Flying Cars? Where We Are, We Don’t Need Flying Cars

If you Googled the most-used topics in technical blogs leading up to 2015, topping the list would probably be the fact that it’s the year in which Michael J. Fox went forward to the future in Back to the Future 2. It’s overused because it’s applicable, and because that movie gave a lot of children of the 80s some pretty high expectations for 2015 — children who are now writing said blogs. So it’s pretty common to hear depressed 30- and 40-somethings bemoaning the fact that there are no hoverboards or flying cars in the real 2015.

I, however, will not be one of those people. I’ve never held my balance on a surfboard or skateboard, so I have no interest in hoverboards. And flying cars? Terrible idea. Terrible. Think about the way people drive on the roads right now. They can hit you from behind, head on, or sideways. Do you want to be in a vehicle surrounded by those people in an environment that allows for an additional dimension? Think of all the new ways to get into accidents if people were to come at you from above or below? Whether it’s Back to the Future 2, The Jetsons or Star Wars (have you SEEN the traffic on Coruscant?), flying cars are three dimensions of death waiting to happen.

Now, that being said, I started thinking about some of the truly awesome technology that does grace our lives in 2015 — technology that would have seemed as futuristic and crazy as the holographic Jaws head that pops out at Marty as he stands under the movie theater (my favorite line: “The shark still looks fake.”) (Oh, yes, by the way, I DID rent the movie as reference to write this blog. Dear accounting department: I told you the charge to Amazon marked as “research” was legitimate.)

And let’s start with that, why don’t we? I want to watch a specific movie. I turn on my Internet-connected television and surf through three or four different services until I find the movie I’m looking for. Maybe it’s part of my monthly membership, maybe I have to pay for it. But regardless, I can get instant gratification. It’s not that far off from the scene where Marty Jr. walks into the TV room and speaks the names of the channels he wants to watch on his flat-screen TV. It beats the heck out of having disks mailed to you, or worse, going to the store for DVDs or — gasp — VHS tapes. There is an entire generation out there for whom the words “Be Kind: Rewind” have no meaning. Ponder that for a moment.

Home entertainment is just one thing we take for granted though. How about wearable technology? There is a device on my arm that tracks how many steps I take each day, how many calories I burn and how well I sleep, and it harasses me when I haven’t moved for an hour (my Vivofit and I have had numerous arguments that basically involve me saying “I don’t get paid for walking around the house you judgmental piece of rubber!” and it saying nothing. Because technology is not THAT advanced. Yet.)

How about biometrics? Sci-fi has always predicted some form of biometrics, from retina scanners to fingerprint scanners, and these days a good number of us are walking around with it in our pockets in the form of the thumbprint scanner on the iPhone. Not having to punch in a password on my iPhone is the best thing about 2015, and that entire sentence would be Greek to a kid from 1989.

Laziness aside, though, let me tell you what struck me as a prime example of the times we live in. Over the holidays, someone needed my signature on a form. Now, it was already 2014 and I am a paperless kind of girl, so I’m prepared for this. Normally what I’d do is open the PDF and grab the signature I keep on file to add to forms. However, in this case I was getting ready to head out of the house and didn’t feel like running upstairs to my office. So I went to the kitchen iMac (Marty McFly is losing his mind over that concept right now) and opened the document in Preview. For those of you who weren’t aware of this feature (and this is a 2006 iMac running Snow Leopard, so not exactly cutting-edge technology), Preview allows you to add a digital signature to a PDF, either from an existing file or through the Mac’s built-in camera. I scribbled my signature on a piece of scrap paper, held it up to the camera, and click, drag, bam — paper signed. Paperless? No. Cutting-edge? Hardly. But it struck me as the epitome of something we’d have called futuristic in 1989, and it struck me that way again when I read John Mancini’s blog, “Is a Paper-Free Workplace Possible?” in which he discusses the fact that a perceived need to sign printouts is one reason the paperless goal is so hard to achieve. “The physical signature notion is an odd one, with the many different electronic signing solutions available today,” he writes. I agree. And yet, in 1989 could we have imagined anything else?

We live in a time that goes beyond hovercraft and flying cars and rejuvenation masks. We have technology that allows us to carry around our entire lives in our pockets, that allows us to work in real time on teams with people from the other side of the globe, and makes our lives at home and in the office flow in a way we probably take for granted already and yet allows for invention, discovery and collaboration undreamed of 25 years ago. The technology that exists, that we may even consider “old” already, is still pretty impressive, and there is more to come. The year 2015 is only the beginning of the future.

Oh, but if you’re wondering about those self-lacing shoes? Nike is on top of it.