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The power of the past (and the future)

Time travel could be used to improve your past or your future, but which would you choose?

If you had the ability to travel through time, would you head to the past or make a beeline for the future? It’s an interesting question in terms of what we consider most useful to us. A crystal ball certainly offers plenty of exciting opportunities for the canny punter, while a history book has not only the benefit of helping us remember the lessons of our forebears, but also actually existing as a functional item.

Recently I received my Kindle back after leaving it at a party a few months ago. Some may question how cool a man can be if he’s taking a Kindle to a party, but they obviously have never sampled the wonders of Franzen’s deathless prose while swiping canapés and other people’s beer from the ice-filled bathtub.

Anyway, the point of this paragraph is that after being separated from my digital library for a significant period, it was exciting to have the option to get back into the books I was partway through. And because of the break, I’m not especially invested in any of them… which got me thinking about what’s more useful to read: history or something future-focused, like politics or business stuff?

If you’re not a reader, you could take a peek at the most played songs or albums on your music service of choice. How many of them date from the first quarter-century of your life, and how many of them came out in the past three years? (Greatest Hits compilations don’t count, sorry.)

If you’re into sport, are you talking up the surprisingly lengthy rebuilding phase and eyeballing the newest recruits, or rewatching the 1986 NSWRL Grand Final for the umpteenth time while muttering to yourself?

It’s easy to become lost in a rose-tinted sepia longing for the good old days, when people used Timehop to linger over past social media glories instead of Facebook Memories. When people spoke MySpace to MySpace instead of in Twitter threads. When people spoke in forum discussion threads instead of MySpace to MySpace. When people called instead of texted. When people wrote letters instead of calling. When people spoke face to face instead of writing letters.

If I’m sitting here at a party, spending my energy on reading about the mysterious multi-civilisation collapse of 1177 BC while pretending I don’t know where those cans of Balter XPA went (sorry mate), am I futureproofing my thinking for whatever comes next? Wouldn’t I be better off finding out what that Barefoot Investor bloke thinks I should be nicknaming my savings accounts, or picking the on-page brains of remote-working expert Lisette Sutherland?

If I’m hyperfocused on the things that happened beyond the brick wall of the past, am I any better than the people who claim to speak intelligently on our education system because they once attended school and believe they turned out okay? If I’m bright-eyedly chasing the new hotness, am I any better than the people introducing disruptive systems to workplaces without consultation or testing?

Anyway, I made my decision. I’m going to read a fantasy novel I wholeheartedly loved when I was 13, so I can break nostalgia’s grip on my decision-making process.

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