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When the 'Future' Becomes the Past

If, like me, you class the Back to the Future trilogy as some of the finest storytelling to ever grace the silver screen, then you’ll know that the 21st October 2015 was a special date for many. It was the day that the 'future' became the present.


But now that present is the past, did we manage to live up to expectations?

A cartoon-style image featuring a stylised iconic DeLorean car from the classic time-travel film 'Back to the Future'. The car is in motion with pink speed lines trailing behind.

21st October 2015 was the day that the 'future' became the present. When Doc, Marty and Jennifer pile in the DeLorean in 1985 and land in 2015; greeted by the sight of teenagers on hover boards, Jaws making his (I assume not eagerly awaited…) nineteenth outing on film, and some sweeeet-looking Nike trainers that fasten themselves. But now that present is the past. In other words, we overtook 'the future' faster than you can say “88 miles per hour”.


The reality is, Silicon Valley and co have developed technology beyond our wildest imagination. If you had told me in 1989 that the number of smartphone users could reach 2.5 billion in 2019, my first question would be — what’s a 'smartphone'? My reaction, however, would have been shock at the sheer scale of penetration within the mass market. Smartphones aren’t a niche expense that only the richest of the rich enjoy. 


No, instead they have become such a staple of day-to-day life that head teachers are sending letters home with school children reminding parents that school is for learning, and not for watching YouTube tutorials, playing Fortnite or participating in virtual hangouts with your classmates.

Smartphones are no longer a nice-to-have product — something that kids beg their parents for at Christmas, à la Talkboys and Buzz Lightyear. They have become a necessity, where a life with limited or no connectivity to the world-wide web at all times is simply not an option, no matter what age you are.


My pre-parent self would be shocked to learn that both my 2 and 4 year-old kids have iPads. The younger one can even navigate YouTube, whilst the elder one is using it to get to grips with multiplication. Such is our family reliance on these devices for a bit of peace and quiet (AKA maintain some semblance of sanity!), that I’m genuinely contemplating adding satellite internet to our caravan because the thought of them going cold turkey for a week whilst on holiday is utterly terrifying. 


In 1989, the International Space Station hadn’t launched and the internet was barely talked about. Fast forward 30 years and somehow it seems reasonable to connect from a caravan to a geostationary satellite at a perigee 90x further into space than the ISS, just so the kids can get their daily fix of “Hi guys…” nonsense YouTube videos!

In Back to the Future II, we witness the McFly clan sitting down together for a family dinner. Lorraine loads a minuscule pizza into their Black & Decker Hydrator and duly specifies “hydrate level four please”. Mere seconds later, it has grown to a piping hot, full-size, half and half pizza fit for four. Both teenagers sit with virtual reality sets strapped to their heads and generally displaying the sort of screen-obsessed, poor dining decorum that many of us are all too familiar with today. 


Those few moments alone expertly predict elements that are now, in 2019, woven into the very fabric of everyday life — voice-automation, convenience, speed and, to some extent, anti-social behaviour at the dinner table!

As of August 2018, 18.2% of UK retail sales were online. Even more interesting though, is the rise in voice-activated shopping thanks to the birth of gadgets from tech giants Amazon, Google and Apple. In fact, voice shopping is estimated to reach a whopping $40+ billion across the U.S and U.K by 2022.


And whilst hoverboards aren’t yet commonplace, drones certainly are. Only a few weeks ago a number of flights from London airports were grounded, purportedly due to rogue, unidentifiable drones wreaking havoc on the runways.


However, it’s not the misuse of technology that interests me, but the opportunities that new innovations unlock on both a personal and professional level.

A cartoon depicting a character with a backward baseball cap watching movies on his device screen. Three grayscale movie stills depict scenes from sci-fi cinema.

The question that I often pose to myself and others though, is “what’s next?” The screenwriters of the 80s predicted new modes of travel, fashion trends and the all-American town of Hill Valley being dominated by a power-hungry, tower-loving, billionaire businessman who uses his fortune to influence US politics and bring misery upon society… Biff Tannen, that is.


If we were to ask ourselves what the world will look like 30 years from now, it feels like an unanswerable question. The innovations of 2049 will likely bear no resemblance whatsoever to the world around us today — wearable tech might be the next vinyl or cassette players that only cool hipsters use. That is, hipsters who will no longer be called 'hipsters' as there will be a whole new dictionary by then! If Amazon have their way, parcels will be delivered by drone directly to your garden. Cars will drive themselves, if, indeed, we still use cars at all. Perhaps by then, teleportation and time travel won’t be a flight of fancy within the realms of fiction, but a real-life revelation.


Elon Musk certainly has big ideas. If his plans come to fruition, a good number of us could expect to be living on Mars in 2049 and those remaining here on earth will be avoiding traffic jams by zipping around underground in a hyper loop!

Who knows? I, for one though, am very excited to see what the 'new' future holds and will be regularly testing and talking about the trendiest tech in this blog.


Back to the Future II may not have got everything right about the future, but we do still wear Nike trainers, drink copious amounts of Pepsi and have a penchant for terrible shark films (The Meg, anyone?). And of course, if nothing else, BTTF taught us that the DeLorean is and always will be the coolest car on the planet. 


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