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A Simpler Time

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Have you ever wished you could time travel, like in the movies? Artist Terry Wilcox asks us to imagine 1,594 years into the future, when his sculptural clock will chime. A particle accelerator jockey at Brookhaven National Laboratory takes us 45 feet away from the beginning of time. And Swedish producer Marcus Lindeen introduces us to David McDermott, an artist who devotes his life to ignoring the present.

David McDermott

Credit: Peter McGough

Credit: David McDermott and Peter McGough

Comments [19]


The David McDermott segment made me want to punch my radio.

Please don't do that to us again.

Jan. 11 2016 09:11 PM
John from US

Everyone thinks the past was simpler. Remember the ending of "Midnight in Paris"? Someone from McDermott's favorite era probably thought the past was simpler.

And down the line it goes.

Jan. 08 2016 02:17 PM
Hannah from Germany

when i listened to this podcast episode it made me want to find out more about mcdermott. sure he did seem like a crazy person but that got me curious. and after watching an interview with him and his partner mcgough i was quiet fascinated with him and his views. and he admits himself that he needs mcgough as a partner to translate his ideas so that people can relate to it.
i think there is a lot of truth to what he is saying. this is not merely fetishizing a certain timeperiod. he is rejecting the modernization of society that started after the first world war because he sees that things have taken a wrong turn there.
i highly recommend to have a look at this interview of mcdermott and mcgough ( ) and this one of only mcgough ( ).

Apr. 20 2013 06:38 PM
Kelly from Boston

II don't understand the purpose in highlighting McDermott in this piece. It is fairly evident that he has one or more functional psychiatric conditions. This wasn't insightful or illuminating, but instead felt like shameless reality-televisionesque exhibitionism, very out of character for Radiolab.

Feb. 05 2013 07:17 PM
Annette from Pittsburgh, PA

For the person looking for more info:

Jan. 19 2013 05:44 PM
Adam from Wisconsin

Can I get those 15 minutes of McDermott's interview back? Although the art he's produced is interesting and valuable, his philosophy regarding time travel is completely ridiculous. "Everybody doesn't have to live in the present!" he screeched. He sounded like a deranged lunatic throughout the interview and did not produce one coherent thought.

I would have been much more interested to hear about how exactly he's recreated this 19th century lifestyle. In what ways does he have to compromise with the modern world around him? Why did he choose Dublin? What prompted his move to the countryside from the East Village? How expensive is his lifestyle? Is his recreation really that accurate? Where did he find his wardrobe and household goods? Does he eat period foods? What year is he living in?

Jan. 19 2013 03:08 PM
MJ from black hills

If everyone was the same, what a boring world this would be.

Jan. 19 2013 12:30 PM

McDermott is an eccentric dude that just likes the attention he gets from the way he chooses to live. There doesn't seem to be anything scientific or relevant about his argument. He just thinks differently and likes to live his life without modern day comforts. All he is doing is making life hard for himself. I was not really impressed with this section at all.

Jan. 18 2013 01:32 PM
Dave Stout from PA

I cannot stand his voice or ideas. There's nothing scientific or productive in what he's saying. People like him are one reason that other countries perceive us as crazy a-holes.

Jan. 18 2013 08:30 AM
Robert from Chicago

Scientists at the Particle accelorator in Switzerland and France may have succeded in speeding neutrinos to speeds above the speed of light. Just thinking that this could mean time travel is possible even if it was simple messages created with codes of particles. Interesting stuff.

Sep. 29 2011 10:41 PM
Christopher Olsen from Seattle

McDermott does have sort of a high voice like Sedaris, but his vocal jesticulations are far more manic. Sedaris, though capable of being emotional, is usually a pretty cool headed guy.

Some of McDermott's philosophical points are interesting, but his beliefs about living in the past are totally silly, and he confuses being a luddite with the concept of timelessness. If he wants to fetishize the 19th century, that's certainly harmless and fun, and his eccentric character is interesting and perhaps worthy of incite, but most of the "points" he attempts to make are complete nonsense.

Take for example the line about how there's plenty to explore in the culture that is 1918; we can't keep up with what we have now versus what they had in 1918. So, how was 1918 any different in that respect to right now? It wasn't. No era has ever really appreciated what they had or what came before them or where they were going. And take a good look at 1918. There was plenty of really awful stuff going on that I'm glad we aren't seeing today.

I'm also gay, and I was kind of scratching my head about his whole business about thinking his sexual identity was an extinct medical condition. I, for one, am glad that being gay is now seen as part of one's identity and not a mental affliction. The fact that he heard nothing about it as a kid other than in dusty old medical journals just kind of illustrates the progression of public perception. In 1900, it was a strange, subversive social phenomenon akin to mental illness, perhaps even depravity, in 1920, it was rare, but novel and more or less treated with indifference, but from 1950 to 1980 it was (with obvious exceptions) an evil scourge that people preferred to not have to talk about at all. Thank god for progress.

And yeah, you know what, I'd rather be broken from sleep to go in a comparably sanitary toilet than have my room smell like pee from having a porcelain jar of pee sitting there festering, virtually begging airborne pathogens to come on in and get cozy.

Pretending its 1892 isn't being timeless, its just being kooky and nostalgic. The 19th century really wasn't that great. Yeah, cravats, high collars, curly mustaches and pocket watches are novel and interesting, but slavery, aggressive imperialism, manifest destiny, and steep disparities of social class are things I'm okay living without.

I think that its fine to revisit and reincorporate elements of our past, but I think its an entirely separate issue from any kind of theory of the illusion of time, and sticking your head in the sand and pretending that microwave ovens and iphones don't exist isn't noble, it's just kinda weird. I don't dislike McDermott for being weird, it just seems like he's suggesting that we all need to freeze ourselves in the past because it's somehow better for some reason, and none of his reasons made any sense.

Jul. 08 2011 02:09 PM

That David McDermott is one wierd cat.

Jun. 07 2011 11:16 AM

Where can i find more information on David McDermott? Nothing comes up on Google.

Nov. 05 2010 09:14 AM
Alex from New York, NY

Seriously, what is the song at the end of this segment?

Nov. 03 2010 02:44 AM

He's David Sedaris' voice doppleganger!

Sep. 12 2010 10:06 AM
Aaron Petcoff from Detroit, MI

While David's perspective is fun to consider and think about, isn't it just a kind of kneejerk, escapist reaction to problems in society? Why romanticize the past (and ignore very real problems) instead of thinking about a better future?

Jul. 21 2010 01:00 PM
Adam from Tampa

Katie - I was thinking the exact same thing! big up to Radiolab and TAL

Mar. 04 2010 09:56 AM
Katie from TN

Is it just me or did that David McDermott sound scarily like David Sedaris. Weird!

Sep. 29 2009 09:11 AM
Sean Hennessey from Lancaster, PA

What's the last song at the end of the David McDermott Section, it's awesome

Jul. 23 2009 03:06 PM

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