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(futuristic person talking to a time traveler) Unlike the primitive nation-states of your time period, here in the 26th century Earth is organized into a network of warring subreddits.

This subreddit ain’t big enough for the two of us

This subreddit ain’t big enough for the two of us published on

I’m never sure how to draw time travelers. I could do it Terminator-style, all nekkid-like, but this is a family comic, buster. (Well, most days.) I’ve settled for someone from a slightly retro-feeling First Temporal Squadron.

(My head canon is that strictly speaking, the Second Temporal Squadron came before the First Temporal Squadron, as part of an elaborate and successful effort to avoid a causal paradox and also because the employer found a loophole that allowed them to get out of paying overtime.)

Time travel is one of my favourite tropes in science fiction, and especially Star Trek. I’d happily drop whatever I’m doing at any given moment to rewatch “Yesterday’s Enterprise” or “Year of Hell.” There always seems to be a fascinating tension between the science side of things, and the narrative requirements of storytelling; sooner or later some character asks something like “Why don’t we just keep going back in time to get it right?” or “If we averted the disaster, how do any of us remember it?” They usually get an answer along the lines of “It’s complex, but it involves the temporal dynamics of tachyon decay” or just (when the writers are feeling especially nervy) “That’s just the way it works.”

What it usually boils down to is, “That’s what the story requires.” And I’m perfectly comfortable with that.

(man on talk show tells host) I got famous the same way everyone else does these days: my Reddit IAmA got turned into a blockbuster summer movie.

IAmA Cartoon. AMA

IAmA Cartoon. AMA published on No Comments on IAmA Cartoon. AMA

If you hang out on Reddit, then you’re probably well acquainted with the phenomenon of the IAmA. It stands for “I am a…” and usually ends with either “AMA” (“ask me anything”) or “AMAA” (“ask me almost anything”).

It’s also one of the most fascinating things the web’s offered in a while – which, given that it’s entirely text-based, is pretty remarkable.

The concept is simple: someone steps forward, identifies something remarkable about themselves to the Reddit community, and invites questions — for instance, “IAMA former DisneyWorld employee… AMAA“. And then the questions and answers start to fly.

The results are often glimpses into worlds we often don’t see; as I write this, an IAmA from a man who “was in a BDSM 24/7 total power exchange relationship for 3 years” is having a frank discussion with a few dozen Redditors (including a few admirably measured responses). Or maybe you might have enjoyed “IAmA Nerfer – I mod Nerf guns for enhanced function and occasionally alter appearance for costume pieces.” Or “I am youtube user Cotter548, AKA the inventor of the Rickroll. AMA.

It’s not all wonderful. Some IAmA’s don’t catch fire, and most get their share of dumb comments and idle banter. But the actual conversation, particularly from the subject of the IAmA, is often riveting.

Sometimes the appeal is voyeurism. Sometimes it’s the chance to open up to someone who shares some deeply personal pain of yours.

But mostly, when it works well, it’s because IAmA lets us connect with another person on some of their most interesting terrain, or broadens our understanding of a phenomenon of the moment. I was one of those who was blown away by Zach Wahls, the 19-year-old whose articulate, powerful defence of his two mothers became a viral rallying point for supporters of marriage equality. Coming across his IAmA was a little like actually getting to meet the guy. (And it happened thanks to Sushubh Mittal, who pointed me to it on Google+… and thus helped to spur this cartoon.)

We get very taken with technologically intensive ways of making digital conversation more appealing and engaging. But it’s worth remembering that some of the most compelling interactions we have — whether they’re in tomorrow’s 1080p 3D video with aroma-enabled augmented reality, or the kind of extended plain-text comment thread I could have read 30 years ago on dial-up — are the ones that let us share a little of each other’s authentic lives.

The Sharaohs of Ancient Egypt

The Sharaohs of Ancient Egypt published on No Comments on The Sharaohs of Ancient Egypt

It isn’t hard to find people willing to make absolutely firm predictions about technology and social media, each one asserted with total certainty. Facebook will be around forever, and Google+ is doomed. Google+ is the future, not only of social networking but of human evolution. Google+, Facebook and Twitter are all doomed, and within a year we’ll all be communicating exclusively through Ping.

Some predictions are extrapolated from data, drawn from careful observations of long-term trends, and inferred from past patterns and outcomes. Those, though, aren’t the ones that get the blood pumping and the retweets flying; the predictions that really get arguments going are the ones grounded in sheer opinion.

In the interests of provoking traffic discussion, I’m trying to get better at pulling vast sweeping predictions out of thin air, and delivering them with unshakeable confidence. But it’s been a while, and I’m still feeling a little burned over my forecast that 2008 would be the Year of Everyone Speaking Esperanto in Second Life.

Baby steps, then: I hereby predict that I’m going to keep working on improving my drawings of pith helmets.

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