Envisioning the Future

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Let me open first by saying "Happy 2015!"

 I hope that you all had wonderful Holiday and New Years celebrations, and that you have not yet been driven quite insane by the Back to the Future memes that are currently abound on the internet. Yes we are in 2015. Yes this is the 2015 that Marty Mcfly saw as the 'future', with hoverboards and giant 3D sharks abound.

As a kid this was nightmare fuel, let me tell you.

 We've been at this point before in 1989 with Orwell, 2001 with a Space Odyssey and more and at each point our future has, seemingly, not lived up to expectations. But could it ever?

 That said, I couldn't resist adding to this little pop-culture milestone this 2015 by taking a deeper look into what history envisioned of our future and where we are now at the dawn of 2015.

The Technology of Back to the Future 2 and 2015


Hovercrafts have been around for quite a while, but it looked as if we could never gain enough control to perfect these into the swift and compact hoverboards that got Marty from A to B, but it looks as if we're on the way there with a new piece of kickstarter-funded technology: The Hendo hoverboard. While still somewhat clumsy, it seems a lot of fun and the skating legend Tony Hawk certainly got a smile out of it.


Holograms have been a staple of Sci-fi for quite a while as a shorthand for advanced technology. You can see it in Star Wars, Star trek, Back to the Future 2, Minority Report, James Bond, Agents of Shield and Torchwood but to name a few. It seems, that we are on the edge of diving in to this immersive technology. Nowadays you can go to concerts with 'pseudo-holograms' of your favourite deceased musicians, or your favourite incredibly-expensive actors. A 'holographic' Tupac and Michael Jackson have already drawn in crowds, and who could forget the 'holographic' Liam Neeson in the modern stage production of The War of the Worlds? But these images can't quite be called true holograms, but instead a form of live-image compositing also known as 'Pepper's Ghost'. Clever, but not quite the sci-fi ideal.
A new design called Bleen seems set to move holograms into a user friendly personal format in a  style that we're perhaps more familiar with, as you can see form the publicity video below.

 However an over-reliance of computer graphics, the photoshopping of stock photos and a board of directors and scientists that seem to vanish into thin air all set alarm bells ringing, as the website Metabunk argues. Most importantly, the concept of projection onto cool day-lit air simply doesn't mesh with physics as we currently understand it. The closest that can be achieved is through using lasers to superheat small plasma dots in the air in simple shapes, which is dangerous enough that it could never be conducted outside of the labs. I'm certainly more than a little sceptical that true holograms are still firmly in the realm of science fiction today, but I shall let you be the judges.

Self tying shoes

The 80s envisioned that light up self tying shoes were the future and Nike - the product placement of the age- has tried to follow suit with their own Nike Mags self tying shoes that will imitate Marty's exactly. This is technically a case of life imitating art, and it's mind-numbingly tricky to actually find a video of the 'moneyshot' of the power laces in action. But we've been assured that they work. Will this signal a real near-future of potentially-ankle-snapping automatic power laces? Probably not.

While the more outlandish futuristic elements of the film are hit and miss at best, there are a lot of elements that did become a reality and entered our daily life so steadily yet quickly, that many of us even forget to take proper notice of them.

Tablet Computers

Tablet computers are everywhere nowadays 
and they seem to have just sprung up all of a sudden. Like the holograms, hand held computers were a feature of any science fiction show that envisioned a future, be it near or far. While we could track the screen depth of TVs and computers getting thinner and more portable, to actually be rid of a hefty processing system and to actually have a touchscreen that was functional was truly revolutionary. Now we have it, we so often take it for granted, when really our first experiences of them were nothing short of magical. In a way it is the natural progression of the laptop, but who could have predicted that it could become a reality so smoothly?

 Video Conferencing

 Another element that was always a staple in science fiction in the past was video conferencing, whether it was between councillors on space ships or employees. It seemed like a predictable and natural progression and so perhaps didn't require much of a stretch of the imagination to envision, but it couldn't have been made reality without some serious technical developments along the way, the chief of which is the sheer usability and speed of our internet connections. Without such a detailed and clever infrastructure in place, it simply wasn't possible, but we have gradually chipped away at this and made it into a reality. Like the tablet computers, and paraphrasing a John Green quote, we seem to experience this amazing technology's development like one falls asleep: slowly and then all at once. Long distance relationships have never been more connected, and it's set to improve even further soon enough.

