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When traveling back in time, if you want to bring as much information as possible with you, there are 2 competing things you need to balance.

  1. On the "future" / giving end, you want to gather information as quickly as possible and spend the least amount of time assembling it, and in the most portable/compressed way possible. E.g. if you are in an urgent situation and need to go back in time.

  2. On the "past" / receiving end, you need to be able to read the information. So if the jump backwards is more than a few years, you'll have issues with trying to read storage mediums that required future technology, e.g. trying to read data from a USB stick in 1970.

So, how can you back transport the maximum amount of information possible, subject to these two competing constraints?

The best answer will likely depend on the time interval that was jumped, e.g. for going back only a few years, the best option will likely be different than the best option when traveling back from present day to 100 BCE. So, I'm interested to hear ideas for any interval of time jumped.

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    $\begingroup$ Microfilm (tiny writing on thin plastic) and microscope. If the film has detailed instructions more microscopes could have been made as far back as ancient Greece. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 31 '16 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ The exact circumstances are very relevant to your question. What information are you trying to transmit? Who will be receiving it? Will anyone be there to assist the recipient? How much actual knowledge of the recipient's context does the sender have? For instance, a prehistoric recipient would likely only benefit from personal interaction; no technological device will even be interpreted as a kind of communication. Many time periods would not be interested in receiving such a communication; paranoia, xenophobia, and even racism if the sender were present, could influence the reception. $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Aug 31 '16 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also, the context of your question is relevant. Are you trying to plan what storage mediums and associated equipment you should have around in case you need to perform this task? Or, given that you had no advance warning that you would be performing this task, which of all available mediums allows you to "pack" faster? $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Aug 31 '16 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ The former: the traveler can prepare in advance, they just won't know exactly when they may need to time jump. Therefore, they basically need to assume that they might have to jump at any time, so must always be prepared, so must have some portable solution with them at all times (e.g. a ruggedized solar powered device as mentioned by some others). $\endgroup$ – sambajetson Aug 31 '16 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ I assume, then, that you as the time traveller are there to explain/make use of the appropriate information? $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Sep 1 '16 at 0:30
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TLDR, books.

Notion number two is much more important. Not being able to access the information once it has been brought to the past completely defeats the purpose of the time travel in the first place. Therefore how you approach problem one is dependent on the answer to problem two.

Note: I'm assuming that we're time travelling from the present day, as extrapolation of future technology is too big of a variable. The same principles will apply to if we're travelling from, say, 2500, but the exact time ranges may be different.

0-10 years: If you're travelling back such a short time, you don't really need to worry about it. Most electronic storage systems have backwards compatibility - you could travel back to 2006 with an external hard drive that has a USB 3.0 connector and it would work fine in a laptop's USB 2.0 slot. Many file formats will stay the same over this sort of time range, or at least have compatibility modes (we're still using .mp3 files for music; .doc/.docx and .xls/.xlsx are essentially interchangeable). You may have some issues depending on what type of information you're bringing back, but all in all you'll probably be able to find a way to make it work.

10-25 years: At this point we need to start taking past technology into account. In 1991, USB connections didn't exist, so our external hard drive from earlier won't be much help. You could probably get away with using CD-ROMs, but you'd need to be careful about memory overflow and such problems that would arise by trying to port modern files onto old systems.

25-50 years: At this point we're nearly out of options for electronic storage. We could be going back to 1966, and that's too far for computers. The programs don't exist, the file types may not even exist... Hell, the first "modern" computer was ENIAC, built in 1973. Your best bet would probably be to bring your own laptop along in addition to the hard drives full of information, jury-rig a plug to connect into the electrical lines, and just go that way.

50-100 years: This time jump can put us back before the idea of a computer was widespread. (Yes, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace were playing with the idea of computers in the 1800s, but it's not the same ballpark.) However, electricity is widespread enough that you could do as I mentioned above, simply bring your own laptop, connect to power, and pray that nobody asks you what that thing is.

