Back to the Future Tech - Was 2011 more like 1955?

It’s been 25 years since Back to the Future played in movie theaters.  In the original film, Marty McFly travels back in time to 1955 Hill Valley. While there, he inadvertently disrupts the space-time continuum and his mother ends up falling for him instead of his dad.  Freudian theories aside, Marty is able to salvage his parent’s relationship and his ultimate existence.  After he’s able to return to 1985, he immediately learns that he must travel into the future to save his kids. Through his travels, we see Hill Valley as it was in 1955, 1985 and the future. Should you step back and look at where we are in 2011, does our existence today look more like the film’s past or the second film’s vision of the future?

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 essential 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 furnished with air conditioning and radios, and films were in color.  The special effects in 1939’s Wizard of Oz still hold-up today.

Many movies in the past, however, have prophesied some of the advances we use today.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was caught carrying a gun through a full-body x-ray machine trying to board a plane in Total Recall.  Airports are now employing very similar tech. In Minority Report, Tom Cruise deftly moves from image to image, mirroring the type of touch screen technology, 3D monitors and holograms that will exist – if they don’t already – in the very near future.  In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am flies the common man to outer space.  Virgin Atlantic is making that possible today for that same traveler, though they need to shell out $200,000 for a seat.

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 closer to being able to fly to work as Dorothy was to returning to Kansas when she first arrived in Oz.

Where does that put us?  The future is truly happening all around us. 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 family 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 enjoy it on your phone.