Study Guide

The Future of Us Time

By Asher, Jay and Mackler, Carolyn


Then, just under the blue banner, something makes me shiver. Next to a small picture of a woman sitting on a beach, it says "Emma Nelson Jones." The woman is in her thirties with curly brown hair and brown eyes. My stomach tingles because this woman looks familiar.

Too familiar. (1.51-52)

Let the time travel begin. In this moment, Emma discovers her future self, though she doesn't know that it's her yet. She has a weird feeling that makes her shiver, though, and the woman looks way too much like her to be a coincidence.

"Things change so fast when you're a teenager," Dad says, spooning salsa onto his eggs. "You and Emma used to be so close. Last summer Mom and I started to worry that you needed to hang around with other people, too." (4.9)

Josh's dad comments on how quickly things can change in life—especially at Josh's age. When you're a kid, time moves pretty slowly, but Josh is at a point now when things are really going to start moving faster as he gets closer to being an adult. His parents are worried that he's going to get stuck in the routine of doing the same old thing (and hanging out with the same old people) instead of expanding his horizons.

When I was younger, I used to write notes with markers and hold them to this window for Emma to read with her pink binoculars. I still keep that can of markers on my desk, but I'm sure she's sold her binoculars at one of the yard sales the Nelsons are always having. (6.2)

Josh is sad when he thinks about how he and Emma used to be so close. When you spend so many years with somebody, it's hard when things change—time can add to the importance of relationships as we have them for longer and longer. But a lot can also change in very little time. Time can be tricky, man.

I've always loved Josh's smell. It reminds me of tree forts and the lake. Most people went home after the movie, but Kellan, Tyson, Josh and I sent to the graveyard to visit Tyson's mom. She died when he was a baby and, as long as I've known him, he's stopped by to drop off flowers or just say hi. (13.13)

Here we look inside Emma's mind and really get a sense of how time works in her life. Everything's been the same for a long time; she and her little group of friends are really close and have shared a lot. And Josh is part of this picture, so his smell makes her feel comforted because it reminds her of home. In these ways, time hasn't change too much about Emma's world.

"I always imagined time travel would be so big and life-changing," she says. "Like A Wrinkle in Time or Back to the Future. But here, all most people care about are lame vacation photos and trivial things." (14.35)

Time travel turns out to be pretty anticlimactic—no aliens, no leaping into far off lands, no machine that makes broccoli taste like ice cream. We feel Emma on the disappointment she identifies here.

"That's odd," Emma says. "Yesterday, it said I made macaroni and cheese. I wonder why it…" Emma turns to me, her eyes wide. "I bet the mac and cheese at dinner tonight turned me off to it… even in the future." (14.40)

Emma and Josh are exploring how this whole cause-and-effect things works. Originally, Emma had a status about how much she loves mac and cheese. But after being really stressed out at dinner, it turns out that it's no longer her favorite food. Toying with time is a tricky business.

As I watch him walk down the hall, I realize this is yet another ripple brought on by Facebook. If Josh hadn't ditched me yesterday to babysit his phone, I wouldn't have gone for a run and Cody would never have seen me, prompting him to approach me today. And not just approach me… invite me to his house! I wonder if this ripple affects my future with Kevin, a man I don't even know yet. (34.28)

Imagine a stack of dominos tumbling to the ground because you accidentally bumped into one of them. That's the future. Which is usually fine, because we don't know what all the dominoes look like. But Emma and Josh get to see possible outcomes for different sets of actions, so now every time they change something about the present, they're aware that a whole new stack of dominoes has been set in motion.

"Even with our ability to look back on that war," he says, "there's no way to know for certain what was lost and what was saved. But that's how it is. History's a b**** when you're in the middle of it." (49.15)

Josh and Tyson are studying history for their exams, and they comment on how confusing it is to think about all the different ways events could have turned out. It's especially confusing when you imagine living in the middle of it. Sounds a lot like Emma and Josh's problem with Facebook, right?

I flip past the next several Looney Tunes drawings and tear out the first blank sheet. With a broken piece of charcoal, I run a broad squiggle down the center of the page and shade a ragged patch to the right. I study it for a moment, and then add an arched horizon at the bottom. This feels like the beginning of something. I'm just not sure what. (53.20)

By drawing something new in an old sketchbook, Josh is trying to create a boundary between his past and his future. Those old drawings represent his childhood with Emma, which he wants to put behind him; the new drawings are refreshing because they're abstract, representing things he's never done.

Maybe my future self really did need to focus more on the life around her. Maybe it'll help make things better. Or maybe my future self feels a connection to my current self, and she knew that I needed to focus on my here and now. (62.11)

What Emma finally realizes is that the present is the only time that she needs to worry about—after all, the future depends entirely on what happens now. She's also thinking (in some futuristic telepathic way) that thirty-year-old Emma knows that her 1996 self needs to learn this. Which is why the Emma of the future closes her Facebook account.

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