As we leave our youth farther and farther behind, the more we tend to look back longingly; some of us wouldn't mind having some version of Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine to visit, perhaps permanently re-reside in, our own innocent, uncomplicated past.
But there is no dog-invented time machine, or time machine of any kind – for humans, anyway. To go back in time, we rely upon nostalgia time machines, such as the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app Video Time Machine (99 cents).
VTM's concept is deceptively simple – its developers have simply collected 10,000-plus public domain YouTube videos and delineated them by year and category in an easy-to-grok front end.
Simply, you spin an on-screen wheel to choose a year between 1860 and 2011, then choose a category – Movies, Music, TV, News, Sports, Games, Ads or All – to see related videos. Or, you can let the app choose a video for you by tapping "Random." You can even share a video via Twitter or Facebook.
These videos include trailers, promos, home movies, clips, ads pertaining to that year and category, most only a couple of minutes long to promote multiple memory jogs. Our rose-colored vision of the past usually doesn't hold up under longer scrutiny.
You will need to be connected to the Web to pull down the videos. Videos can be expanded to full frame, and, if you have an AppleTV, can be transmitted to be viewed on your HDTV via Apple's wireless AirPlay feature.
Although not high quality – most videos are pretty grainy – but they are particularly evocative and, sometimes, a bit unnerving. If you were a tweener girl in 1976, I dare you to view a video of the Bay City Roller's rendition of "I Only Want to Be With You" and not be simultaneously embarrassed of your previous amorous feelings toward the Scottish pop sensations and misty-eyed at your now-lost youthful exuberance for them.
Not everything is nostalgic
To me, the most interesting are the short 60 19th century videos, mostly from Thomas Edison's studios and the Lumiére brothers, and which include sound recordings of historical figures such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Florence Nightingale and Theodore Roosevelt. There are lots of fascinating clips of turn-of-the-century New York. Also mesmerizing is 9-plus-minutes of footage of the decks of the Titanic before it sailed into history.
As entertaining as the app is – and the developers promise to add videos in future versions – it seems unfinished. The videos themselves are poorly, inaccurately or just plain mislabeled; one Russian pop music video is titled, I kid you not, "Я очнь р…" Okay then. I assume the developers just grabbed the videos without renaming them.
Since footage from Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA is zealously guarded (the whole "any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game, without the express written consent of…") there is little of this guy nostalgia on VTM (although there's plenty of European soccer highlights). I found a video of the 1965 World Series (Twins v. Dodgers, won by LA in seven games) – silent amateur Super 8 footage (remember Super 8), accompanied by the sound of a projector. Not very evocative.
Yes, you can view all these videos for free on YouTube. But VTM's organization of them makes them easier and far more entertaining to watch. And despite its drawbacks, VTM provides hours of memory-jogging nostalgia without the necessity of an actual time travel device.