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

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 wished 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 modify the paths of his children. While these films are obviously fantastic, they do present an intriguing 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?

First, we should ask ourselves where we thought we would be by 2011. Of course we’d have flying cars and hover boards by now, wouldn’t we? Yet here we are, still driving fossil-fuel burning cars, riding scooters and bicycles, whilst wearing fairly normal clothes. Basically, if you took a step back and checked out the way we conduct our lives, much of the technology we use today existed 70 years ago. The television was invented. Cars already had modern features like air conditioning and radios. Movies were shown in color. The Wizard of Oz, made in 1939 has special effects that rival many independent moviemakers today.

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 present 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.

Today we can communicate with Jetson-like videophones, communicate with the other side found on earth on your pc 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.

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 enjoy it any time you want, anywhere you want – on your phone.

Posted on: 11.02.11