temporal vertigo

I almost never use the Calendar app on my iPhone, but the other day I needed to find out the day of a particular event earlier in the year when away from my laptop. So I went to “year view” and scrolled back, overshooting a full year or two. I then found myself wondering how far back the calendars went, and began scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling … The years, and centuries, flew away into the past and then the distant past.

Within seconds the nineteenth century had vanished forward, as it were, and then in no time so had the early modern years. I experienced an odd sense of vertigo watching entire eras of dense, rich human history zoom along, dissolving into their foundations, only to see those foundations dissolving in turn.

In no time I was confronted with a calendar from the fourteenth century and, pausing there, experienced a slew of random, disconnected bits of knowledge — of polities and conflicts and kings, music and literature and art and language, social and cultural and religious developments — flooding my mind. How far back is this thing gonna go? I wondered. My guess was: the year 1, beginning of the Common Era. On and on my index finger caressed the aluminosilicate glass display, early medievalism disappearing decade by decade in the flash of an eye.

I rested again, and suddenly realized that Rome had come back into being, as it were, a Christian Rome, besieged and tottering. And we were suddenly pre-Islam also. The Talmud was being compiled in Babylon. But I was too curious — back and back we went. Year 1 approached and then … raced on by. Finally tiring, I came to rest in 480 BCE, one of the traditional birth years given for the historical Buddha. The Jews had rebuilt the Temple by this point, Socrates was about to be born.


By the time I’d reversed direction and returned to the present, I’d lost interest in the parallel question: how far forward did the app reach? Also, it seemed a somewhat spooky inquiry: what if one of the app programmers also possessed prophetic gifts and the last calendar wasn’t all that far along? …

Just now, remembering, I did a search for this question, only to find that everybody has a different answer. Several people report that theirs goes back only to 1900, another person’s to 4716 BCE, yet another’s to 9999 BCE (whew, glad I didn’t have to do that). As for the other direction, the answer seems to be 9999, although one person claimed to have reached 20,000 before getting tired.

So maybe there’s a future after all.