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July 31, 2013 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Help me identify a science-fiction short story I read years ago. It's about the inventor of a remote-viewing device that also lets you view the past.

The title may be something like "when it all changed."

Bits I remember: There's a framing part about the future where this invention is commonplace, but it also talks about what the inventor of the device does when he invented it. There are children playing hide-and-seek with the device. Someone uses it to watch a sailing ship.
posted by RobotHero to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think this is it, but just on the off-chance: "The Dead Past", by Isaac Asimov?
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Additional stuff I remember: The narrative thread is about the inventor, when he realizes what he invented, fears it could be a tool of oppression, and decides the only solution is to get it into as many hands around the world as he possibly can.
posted by RobotHero at 1:36 PM on July 31, 2013

Maybe The Light Of Other Days by Stephen Baxter (based on Arthur C. Clarke's ideas).
posted by Rash at 1:37 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Dead Past, especially after your additional details.
posted by henuani at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2013

Ohhh I know exactly which story you mean! It opens on a little girl right? Can't remember the name right now. I have it in an anthology at home. If no one else comes up with it, I can check it tonight.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: Is it:

I See You, by Damon Knight, 1976, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction:

This layered story tells of an ambiguous utopia where a technological advance has turned the entire world into a bunch of louts-eaters. An inventor who mourned the loss of his family in a transportation accident sets about inventing a device that will allow him to view scenes remote to him is both time and space. He succeeds and realizes the power and danger of his creation. Rather than destroy the device he copies it out and ships it to television dealers. The world became enthralled virtually overnight. Crime ended because everyone could see what everyone else was doing. Repressive governments toppled once dissidents got hold of one of the devices. Old wrongs were righted once people had the ability to go back and watch old crimes or the beginnings of ancient feuds. Eventually society changed:

The whole world has been at peace for more than a generation. Crime is almost unheard of. Free energy has made the world rich, but the population is stable, even though early detection has wiped out most diseases. Everyone can do whatever he likes, providing his neighbors would not disapprove, and after all, their views are the same as his own.

posted by showbiz_liz at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The chronoscope from The Dead Past is much the same technology, and it touches on the same theme of the loss of privacy and whether it could be abused by the government, but the summary doesn't sound like the same story to me. I also checked the some of the See Also and they don't sound right either.

showbiz_liz - It could have opened on a little girl. It may have been the thing with the sailing ship or playing tag, but I'm pretty sure it opened with a kid using the technology to show how ubiquitous it is.
posted by RobotHero at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2013

Response by poster: I See You that's the one I was thinking of!

But I was thinking of it again because of the issues about privacy, so the other stories base on similar ideas are nifty too.
posted by RobotHero at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you put it that way you should look into a key episode from the original Outer Limits, O.B.I.T., whose writers must've been familiar with "The Dead Past."
posted by Rash at 3:08 PM on July 31, 2013

The Dead Past also has a much bleaker take on the outcome of the tech getting into the general public's hands. Everyone spying on everyone else because they can, relatives obsessively re-watching their dead loved ones over and over until the events move outside of the chronoscope's viewing window, etc.
posted by barc0001 at 4:15 PM on July 31, 2013

I See You (the last story on this page) was one of my favorite short sci-fi stories, and I think if you like that you'd enjoy The Light of Other Days very much. It explores the social implications of such an inescapable panopticon in really intriguing ways.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:41 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another story in this same vein is PastWatch by Orson Scott Card. A future society is reviewing history via the viewer and they try to find moments which are the root cause of some of the evils in their present day. Once they find one, they send a team back there to try to change that moment. This book is specifically about the events that happened right after Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world.
posted by CathyG at 1:33 PM on August 1, 2013

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