It’s the year 2015. Let’s just stop and think about that for a moment. To some, there is nothing impressive about this year over, say, 2014. However to me and many other 30-something creatives, the weight of this year is substantial. 2015 is the year we were promised hoverboards.
Like many kids growing up in the mid-to-late 1980s, I spent a good portion of my youth reveling in the classic motion pictures of the day – films like Indiana Jones, the Goonies and The Karate Kid. No other cinema franchise stemming from 1980s, though, was able to capture my imagination like the Back to the Future trilogy. It was parallel to John Hughes but pre-Tarentino. It was sci-fi meets pop culture. It was a truly golden age of adolescent cinema. I vividly remember pedaling my Huffy BMX in the driveway, pretending its wrapped foam chassis could withstand the stress of it hitting eighty-eight miles per hour, hurling both it and me through the space-time continuum.
In my humble opinion, the original installment in the Back to the Future trilogy is close to perfection. The narrative soars with intricacy and wonder. I think almost anyone in the 30-something age bracket would agree. I’d suspect fewer would herald the greatness of the subsequent installments, but Part II, released in 1989, is where the Back to the Future franchise begins to transcend “great trilogy” status into “influential masterpiece” for me. Let me explain.
You’re telling me you built a time machine, out of a DeLorean?
First, let’s not overlook the fact that Doc built a time machine out of a freaking DeLorean. Talk about a hacker ethos. This might be the most important lesson we can glean from Back to the Future.
Doc Brown’s DeLorean is the first instance I can remember of hacking a desired outcome from an undesired environment. It’s a pure example of using available resources for maximum gain. So much of what we do in the digital creative space is making stuff up as we go. I can’t tell you how many times my team has used hardware in ways it wasn’t intended or the number of times we reverse-engineered existing technology to create a new solution to help us realize a project.
Ninety percent of my career is held together by bubble gum and toothpicks. If you’re a digital creative, I’d wager your percentage is similar.
Roads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.
In the final scene of Part I, Doc Brown sets the tone for what’s to come in episode two when, confronted by Marty with the fact the road didn’t have the distance required to achieve the time warp speed of eighty-eight miles-per-hour, he declares with matter-of-factness:
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
With that statement, the DeLorean rises from the earth, pulls an erratic 180º turn and flashes off into the distant future of 2015.
Twenty-five years after taking in that scene, I can look back over my career as a technologist and acknowledge just how impactful those words were to me. As an impressionable 10 year-old in 1989, I didn’t know I’d end up creating dynamic experiences for a living, but those words connected with my subconscious and stuck with me over the years. Those words were there when I began developing for the web in the late-90s and they’re here today as I work to create dynamic, technology-infused experiences for museum-goers.
To me, not needing roads is a prerequisite to making compelling work into the digital future. Roads are limitations. Roads confine us. Roads dictate where we’re going. We need to think above roads and fix our eyes on the possibilities that exist in areas where the roads don’t go.
We Were Promised Hoverboards.
Once Marty, Doc and Jennifer arrive in 2015, they’re greeted with a future that, to a kid in 1989, was awe-inspiring. Unimaginable things like flying cars, self-lacing Nikes, phone glasses, holographic movie posters and hoverboards were all commonplace in this future.
This future was a place in which I wanted to live...a place I wanted to help create. In order for this future to be realized, some big thinkers needed to be working on and solving some big problems. I wanted to be one of those people making magic become reality.
Just think about how much progress we’ve made. Our cars don’t fly, but they drive themselves. Self-lacing Nikes FTW! Our display ads have gotten pretty advanced. Google Glass, for better or worse, is a thing. And somewhere along the line a little thing called the Internet was invented.
While we might not yet have hoverboards, we’re most certainly living in the future. Our future. A future we made together.
But what about thirty years from now? 2045? I believe that our collective efforts now should be focussed on working to create a world that fills today’s kids with as much excitement, wonder and awe so they’re empowered to make their unimaginable future a reality. I can’t wait to see what they build.