Guest blog post: Back to the Future – Wearables, Fax machines and Holomatic Cinema 

October 21, 2015
Guest blog post: Back to the Future – Wearables, Fax machines and Holomatic Cinema 

Guest blog post from Ed Hoppitt , Business Solution Architect and CTO Ambassador for VMware in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)

A date that defines a generation.  October 21st 2015, etched in the minds of science fiction fans globally – the date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown went forward to in the Back to the Future film trilogy, and I’m sitting here on the morning of that day writing this blog post! Moments like this always give a reason to pause for thought on what’s changed (and what hasn’t).

There are plenty of things that the film got wrong, flying cars appear to be no more practical than they were in 1985 and 3D film technology doesn’t appear to have moved on any further than it was in 1955 – we’re certainly not about to watch Jaws 19 in Holomax…. However, there are some really interesting turn-ups from the film if you’re interested in technology, business mobility and communications.

Fax Machines?

Let’s start with the big one they got wrong, in 2015 no-one in Back to the Future is using email to communicate, in fact there’s no evidence that they really picked up on the revolution that was about to come at all in the form of the Internet.  Nothing says this more than the fact that Marty McFly gets told that he’s fired in the film via a fax. I honestly can’t remember the last time I sent a fax (it certainly wasn’t in 2015), and I can remember what I said to the last person who asked me to send a fax (which I suspect was a financial institution) which was that I couldn’t send them a fax because of where I lived, to which they asked ‘where do you live’, and to which I replied ‘in the 21st century’. However, despite that, the idea that someone might communicate a really important life changing piece of information via the impersonal means of the fax machine is not lost – still today we often use the wrong means of communication for the message we’re trying to send.  Today’s business mobility strategies have to wrestle with this. Whilst it’s great putting applications and data into the hands of employees, ensuring that they know the appropriate way to use that data and the right way to communicate is no less important in 2015 than it was in 1985. 


And now to the one they got right, and just about spot on for timing – wearable technology.  Marty McFly’s jacket detects that it’s wet and enters ‘drying mode’, also his Nike shoes lace themselves up.  Whilst the shoes are an interesting oddity, the jacket embodies the direction that the wearable industry is going today, embedding garments or devices with sensors that can react and respond to the environment or data around them and allow the user to do something, or make a choice that they couldn’t previously have decided.  Whilst it might not be the garment today that’s asking you if you want ‘drying mode’ enabled, so far today my Dark Sky app on my watch has warned me that it will rain inside the next 10 mins where I am – which allowed me to choose a taxi over walking (and it was right). I’ve checked in for my flight on which I’m writing this blog post using that same watch – and when I hit the gym later my girlfriend will get told via the social application ‘Map My Run’ that I’ve gone for a run and how hard I ran.  Spot on BTTF team …. Although I’m not sure that I saw a single mobile phone in the whole film ?

Home Entertainment

This brings me on to the topic of technology at home, and whilst we don’t have rehydrating machines to make a pizza in 10 seconds, multi-channel television is certainly here. TVs that sit on a wall are obviously available, and you might even have noticed that the McFly family can talk to their home entertainment system.  Today technology like Siri from Apple is just about good enough to basically interact with and perform some simple functions.  Likewise Amazon has a product that will sit and listen in your living room, trying to spot when you are issuing a command, such as asking it to change a channel, find a film or (one suspects) … download a book.  On the subject of entertainment, while cinemas aren’t Holomatic they most certainly are digital – something else that the film got right.

Hybrid Vehicles

Whilst there was once the romantic idea every person imagining the future puts forward, that we will be driving cars and being served by robots – the film did get some things right here again.  Listen to the sound of the cars driving by, there’s no engine, they’re hybrid – how do we know this? Because when they drive past they are near silent with the whirr of an electric motor, but you still have a Texaco filling station to put fuel into the car.  

I’m sure there will be loads of articles written around Back to the Future and the significance of October 21st 2015 – but from an IT perspective I can’t help but marvel at how far we have come, and how right some of their predictions were. I wouldn’t want to be predicting what the world will be like in 2045 which would be the same leap ahead from where we are now (30 years). In IT strategy building, looking further than 2 years is proving a challenge. Things that we take for granted today, like smartphones, don’t even exist in the film.  

None of us can really predict out to that kind of horizon, but thus far the majority of the innovations and steps forward have improved life, interaction and communication and to take a phrase from Doc Brown himself ‘‘your future isn’t written yet, nobody’s is.  You can make of your future whatever you want, so make it a good one’

I hope whatever advancements you might come up with as an inventor between now and 2045, you make it a good one !

Ed is the CTO Ambassador & Business Solution Architect, VMware Advisory Services. Ed Hoppitt is a Business Solution Architect and CTO Ambassador for VMware in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The CTO Ambassadors are amongst VMware’s most experienced customer facing, individual contributor technologists. They provide strategy and advice to the board and C-Level executives, as well as high-level consultancy on developing ‘service’ based technologies around the concept of cloud computing.

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