"Back to the Future 2" is a dreadful movie, with none of the charm of the original. The makeup used to age the characters is some of the worst ever. However one of the ongoing jokes was their guesses about technology in the year 2015, or more precisely, Oct. 21, 2015 at 4:29 p.m. Pacific Time when Marty McFly lands in Hill Valley, California, in a time-traveling DeLorean. What did they get right? And what did they get hilariously wrong?
One thing they most definitely did not get right is the flying car, which we have been promised for about 50 years and it never comes. And then there's fusion power, which has famously been 10 years away for 50 years. However once they actually get to the future, things do begin to look up.
One thing that they get absolutely right is the recovery and gentrification of Hill Valley. In 1989, the main square was a dump, the movie theaters were showing porn and the stores were boarded up. Now in 2015, downtown is a lively place with restored buildings (although the old grey historic preservationists are still having to fight to save them), theaters and restaurants are back downtown. This is happening in cities across North America. The preservationist has a tablet, too, which Marty can touch if he wants to donate to the cause.
They got this right too: the endless sequels to movies and the use of 3-D, although they predicted holograms and all we got were those silly glasses.
It's surprising how they got the important urban trends so right. As downtown is gentrifying, the suburbs are deteriorating as their population ages; it's a phenomenon that we will be seeing more of. Fortunately they seem to have lots of flying taxicabs with fingertip touch payment system.
The McFly residence has a lot of the smart technology we're just beginning to see on the market, including fingerprint activated door locks. The lights go on automatically as they do in many smart homes, and it's all tied together by AT&T, a phone company. All the equipment is big and chunky, because that's what electronics were in 1989.
In fact, the phone (and the phone company) are part and parcel of the biggest miss in the film. Sure, that's a personal videophone around her neck, but when it rings she says "mom, it's for you"- a traditional single line comes into the house. Because the writers missed the entire Internet and how it would change everything, that we would Skype our video calls and have our individual addresses.
And while they got the big-screen flat TVs that can show multiple channels, most kids' entertainment today is absorbed through the small screen of the smart phone. AT&T, pasted all over the movie, is a shadow of its former self, the American Telephone & Telegraph company now takes the backseat to Apple and Google.
While Marty gets fired during a videoconference call, perhaps the most hilarious error is the continued use of the fax machine. They are everywhere! There are fax booths in the streets and half a dozen machines in Marty's home office. (Another trend they have foreseen). The first email was sent back in 1971, but the first page on the World Wide Web, the real start of the public Internet, didn't go up until 1991. But doctors and lawyers still use fax machines, and they are still very popular in other countries, so perhaps it's not such an egregious error.
Similarly, without knowing about the World Wide Web, it's hard to imaging the death of the local newspaper. The Internet, the computer and the smartphone changed things in so many ways that were impossible to imagine. They have changed the way we communicate. Rob Zemeckis got so much right here; OK we are not wearing TV glass phones, but we are always looking at our own small screens. Had google not done such a bad job of dorky design on Google Glass, we might all be wearing them now.
There are other predictions that people are talking about, from hoverboards to self-lacing shoes, (why aren't we just using velcro?) but perhaps the most interesting room in the house is the kitchen, where there are all kinds of things happening. Here, they get some things right too.
The future of food is a mix between prepared dehydrated foods like this little Pizza Hut package;
Stick it in the Black and Decker hydrator and it actually looks quite tasty, and in fact earns compliments: "Mom, you are such a good deyhydrator!" Like many moms today, she has to deal with people who eat pepperoni and those who don't.
But then there is this wonderful thing, a hydroponic garden of fruit and vegetables that drops down on demand to provide fresh healthy food. Designers are working on home units like these for growing fruits and vegetables. What a great idea to have it drop from the ceiling over the dining room table.
And of course, there's a kitchen computer, the staple of every kitchen of the future since the '50s, and just sitting there among the colonial cabinetry and coffee pots.
There are a lot of things that they got wrong in this film; instead of two ties, most men wear no ties these days. Flying cars run on gasoline filled by robot gas station attendants, and Texaco still exists. But what's so surprising is how much they did get right, from urban planning to the smart home. Perhaps it's not such a dreadful movie after all.