2011: Are We Closer to Hover Boards or 1955 Chevys?

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. If you were to 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?

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 been around for years.  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 pretty good — and they’re 80 years old.

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.

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

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.

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