In 1985’s Back to the Future, we travel through time with Marty McFly in a nuclear-powered DeLorean. Marty is able to do what man has wanted to do since the beginning of time: control his destiny. In the first movie, Marty goes back to the past in order to save his parent’s marriage, and consequently his existence. In the lesser first sequel, Marty travels into the future to change the paths of his offspring. While these films are obviously fanciful, they do present an interesting question. In the year 2011, would we consider ourselves to be nearer to the technology seen in Hill Valley in 1955, or the second film’s futuristic vision?
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 difference 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 movies were in color. If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz recently, the special effects are still decent -- and they’re 80 years old.
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.
Today we can communicate with Jetson-like videophones, communicate with 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.
Where does that put us? The future is truly happening everywhere. Its seen in video billboards, the Internet tracking our every website click or online purchase, and 3D TVs and binoculars. We can still go to the movies – only now it might break your budget if you have a household of four. Still, the old axiom is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Chevrolet is still producing gas-powered convertibles, Universal is still making bad sequels, and you can still watch Back to the Future. Only now you can watch it on your phone.