So, in the end, Back to the Future 2 was hit and miss with its predictions. But what shone through in it's initial envisioning of the future was the media-based, consumer led brightness and imaginative boldness of the 80s. The imagined future, in this respect, was a mirror on the present.

How the past envisioned the future.

Whether or not we reached the goals that the past envisioned for us is never really as important as taking a step back and viewing the spirit behind these imaginations. Science fiction has often been a perfect genre for not only imagining a creative future, but also turning an eye back to view the society that envisioned this future in the first place. Imagination, after all, is always tied to the social influences  of the place in history from which it began.
So, while back to the future was very 80s, if we look to the victorian period often it was very, well, victorian.

The current fashion for steampunk has risen out of the sheer unbridled optimism of Victorian science fiction. Sometimes it was dystopian - just think of the Morlochs in HG Wells' the Time Machine - but when it came to technology the visions of the future showed a capacity to achieve anything. The Victorian age was at the height of blue-sky thinking through the industrial revolution, and this shows in how they envisoned the year 2000. Surprisingly, while it may look different, we actually achieved many of these.

Moving Houses By Train

Victorians had the rather sweet idea that having houses on a railway line would keep everything varied. While this idea in itself seems a little silly, nowadays we have the capacity to move huge items - even houses - regularly if needs be. The Victorians of course couldn't predict the decline of the railway, as it was the height of their technology at the time. Nowadays if you want to move a house you need to call up a truck.

 Holidays to the North Pole

The NorthPole was an inhospitable place for the Victorians, but there was hope. Expeditions in 1827, 1871, 1879-1881,1895,1897 and 1900 meant that the North pole was well in the conciousness of the Victorian society. While it was dangerous in the future they hoped to conquer it and make it safe and farmiliar enough to holiday to. Holidays were a new national pasttime and very popular - a true celebration of their progress and civility. And how else better to get to the North pole than by exciting and advanced airships?
Making the dangerous and inhospitable welcoming and accessible is a common feature in any time's predictions of the future. For us, we dream of tourism in space and the moon. For the Victorians, their dream was at least partially achieved. Nowadays, if you're tough enough, you can go and holiday in the North pole...though it;s hardly a walk in the park.

Televised Outside Broadcasts

With the development of the telephone a revolution in communication was at hand, and the Victorians envisioned how entertainment could be shared in this medium. Their solution was similar to the 'Peppers ghost' illusion that we now use for pseudo-'holograms', but they couldn't possibly predict how quickly the advancement in communication and entertainment technology could take place. Now we have Tv, computers, mobile phones, skype, 3d images and more. Quite impressive.

Individual Flying Machines

A successful aeroplane would not be invented until the Wright brothers in 1903, but humans have always wanted to fly. The Victorians had a spirit of exploration and a faith that technology would find a way: surely we would have flying machines by the year 2000!
Not quite. However individual ways of taking to the air are possible. We have private planes and gyrocopters for true flight. We also have handgliders and wingsuits if 'falling with style' is more your cup of tea.

In the end, envisioning what we want for the future is key to understanding who we are in the present.

Whatever your time period of birth, it's very difficult to pick out how the future will look. Marty McFly's 2015 was a future coloured by the 80s - all bright plasticy consumerist goodness with a little lashing of dystopian anxiety towards the end. The Victorian vision of the year 2000 was one that focused on the freedom of exploration and the joy of invention, yet it coached everything in Victorian ideals and could not predict the social revolution of the future that would, for example, put many women in trousers.
So often we use the future  to dream, but also to pass social commentary on our own present. This was  the aim of even earlier visits to the future, and we often see it in our current science fiction media. By imagining a utopia it shows us what we need to make a change, and by imagining a dystopia it cautions us as to what elements of our current society might cause decay and corruption.

To envision the future is to create a mirror, in the end, and it will always be interesting to look back and see how much of that reflection really came true.


- 'Back to the future how science envisioned 2015'
-11 things from back to the future 2 that came true
-Things we have by 2015
-Back to the future self tying power laces
-Bleen holograms
-Liam Neeson War of the Worlds Hologram
-5 awesome holograms
-Victorian visions of the year 2000
-North Pole, Wikipedia

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1 comment:

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