In Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels back in time, from 1985 to 30 years earlier, arriving in a suped-up DeLorean to 1955. While in the past, he subsequently messes-up his parent’s first meeting, and must then change history while he tries to get them together to insure his own existence. Likewise, in the film’s first sequel, Marty travels through time to assist his children. In the futuristic vision there are hover boards and flying cars. Though fanciful, we can see areas where the world we live in mirrors much of what’s going on in both films – but are we truly closer to the technology found in Hill Valley in 1955, or in the film’s futuristic sequel?
Where did we think we would be by 2011? Certainly there’d be flying cars and hover boards, wouldn’t there? Yet, we’re still driving fuel-burning cars, riding bicycles and scooters, all traveling on the ground and not through the air. Of course the computer is critical to our everyday lives, but what of the other technology around us? In essence, the things we use most haven’t changed very much in the last 70 years. By 1940, the TV had been invented; cars were built with air conditioning and radios, and films were in color. The special effects in 1939’s Wizard of Oz still hold-up today.
We do, however, have technology prophesied in movies made decades ago. In Total Recall, the protagonist walks through a full-body x-ray machine to board a plane. As seen in most major airports 3D monitors and holograms are either implemented already or on the very near horizon. Virgin Atlantic has taken a page out of 2001: A Space Odyssey to make space travel practical for the common man — or at least the common man who can spend $200,000 for 5 minutes of weightlessness.
We might not have flying cars or hover boards, but we do have Jetson-like videophones. We can Skype to the 4 corners of the earth and chat with relatives or friends for hours for free. We can clone animals. We are in ethical debates over genetic engineering. We use lasers in everything from astronomy to surgery. Yet if you were to look at life all around us, does it look more like 1955 than 2055? We’re really no nearer to being able to fly to work as Dorothy was to returning to Kansas when she first arrived in Oz.
In many ways, the future is now: Video billboards, the internet following us wherever we go, mining data to learn how to relieve us of our advertising dollars. We have 3D televisions and binoculars. We can still go out to the movies, but it might very well cost you over $50 for a family of 4. Yet here is where the more things change, the more they do stay the same: Chevy is still making fuel-burning convertibles, Universal is still cranking out movies, and you can still watch Back to the Future. Only now you can enjoy it any time you want, anywhere you want – with your phone.