discussion board on a popular physics website and began posting pictures of a machine that he claimed made time travel a possibility. Timetravel_0 eventually revealed himself as John Titor, a man who traveled back in time to 1975 from the year 2038.
Titor claimed that in the year 2038, a computer-based mainframe error called the UNIX 2038 problem would wreak havoc upon the world and only an original 1975 IBM 5100 computer could solve the problem. Titor claimed that the 5100’s BASIC and APL programming languages held the key to future salvation and he was a soldier sent back in time to retrieve one in working condition.
Think of it as an uber-geeky Terminator, with Titor as the Michael Biehn character.
When asked about his year-2000 pit stop, Titor said that he dropped in to pick up some family photos lost during the “second Civil War” and to warn us of a cattle-based disease outbreak that would kill millions of people. He also hinted at future historic events, scientific laws yet to be discovered and breakthroughs that would change human life as we know it — including time travel technology (his machine was nestled in the trunk of a 1975 Chevette). Like some Nostradamus firing off prophecies from a local Starbucks, Titor lit up scientific message boards for months with vague announcements hinting at the world to come.
Titor offered to answer any direct questions asked of him but refused to repeat himself. He confirmed the Everett-Wheeler Model of Quantum Physics and claimed that this discredited the Grandfather Paradox. The enigmatic man from the future kindly responded to most queries with a keen sense of duty and patience, but occasionally got peeved at naysayers. Eventually, the fatigue from being called crazy and the repeated denial of his warnings made Titor bow out of the message boards in March of 2001 — leaving us to the mercy of fate (or destiny).
Since his disappearance, John Titor’s predictions toppled one at a time — each failing to come true even as his legend continues to grow. His forecast of the 2004 Civil War never materialized; its escalation to near-apocalypse status in 2008 also proved false. Although some suggest Titor did hint at such events as September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, his failures overshadow any authentic augury. And now we wait for the 2015 Russian nuclear attack that destroys all major US cities, leaving Omaha, Nebraska as our nation’s capital. Why should we believe this prediction? Well, Titor’s followers — and he does have them — claim that his arrival in our time changed the path of history and steered us away from these horrific events.
Like another enigmatic modern-day folk hero, DB Cooper, who became a symbol of his time, John Titor holds a place in our own culture. Titor reflects our desire for online anonymity coupled with an urge to berate and harass from behind the impersonal architecture of message boards. When Titor reached out to our imperiled society with a desire to help — or maybe just to get some attention — we, in typical fashion, mocked and drove away.
According to his own posts, in 2011, the 13-year-old John Titor lives in Florida and is training with the “Fighting Diamondbacks” in preparation for the upcoming Russian conflict. Perhaps we should track him down and apologize before we run out of time…