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 attempts 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 mimics 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?
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, a lot of the technology we employ everyday has existed 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 decent — 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 individuals into space. Individuals who have $200,000 lying around can board Richard Branson’s similar airship.
Today we can communicate with Jetson-like videophones, talk to the other side of the world on your personal computer for hours – for free. We have such science-fiction movie staples as cloning, genetic engineering, laser surgery and more. Yet are we closer to 1950’s tech or the science fiction dreams of the 2050s? In the mental picture so many of us had about the 21st century, we’re no closer to flying our car to work as Dorothy was to finding her way back to Kansas when she first landed in Oz.
Ultimately, there are advances seen around us everywhere to remind us that the future is occurring now: Video billboards, the internet tracking our every move for our advertising dollars, 3D television, movies that cost $13 for some reason. But here is where the more things change the more they stay the same: Chevrolet is still making convertibles, Universal is still making movies, and you can still watch Back to the Future any time you want — though I’d skip that 2nd one and go straight to the third.