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 tries to get them together to insure his own existence. Likewise, in the film’s first sequel, Marty travels through time to help 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 mirrors much of what’s occurring in both films – but are we truly closer to the technology found in Hill Valley in 1955, or in the film’s futuristic sequel?
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, all the while 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 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 people into space. Individuals who have $200,000 lying around can board Richard Branson’s similar airship.
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.
Ultimately, there are advances seen around us everywhere to remind us that the future is happening 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.