An Internet legend claims that a man named
is a visitor from the year 2036.
By Brian Dunning via Skeptoid
Podcast transcript below or Listen here
Today we’re going to delve into a modern Internet-borne legend: the story of time traveler John Titor, said to have come from the future, and briefly stopped by the year 2000 to make some Internet forum posts. That, my friends, is essentially the beginning and the end of the story. However, this is Skeptoid, and we can’t stop there. There’s something to learn from every urban legend. Even in cases where the legend itself has no connection to any actual events or history, the fact that it has nevertheless managed become a legend offers a lesson. Moreover, the thinner a story is, the stronger is the urge to dismiss it out of hand, which is never a responsible type of analysis. So let’s take a look at our apocryphal friend from another time, John Titor.
His first well-known appearance is believed to have been in the year 1998, when many accounts say that he sent some faxes into the paranormal radio program Coast to Coast AM, identifying himself as a time traveler from the year 2036. He warned that the Y2K computer bug (an issue in which many old computer systems only allowed two characters for the year) was going to be disastrous when clocks rolled over at midnight on December 31, 1999, causing deaths by starvation and freezing, martial law, and all kinds of problems. Next, sometime in the year 2000, he appeared as a participant in the discussions on an Internet forum called the Time Travel Institute. His handle was TimeTravel_0. He (or someone else using the same name) also posted on the forums for Coast to Coast. He told how, beginning with the US Presidential election in 2004, civil war tore the nation into five regions, culminating in World War III which would not end until 2015. His many predictions included that the Large Hadron Collider, yet to be completed at the time of his posts, would produce tiny black holes. Without exception, all of his predictions failed to come true.
Titor was here on a military mission, he said. He’d been sent back from 2036 to 1975 to retrieve an IBM 5100 computer, one of the earliest suitcase-sized portable computers that boasted a monochrome 5-inch CRT display. He claimed there was a need to translate some legacy program code. While on his way through the decades, he decided to stop by 1998 and spend a few years hanging out. While here, he drove around in a 1967 Corvette Sting Ray convertible with the time machine built into it. It’s noteworthy that the idea of a time machine installed in a car was not a new one, having entered pop culture many years earlier in the 1985 movie Back to the Future which featured a time traveling DeLorean. It’s scarecely inconceivable that a prankster having people on with time traveling posts might well choose to insert this old device as an inside joke.
As John Titor remained active on the Internet even after his Y2K claim had been proven false, he explained it away by saying there were parallel universes, and what happens in one might not happen in another; thus events that were established history in his 2036 universe might not happen at all in the parallel times he would visit. We call this a special pleading. It is the logically invalid invocation of an untestable condition or force as support for a claim, thus making the claim immune to scrutiny.
So the skeptical mind might well slap a palm to the forehead and wonder why the John Titor story has become well known. Anyone can go onto virtually any Internet forum and say anything they like. There is no editorial review. You can say you’re Mickey Mouse, you can say you’re the reincarnation of Napoleon, you can say you’re from the future. People also impersonate one another all the time; it’s likely that more than one person who read John Titor posts decided to make their own. Any given random Internet post, that is not connected to an established body of posts from the secured account of a known individual, has no meaningful provenance. Similarly, there’s no serious reason to suspect that anonymous faxes or phone calls into radio shows are not crank calls; it happens many times every day.
John Titor differed from purely unverifiable posts in that he made testable claims: future predictions. The predictions for whose time has come and gone have all been proven false, many of them absurdly so; and so his posts were indeed consistent with what we’d expect from random prank posts.
Why did the John Titor story grow legs? Why does it still exist?
One reason is that . . .
MORE . . . .