Back to the Future Tech: Is 2011 more like 1955?

November 2nd, 2011

In 1985’s Back to the Future, we travel through time with Marty McFly in a nuclear-powered DeLorean. Marty can do what man has desired to do since the beginning of time: control his destiny. In the first movie, Marty goes back to the past 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 children. While these films are obviously fanciful, they do present an fascinating question. In the year 2011, would we consider ourselves to be closer to the technology found 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 distinction between the present and the past. Yet, if we take a step back, so much 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.  Anyone who has $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 world 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 at the world we reside in today, does it look more like 1955?  Does your mental picture of life in 2011 match up to the reality?

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 directly to the third.

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