Another reason we can say that the book could have been about past times is that it differentiates people as colored and whites as was done in the past. But then we see the enormously tall glass and steel walled skyscrapers, that the characters live and associate their lives with, with the compact cars and normal city life as can be seen today and also possible in the future.
The book by Colson Whitehead has been written so brilliantly in the sense that he has not given any particular character more importance than another, not written in a manner which would cause for attachments with any character in particular however high the degree of their pain was. For example, the description of the man whos fingers were being cut of by Johnny Shushs men, the description of the pain he was going through being told to the blood stained room with all of his screaming, and yet it is made easy to just shut him out and Rahul 2 not be concerned by his pain.
There is substantial information given in the book to create a world, but it gets confusing as the world created has elements which depict the past, the present and the future. There are elements taken from the past as seen in detective movies made popular at that time, such as the role of the mob who are linked with the corrupt higher authoritative in the governing system. And then the detectives spying on people, following their prey through their daily activities and taking pictures, so hat they can go to them later and interrogate their prey at a later date, with the pictures as a threat to expose their crime to the world.
The fact that Pompey was the first colored person to have achieved the post of an elevator inspector and the stories associated with how he was ridiculed before having been awarded his job, and Lila Mae being the second and also at the same time being a woman inspector which in itself was quite a revolution, says that there was not a lot of equality at the time a thing that is now considered the past, as people now to be less discriminative, and are giving equality a fair chance.
Then there are characters like that of the investigative journalist Ben Urich who can be placed any where in time in the past, the present and the future. The presence of corporate wars tells us that it could be in the present or the future. It is about a time where the mega-corporations are so engrossed in ways to make higher profits that they will go to great lengths to sabotage their rivals and spy on them so as to not let their rivals get ahead of them.
It is set in a time where the authoritative figures of the city have contacts with the mob, who use each other Rahul 3 to get their work done, then there is the side of the high ranking officials who are sponsored by the corporations, so that the corporations can have themselves endorsed and thereby have a greater avenue to get their product sold, all of which suggest the present and the future.
It could also be assumed that the book is concerned with the future as there is a guild of elevator inspectors a group of people specially trained at the Institute of Vertical Transport and hired by the city to inspect and regulate the functioning of the elevators, something that could be concern of the future as there would be so many tall skyscrapers with elevators that would be constantly used by people that there should be no chance of a mishap as there would be a lot of casualties. The entire book is based on the difference on two separate factions of the elevator guild the Empiricists and the Intuitionists.
The Empiricists inspect an elevator for signs of wear and tear in a methodical fashion are grudgingly tolerating the Intuitionists who rely on introspective methods more akin to clairvoyance as the Intuitionists have a slightly better record of accuracy than the Empiricists. The intuitionists came into existence from the people who began to follow a man called James Fulton after having read one of the books he published in which he made fun of the way the Empiricists worked just because he had grown tired of the world and its lies.
James Fulton was a black man who had discovered that he could pass as a white man and so he lived his life like one, up until he got tired and started writing the book which was meant to be a joke, which sadly no one got, but instead everyone took seriously. In the book Lila Maes character is shown to be searching for the blue-prints to a perfect elevator called the black box, which would take people Rahul 4 higher up into a better world.
The book considers the elevator as a complex metaphor and more so the black box. It is supposed to represent a spiritual ascension, which would lead the people up and away from their present grim and corrupt world into a better place. Then again maybe the setting of the story is not relevant as the book deals with the problems of race and gender bias, politics and the struggle for power and more money, all elements of the life led by people today, in the past and possibly in the future as well.