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The technology in ‘Back to the Future Part II’ is my nightmare

by Brandon Russell | October 21, 2015October 21, 2015 11:20 am PDT

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For most people, Oct. 21, 2015 will be just like any other Wednesday. For Marty McFly, however, it’s the day he landed in the future. 26 years ago, we had no idea what kind of crazy technology would be lining our pockets and filling our lives. But that didn’t stifle the imagination of Robert Zimeckis, who directed the Back to the Future trilogy, from predicting what our lives might look like in the year 2015.

Turns out his imagination was a mix of nostalgia and nightmare fuel.

Every single person who has seen Back to the Future Part II is in the belief that the fictional 2015 presented in the movie is better than reality. They had hover boards, self-lacing sneakers, and flying cars for crying out loud! But the truth is the future is actually a terrible dystopia filled with dangerous and impractical technology.

It’s always fun to see the imagination of Hollywood predict an alternate reality, and I get why Back to the Future Part II is so beloved among fans. I love it, too. In hindsight, however, I would hate to live in the future dreamt up by Zimeckis and his team. I mean, the fashion alone is just absurd.

Not all of his predictions were off base. Some, such as voice activated lights and augmented reality glasses, were actually pretty spot on. I’m just thankful I don’t have a fax machine in every room of my house.

There’s a huge list of cool stuff in Back to the Future Part II, but we’ve whittled it down to the top three. More importantly, we ask the question nobody is asking: Do we even want this technology to exist? Would it be practical in today’s world? I know your gut reaction is to shout, “Yes!” But hear me out. You don’t want your 80-year-old grandma to drive a flying car.

Hoverboard

Everyone knows about the Back to the Future Part II hoverboard. Even those who haven’t seen the movie can identify the neon pink prop. I mean, how can you not put something like that in the forefront of your memory? It’s like someone not knowing what a lightsaber is.

Almost identical to the scene from the first Back to the Future, the famous pink hoverboard helped Marty escape Griff (Biff’s grandson) and his goons. It also helped cement the piece of tech as one of the coolest things ever put on screen. Afterwards, Every kid in America wanted one. I did. That must have been fun for parents to let their kids know hoverboards weren’t real. But you know what’s a good alternative? Skateboards.

The concept of hoverboards has been a science fiction fantasy for years now. Some companies have even tried to trick us into believing they’ve come up with the real deal. They haven’t. There are some neutered versions out there, but they require special technology to achieve that hallowed Meissner effect. That essentially allows a board with a superconductor plate on the bottom cooled with liquid nitrogen to float over a special track.

The best example of this is what Lexus created earlier this year. While the automaker’s solution works similarly to what we saw in Back to the Future, it can only be used in a controlled environment, which means you can’t go gliding around the the streets of Hill Valley. The closest you can get to the real thing is a detailed prop replica from Mattel, which is awesome, but it’s no hoverboard. And that might just be for the best.

Not only would these be phenomenally expensive, but they’d be incredibly dangerous—and probably targeted by thieves everywhere. People have a hard enough time balancing on regular skateboards, so I can only imagine how difficult it would be for them stay upright on a hoverboard. Trips to the emergency room would rise!

For now, your best bet is to skip those segway knockoffs and go for an electric skateboard.

Flying Cars

Hollywood has an obsession with flying cars, and I’ll admit seeing a DeLorean soar through the sky would be awesome. But flying cars to me sound like a death wish, especially in such a crowded, distracted world. I’m happy here on the ground, thank you very much, more willing to hand over the reins to self-driving technology before I even consider flying among traffic.

We’ve seen a few flying car concepts before, but they’re absolutely abysmal (especially in their current iterations), and never something that would be widely adopted. Just look at how goofy this flying car is. Hilarious. Something like this might make sense in flyover country, where your nearest neighbor is ten miles away. But not in Los Angeles. Not in New York. That would be ridiculous.

Companies such as Google, Apple, Tesla and many others are currently working on self-driving vehicles, which to me sounds like the ideal way to travel. I’ve been stuck in enough traffic on the 405 throughout my life to swear off driving forever, and having carefully engineered technology shuttle me to and from work sounds like heaven. Just kick back, catch up on news, and before you know it, you’re at work. No more stress!

The beauty of Back to the Future’s DeLorean is how the wheels fold up as the car begins to fly. Just press a switch, and you’re off. The cool thing is it served a specific purpose to the story. Doc and Marty didn’t just aimlessly cruise around. It saved Marty’s life—twice—making it crucial to the movie’s conclusion. And, come on, nothing can beat the closing scene from the first Back to the Future, when the DeLorean goes back to the future in Marty’s neighborhood.

But, realistically, there’s no way a flying DeLorean will exist—at least in our lifetime. And even if it did, can you imagine what the driving test would be like? Or what traffic would be like? I don’t know about you, but I’m not eager to find out what it would be like for one of these to malfunction in mid-air.

Automated Clothes

This is one of those things that sounds cool, but would probably be a nightmare in reality. Tying your shoes is not hard (you can just wear slip-ons), and can you imagine how heavy a self-drying jacket would be? I’m sure something like that would be wonderful in colder environments, but for someone in a California suburb, it’s not the least bit practical. We’re in a drought for goodness sake!

The scene in which we see the self-drying coat in action is particularly funny. After pulling himself out of a small body of water near the Hill Valley clocktower, the jacket’s feature is activated, like an enormous blowdryer. Marty is completely bewildered by the entire experience, and I can only imagine what passersby are thinking. And the jacket even talks!

The shoe thing has been something Sneakerheads have been pining over for decades now, and Nike has even said the technology isn’t that far away. But, come on, this is something that’s better suited for Hollywood. I don’t want my shoes turned into machines, and I’m perfectly happy with controlling how tightly they’re tied. Also, I’m not looking to spend a few thousand dollars just to save a few seconds before I step out of my front door.

I can already see the headlines if something were to go awry. “Man can’t take off shoes after self-lacing mechanism fails.” “Self-drying coat malfunctions and catches fire.”

Wrap-up

Call me a luddite, call me cynical. But the technology in Back to the Future Part II doesn’t need to exist. We have better stuff—laptops, smartphones, Amazon Echo. We have electric skateboards, self-driving cars, and watches that can track your activity. If you think a hoverboard is cool, try a skateboard! If you think automated clothes are cool, then I don’t know what to tell you.

The future of Back to the Future Part II is a terrifying dystopia, and nothing more. Be glad we don’t have flying cars. And be happy with the future we live in. At least we have all-day breakfast at McDonald’s.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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