The future is a bust
On Wednesday, Americans should be on the lookout for a teenage boy, a wild-haired scientist and a sheepdog. They’ll be flying a DeLorean and accelerating to 88 miles per hour.
If those sentences made sense to you, congratulations, you’re approaching or have reached middle age … or you’ve turned your film nostalgia up to 11.
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, is the day to which Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and his dog, Einstein (“Freddie,” according to IMDB), traveled through time from 1985 in the movie Back to the Future Part II.
We children of the 1970s and 1980s have anticipated this day for 30 years. Now, though, 2015 is a bust.
Back to the Future II promised weather control, but the best we’ve mustered is climate change. It promised power shoelaces, bionic implants, hoverboards and Mr. Fusion. We have none of that. I’m looking at you, scientists and engineers. What the heck have you been doing for the past three decades?
A copy of USA TODAY that played a key part in the movie boasted 3 billion daily readers. If only newspapers were so healthy. It teased the news of the future, which was blessedly free of tiresome presidential campaigns and congressional dysfunction, at least on the front page.
Queen Diana was supposed to visit Washington. Cholesterol was supposed to cure cancer. And the “president says she’s tired of reporters asking the same questions.” No doubt Hillary Clinton can empathize, as her email scandal refuses to go away.
Meanwhile, the movie missed the Internet and cellphones. However, it did predict large, flat-screen televisions and a police state in which law enforcement can identify anyone by thumbprint. Don’t think the National Security Agency isn’t working overtime to track all the fingerprints collected on the new Apple iPhones and Google Nexus phones.
It all goes to show that forecasting the future is tough. It’s much easier to predict the past, as long as you don’t rely on a Texas history textbook and don’t have a time machine to mess up the timeline.
In the Back to the Future movies, Marty also traveled back 30 years to 1955. He made sure his then-teenage parents kissed at the fateful Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and he worked to undo the damage of irresponsible time travel.
Throughout it all, he served as an audience surrogate, a traveler from a more civilized 1985. We had come so far by the 1980s. By comparison, our parents’ time was quaint and at times downright strange — strange clothing, stranger music and those ludicrously big cars. Did they really live like that, without microwaves and rock and roll?
Now the children of the 1990s and 2000s get the laugh. Where we passed judgment on the 1950s, they pass judgment on the 1980s. I suspect they find our glory days as hokey as we found our parents’.
I’m writing this on a laptop using free Wi-Fi in a Starbucks, wearing noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones and listening to music that streams from the cloud. Would any of that even have made sense in 1985?
Fortunately, my digital bubble hasn’t collapsed into a space-time singularity of pastel and hair spray as I ask modern digital technology to play 1980s New Wave — Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Go-Go’s, etc. I’m waiting for Huey Lewis and the News’ The Power of Love, the anthem of Back to the Future, to come up on the playlist.
I imagine some readers are grumbling already. There goes Old Man Trejbal rambling on about how awesome the old days were and how we’ve messed everything up in the 21st century. Next thing you know he’ll tell us to get off his lawn.
On the contrary, if today’s kids are going to laugh at the days of my youth, count me in on the merriment. The 1980s were silly. So were the 1950s, and so are the 2010s. We just might not realize it for 30 years.
If we celebrate anything on this Back to the Future day, let it be the most important lesson of all. The key to successful time travel, especially the slow, one-directional kind that most of us experience, is a sense of humor, especially about ourselves.