100+ years: At this point, we're out of options. Even in the late 1800s, electricity isn't generated on a wide enough scale for bringing a laptop to be a viable option (unless you bring a solar-rechargeable battery, as @D.Hancock suggested), and going back further than that is even worse. If you're going back further than electricity, you're going to need non-electric storage. And that means books. There's a reason we as a species have been using books for so long, and it's because they're efficient. We can fit a lot of information on a page, they're easy to pack up nicely, and (most importantly) they don't require special technology to use.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 on this. Books are one of man-kinds most successful inventions. Not one of the most technically complicated or innovative. But the invention of the book endures because of usability, mobility and because they work, anywhere and everywhere, not just over space but across time. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 1 '16 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ ENIAC became operational in 1946, though that doesn't really affect your answer. $\endgroup$ – Peter Erwin Sep 1 '16 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterErwin Huh. Quite correct. Where the hell did I get 1973 from? mutters about bad information on the internet $\endgroup$ – John Robinson Sep 1 '16 at 19:21
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There are so many variables here, but absent further restrictions my vote is take a tablet device with a solar-rechargeable battery. Thus, on the "future" / giving end, you can gather information via internet and camera, depending on what kind of information matters, and on the "past" / receiving end, you can access the information on the screen. The solar-rechargeable battery means this solution will work as far back in time as you want to go. Amp up this solution with as much external storage as you want, that is either powered over USB or can use the solar battery.

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To take the most information possible back in time, assuming it's further than 30 years, then you can compile your information into electronic text files. Then run a compression algorithm on it. Print this information using tiny, but legible, print. Ensure that the method for decompression is in the first page. Hopefully all you have is exactly 1 book.

When you arrive at your past destination, work out the decompression by hand. It might take awhile, but you get the option of picking your destination point. Also, depending on the time, you can leverage local people by employing them to do the decompression for you.

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Well, I will be answering this question based on a hypothetical time travel of more than 1000 years, from an age with electronics to one without them. It could serve for both the Middle Ages or the Stone Age as a result.

First of all, the safest bet would be to directly bring that reading technology with you to the past. Maybe a PC is not very suitable for this task, but a laptop, tablet, or even a Smartphone are able to read from an external hard disk with the appropriate conectors, and that would allow you to get up to 2 TB of information, with the best models available in 2016. However, this ties you to the necessity of a reading device, and once its battery is out, you will no longer be able to read said information.

Another option is the use of classic paper. Thanks to modern laser printers, you can print a few hundred pages in less than an hour, and by compressing the letter format you would be able to fit large quantities of data in less than a kilogram (about two pounds if you are from US) of paper. This is obviously slow and heavy, but if you can afford that hour and can protect those paper sheets from the environment once you get to that time, you would be able to make use of that information for a long period of time.

Also, there is a solution which can be applied to all different time travels, and that is to travel back in time before that sudden situation obliged you to run away and make appropriate preparations for your time trip

This may sound a bit cliché, but I am not a born English speaker, so I apologize for every grammar mistake I may have made.

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I would suggest if you are jumping back to a time more recent than 2000 take USBs. This is because 2000 was when USBs were commercially available. Use zip files to reduce space and take only text files as video and picture file software may have changed rendering your files unreadable in the past. Further back than that takes CDs or floppy disks depending on which was more used in the time you are aiming for.

Before then your only real option is too write down the information. If only you are planning on looking at it use journalistic shorthand and bind it in a hardbacked book to improve durability. If it has to be widely accessible use the main writing medium of the time and write in the main language of the time.

One other option is to store it on a smartphone but this is temporary storage only if you go on a long jump because electricity won't be around for recharging. There is also a risk of being accused of witchcraft if you go back too far with a working phone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Jpegs, png's and most other formats were available in 2000. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 31 '16 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson Thanks, I don't know much about computers pre 2010. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 31 '16 at 22:01
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I think it will have to be dependent on a few factors: How far Back, ( pre 32 Bit OS/Post 32), (Pre-magnetic disc) and (pre-silicon) How Much information, in Gb, even in recent times, a 128 Gb flash/usb isn't readable on Win95/98 or before. If your planned jump is greater than 15 years, cassette magnetic storage was common as far back as early 1980s. For a jump to pre-silicon I recommend Microfilm/microfiche, readable with any reasonable microscope within the last 100 years or more. If the jump is pre- 20th century, print is the only 'safe' way, and then I'd suggest a real printing press.

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Polaroid photographs. Go to future. Snap photo after photo. They develop quickly with no extra tech needed. Go as far back in the past as you want, the pictures are still visible.

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    $\begingroup$ First go to the past to buy film! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 1 '16 at 11:00
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At first send a letter with instructions back in time, maybe to yourself. Then you (in the past) can use the instructions to build the required instruments (perhaps in cooperation with a company). Once you have finished the task, you send "mission accomplished" to your future self. This way you make the information usable in the past.

Now you are doing the same the other way around. At first you send a message to your future self and ask what happens at a particular instance of time. (Of course what you need to now have to be in your future but in the past of your future self.) Then your future self is sending the wanted information back to you and you can act accordingly.

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