Friday, January 10, 2014

On time travellers not using Twitter

Yesterday's Inside Science on Radio 4 interviewed Professor Robert Nemiroff from Michigan Tech University about his much reported search of the internet for evidence of time travellers in our midst.

Nemiroff and his students searched Twitter for references to the discovery of Comet ISON (21 September 2012) and the naming of Pope Francis (13 March 2013) - but references to them tweeted before either event took place. The abstract for Nemiroff's paper concludes:
"No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date."
Hmm, I thought. And again, hmm.

Twitter is relatively big news now, but how long will that last? If Nemiroff had conducted his research a few years ago, he might have studied the contents of MySpace or eGroups or newsgroups - the social media of a bygone age that our children will speak of as myth. Recently, the Global Social Media Impact Study suggested that older teenagers see Facebook as "dead and buried". In 10 years time - let alone in some more distant future from which time travellers might come - will we need reminding what Twitter even was?

Even if time travellers knew about Twitter, why would they use it? If the tweets are not archived in their future, they might wish to read them in our time - but why would they themselves tweet? Nemiroff is rather supposing that any such time travellers would want us to notice they'd been here.

In fact, time travellers are a bit sniffy about Twitter:
Within three hours, the cubes had a thousand separate Twitter accounts.


Doctor Who: The Power of Three by Chris Chibnall.
That might well be a direct response to Nemiroff's study. And, just to rub it in, The Power of Three was first broadcast on Saturday 22 September 2012 - the day after Comet ISON was first spotted, and so months before Nemiroff even started his research.

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