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 taking place in both films – but are we truly closer to the technology found in Hill Valley in 1955, or in the film’s futuristic sequel?
Certainly there would be flying cars and hover boards by 2011, wouldn’t there? But we still have our feet firmly on the ground, riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters and driving gas-powered cars. As we look around us, the computer is the obvious distinction between the present and the past. Yet, if we take a step back, so much of the technology we employ everyday has been around for decades. The television was invented in the 1930s, cars had air conditioning and radios by 1940, and films were in color. If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz recently, the special effects are still pretty good — and they’re 80 years old.
Science-Fiction movies made decades ago have influenced and even prophesied many of the tools and machines we use today. In Total Recall, Arnold is caught bringing a gun through a full-body x-ray screener, very much like the safety measures found in airports today. Tom Cruise, in Minority Report uses tech very familiar to anyone who’s ever used a touch-screen tablet or seen 3D TV. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am flies everyday people into space. Individuals who have $200,000 lying around can board Richard Branson’s similar airship.
Some of the most amazing futuristic technology is used everyday: Video phones and “Skyping” people on the other side of the planet for free are commonplace. We are able today to clone sheep, cows and mice. Are humans next? The ethical dilemmas surrounding genetic engineering are being discussed right now. However, if you looked out the window in the world we live in today, does it look more like 1955? Does your mental picture of life in 2011 match up to the reality?
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 watch it any time you want, anywhere you want – with your phone.