Back to the Future II is an interesting case study in futurism in film, but it’s also a fun way of looking at our expectations of where technology was going to go. In 1989, we thought there was a good chance we’d be on hoverboards and flying cars powered by our waste products. Who could have predicted Nike would file a patent for self-lacing shoes?
Sci-fi drives our passion for technology and the innovations we make in real life. We jokingly talk about home surveillance like a throwback to Big Brother in the book 1984. Today, home monitoring systems are common and safe. The entire smart home is something our grandparents never saw coming, but they actually did have some equivalents back then that might surprise you.
Door Shakers and Home Security
Post World War I, theft became a major issue as folks struggled to protect property. Americans realized home security was a challenge, and that one needed to work hard to protect what one had earned. Burglar alarms were sold that would create loud noises in the event of a break in, but the door itself remained a weak point in home security.
Enter “door shakers”.
These night watchmen would patrol a neighborhood and shake the door vigorously in the middle of the night in order to test locking mechanisms and door frames against breaching.
Today, smart locks can give us reassurance from wherever we might find an internet connection. Some of these locks even come with cameras so we can see who might be coming. Smart locks can have a keypad for keyless entry, utilize wireless technology to unlock the opening mechanism or some form of smart key device. No jostling necessary.
Chicago’s World’s Fair
It’s hard to state the impact that the 1930 World’s Fair had on the United States, and on technology. The advertisements and relics that survived speak of a kind of boundless optimism for technology. That it occurred in the midst of the Great Depression only makes the entire thing seem that much more surreal.
The Fair added drama and romance to the nation’s highway systems with new kinds of cars that promised exciting ways of travel. The monotonous work of the home was reduced to simple tasks like loading the dishwasher. Even the way a room was designed implied multiple uses.
The remains of these fairs are still visible today, but their loudest echoes are in the modern pieces of tech the fairs inspired.
Star Trek’s Impact
Another show our grandparents grew up with, and probably thought would never happen, is Star Trek. We’re still not at a point where intergalactic space travel is reality, but we’ve adapted some of the technology you see on the big and small screens.
The futuristic communicators used in the show resemble cell phones. There’s no clear parallel, but the functions are very much the same: a network not requiring physical connectivity for the purposes of transmitting messages. NFC, which stands for near field communication, is another feature pulled straight from the show. Using NFC, smartphones can be used to pay for goods and services.
The science fiction we read and watch today heavily influences the technology we use tomorrow. Science fiction loves to take these existing tropes and imagine their conclusion. This is only logical, considering the role our imagination plays in engineering.
After all, we live in a world where a rock we’ve tricked into thinking (AKA, the CPU) manages most of our daily lives for us.