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Time Travelers Welcome at MIT Hani Sallum, who called himself "a past MIT student," carried a can of Tab and a sign to let time travelers know what he thought of their failure to warn attendees of the heavy rains on Saturday.
Photo: Courtesy of Mark Baard
Time Travelers Welcome at MIT

By Mark Baard

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- If John Titor was at the Time Traveler Convention last Saturday night at MIT, he kept a low profile.

Titor, the notorious internet discussion group member who claims to be from the year 2036, was among those invited to the convention, where any time traveler would have been ushered in as an honored guest.

The convention, which drew more than 400 people from our present time period, was held at MIT's storied East Campus dormitory. It featured an MIT rock band, called the Hong Kong Regulars, and hilarious lectures by MIT physics professors. The profs were treated like pop stars by attendees fascinated by the possibility of traveling back in time.

East Campus housemaster Julian Wheatley, also a senior lecturer in Chinese at MIT, wore a name tag suggesting he had come back from 2121 to attend the convention.

"East Campus is known for taking a certain kind of zany approach to science," Wheatley said.

Centrally located on the MIT campus, the East Campus dormitory houses students with a reputation for turning out offbeat inventions, such as a person-sized hamster wheel and a roller coaster built from two-by-fours.

The East Campus dorm's peculiar reputation and the Time Traveler Convention's far out theme may explain why so many people made the effort to travel in driving rain to a two-hour event.

A fan of the Cat and Girl internet comic strip, which Dorai credits with giving him the idea for the convention, drove a band of jugglers up from the Yale University campus, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Others took Greyhound or Chinatown buses from New York.

"We thought it would be cool to be visited by ourselves from the future," said Shauna Anthony, who traveled from New York with fellow New School University graduate student Sara Moore.

The MIT convention was the second public attempt this year to draw time travelers to a specific place at a more-or-less specific time. In March, an Australian group called the Destination Day Bureau made its own shout-out to time travelers in Perth, Australia, by placing a welcome plaque in a public square. (Look up photos from MIT and Perth.)

MIT's Dorai gave interviews ahead of time to major media outlets to ensure that no one in the future missed his invitation: to share chips and soda with people sporting tweed jackets and canes, and those dressed-up as their favorite science fiction and fantasy characters.

But when attendees gathered outside for a raucous countdown at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, nothing appeared on the makeshift landing pad at the coordinates Dorai set for the time travelers.

Fog from an aqueous smoke machine rolled across the empty landing area, which lay at one end of a sand volleyball court in the East Campus courtyard. One person in the crowd shouted, "Happy New Year," while another suggested the time travelers may have mistakenly set their watches for Central Standard Time.

A group of students then raided a plate of treats set out for the time travelers, while others snapped pictures of the scene with their cell phones and digital cameras.


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