Back To The Future (1985), Back To The Future Part II (1989), Capitalism, Clean Air, Climate Change, Coping Mechanisms, Coping Strategies, Food Security, Future, Hoverboards, Innovation, Invention, Luddites, Matter-Energy Converters, Michael J. Fox, Microchips, MRI Machine, Nuclear Fusion, Past, Present, Racism, Replicators, Settler Colonialism, Technology, What Ifs
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s 2015, and the fictional year from Back To The Future (1985) has become reality. Yeah, right! There are no hoverboards — at least, ones that actually work, anyway — we still drive with internal combustion engines, and Whites still only vote for folks of color when they are truly desperate for some elusive change.
For me, though, 2015 confirms the reality that time really is an illusion, as I’ve spent time over the past thirty years imagining what life would be like in 2015. That imagining started in ’85. At fifteen, I could barely wrap my head around the idea that I could live to thirty years of age, much less that I could make it to forty-five.
Truly, that’s what growing up poverty and with abuse did for me. It created the impression that life was cheap and short. Dating, marriage, a kid, being a father, working on a third career? Heck, I spent so much of my life at fifteen constructing a sound track and a reality beyond my everyday circumstances, just to get by! I lived vicariously through my Mets and Giants especially. My conscious mind provided little space for constructing a reality based on my circumstances or the natural progression of a modern American life.
Gradually, I had to let go of most of my coping strategies in order to at least live for a better future, not just imagine it full of new technologies. I had to begin to place myself there as a whole person. It helped that I spent most of the 1990s in grad school and as a freshly minted professor teaching graduate courses in education foundations. Both helped me in looking at the past in order to understand my present and push for the future I wanted. Despite the betrayals and my mistakes along the way, I made it to thirty, mostly as the person I wanted to be.
Still, like most people, I have baggage. I have the kind of baggage that’s actually easy to ignore, and even easier to bury so deep into one’s mind and spirit that it would take the power of a flux capacitor to unearth. In writing about portions of my past over the years, I’ve dug up all of those haunts and demons, some of which I wish I hadn’t known existed in the first place. Writing about myself has been painful. But having a clear and complete understanding of every layer of onion from my past going back to 1969, and 1974, and 1976? It clears the air, even as it has induced five-alarm-fire headaches.
Beyond me, myself, and I, it has been absolutely necessary to live in the present, to find joy in both small and big moments, especially around the people in my life so near and dear to me. From my son’s first steps to his discovery of sarcasm, from watching my wife’s labor to receiving my first royalty check for Fear of a “Black” America. All of it was more significant than a new car, a better cut of steak, a fragrant glass of wine, or the latest version of the iPhone.
Speaking of our devolving material culture, I can’t help but make this observation now that we’re in 2015. We spend so much time and effort exalting ourselves over the latest technological innovations, the next version of some new piece of gadgetry. Seriously, when was the last time a new invention came around that truly transformed our lives writ large for the better, that was transformative in every way possible? The iPhone? Please! Phones have been around since the 1870s, and mobile phones since the 1970s. And, I don’t think the tens of thousands of Chinese factory workers really enjoy making these gadgets for our benefit. Flat-screen HD TVs? Gimme a break! The TV’s been here since the 1920s, and adding clarity with hundreds of channels has just make the size of its “vast wasteland” that much bigger.
Face it folks. There hasn’t been a major technological breakthrough since the inventions of the MRI machine and the microchip in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Personal computers, Google Chromebooks, Fitbit trackers, electronic fuel injectors, the Internet and those millions of apps? They are all derivatives of technologies that are as old as I am.
Let’s credit Apple and Microsoft and Google for new innovations. But we haven’t had any major breakthroughs worthy of Back To The Future. Hydrogen-fuel-cell and nuclear fusion technologies? They remain somewhere between a limited experiment and a pipe dream. A matter-energy converter so that we can stop growing and killing our food? We’ve barely discovered 3D-printing, and that’s still years away from everyday usage. Technology that can scrub the air of greenhouse gases without killing every living thing on the planet at the same time? Someone’s buried it somewhere.
Perhaps that’s what has happened in my lifetime. That with the killing of millions from war, disease, settler colonialism, out-and-out racism practiced on a societal level, unbridled capitalism and the constant quest for the immediate big profit, we’ve killed those people. A Black kid who could’ve created a faster-than-light drive. A Palestinian girl who may have developed a food replicator. An affluent White boy steered toward Wall Street who may have once thought through the idea of carbon capture from the upper atmosphere. Apparently we have none of this, because we don’t want that future. We only want to imagine that future while wallowing in the -isms of our pasts and presents, minus any wisdom or understanding.