What if someone from the future popped up in our timeline and started answering questions from people on internet message boards? That's exactly what John Titor did in the late 1990s. Claiming he was sent from the future on a mission to retrieve an antique computer, he talked with thousands of people online and told stories of futuristic life in 2036. Many of his tales warned of imminent disaster for the world, but he said he couldn't help.
As abruptly as he appeared, Titor vanished in 2001. Did he finish his mission? Who - or what - is behind the legend of John Titor?
Top image from Xetobyte on Deviant Art.
The Titor Faxes and Art Bell
Titor first popped up on July 29 1998, through two faxes sent to Art Bell, host of the overnight talk show Coast to Coast AM. The faxes tell of the discovery of time travel in 2034 and devastation following the Y2K disaster. Art Bell reads the second of the two faxes on air:
Let me explain, Mr. Bell. I sent a fax with this opening on July 29 1998. As I said then I am a time traveler. I have been on this world line since April of this year and I plan to leave soon. Typically time travelers do not purposely affect the world lines they visit. However this mission is unusually long and I've grown attached to some of the people I have met here.
Titor is absent until 2000, when someone with a similar background begins posting under the username TimeTravel_0 on the Time Travel Institute Forum with a story similar to the faxes Bell received in 1998. The name John Titor is not used until January 27, 2001, when an individual posts on an Art Bell BBS Forums opening up to others about his life as a time traveler and inviting questions:
Posted by John Titor on 01-27-2001 12:45 PM. Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036. I am on my way home after getting an IBM 5100 computer system from the year 1975. My "time" machine is a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric. The unit is powered by two, top-spin, dual-positive singularities that produce a standard, off-set Tipler sinusoid. I will be happy to post pictures of the unit.
Conversations between Titor and posters on Art Bell Post to Post continue for the next few months. Titor talks of imminent problems across the world beginning in 2004 – the cancellation of the Olympics, the splitting of the United States into warring factions, an epidemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and a series of Russian nuclear strikes in 2015 that devastate all major U.S. cities along with the European Union and China.
Life in 2036
Titor talks about his life as well, including living in Florida as a child, his service in the second American Civil War as a member of the Fighting Diamondbacks in 2013, and the communal/agricultural nature of life in 2036.
Titor admits he lives in a parallel timeline, one that varies 1-2% from ours. Enough to be slightly different, but not diverge from the major societal events. Titor is on a mission to obtain an IBM 5100 in order to debug computers in 2036 due predicted problems with Unix in 2038. The IBM 5100 emulates APL and BASIC programming languages, an interesting feature. John also posts pictures of his time travel machine along with schematics and the logo used by his military unit.
Titor's story eventually falls apart, with answers inconsistent and terse, and the user quits posting in April of 2001. The Titor story contines to grow as the conversations are re-posted onto other sites and through e-mail lists, with Titor fever reaching a peak in 2003, culminating with the release of a book about Titor, John Titor: A Time Traveler's Tale in late 2003 by the John Titor Foundation, Inc.
Narrowing down the possibilities
The Razimus Report, a list of 88 people associated with the original Titor posts are cross referenced in amazing detail, with the researcher suggesting that Titor is a fraud - simply a guy on the internet answering questions he posed to himself. Of the 88, all but 7 are exonerated. Among those seven are people associated with a "pro-Titor" website Time Travel Institute, or those with a financial stake in the Titor story, mostly from merchandising.
The John Titor Foundation, LLC.
An IP address associated with Titor is located in Celebration, Florida, the site of the lawyer overseeing the John Titor Foundation. The John Titor Foundation is established as a limited liability corporation in Florida on September 16, 2003, led by Lawrence H. Haber .
The Razimus report names Haber as the head suspect behind the John Titor story. Haber is an Orlando, FL entertainment lawyer and former vice president of the Florida Motion Picture & Television Association who currently resides on the board of directors for the Women in Film & TV – Florida. Haber provided legal services to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in the past.
I contacted Lawrence H. Haber at his law office and inquired about ongoing or future projects regarding Titor. Haber said that he knows of no projects. The John Titor Foundation holds the copyright on the 177th Military Unit insignia used by Titor, inscribed with a quote from Ovid - tempus edax rerum, or "time, that devours all things."
Delving into the Haber Connection
Mike Lynch, a private detective hired for an Italian documentary on Titor, suggests that Haber's brother, John Rick Haber, is Titor. John Rick Haber is a computer scientist who would have known about the IBM 5100 and Unix 2038 problem, with a post office box application later linking John Rick Haber with the John Titor Foundation. Lynch believes John Rick Haber to have the computer knowledge and wit to perpetrate the Titor hoax.
Viral Marketing and the Future of John Titor
I believe it is likely that the John Titor story started out as a bit of internet fun, but as interest picked up, several individuals attempted to make money on it. However, no one has succeeded in marketing the Titor story yet (though My Future Boyfriend might be based on it).
Additionally, I believe it completely possible that the Titor who faxed Art Bell in 1998 and the Titor posting in 2001 are different people – the internet Titor provides much more detail than the faxing Titor. The faxes could be source material for the internet Titor, or fodder for a number of people posting in an organized manner as Titor.
The legend of John Titor continues on, regardless of the failure of his predictions, and his time travel theory received a U.S. patent in 2006. If the process works, the patent holder is set for some financial gains.
Titor's attempt to play on common fears and conversational manner are his legacy – Titor's approachability did wonders for credibility. Maybe his mission finished and he left? Given his explanation that he was from a parallel timeline, we'll never know.
Images courtesy of Johntitor.com, IBM, & the John Titor Foundation. Sources linked within the article.