Company Culture

Flying cars, hoverboards and an Atari for every home: What we thought the future would look like in the 2020s

Exploring your team's childhood expectations of the future can boost understanding of the evolution of technology over decades. Here's what Technical.ly Slack community members said.

Not the hoverboard we we expected. (Photo by Pexels user Gustavo Fring via a Creative Commons license)

This editorial article is a part of Technology of the Future Month 2022 in Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Verizon 5G. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Verizon 5G before publication.

We’ll call it The Jetsons Game.

Think back to your childhood, whether it was the ’00s, the ’90s, the ’80s or the ’50s. When you thought about the 2020s, what did you imagine?

Anything like this?

This simple question makes a good icebreaker for gatherings where people are just getting to know each other, or as part of a team-building exercise. To make it more challenging, read the childhood predictions out loud, anonymously, and ask teammates to guess who made each one.

This exercise is the most fun if you have a multigenerational group. For some, the 2020s were less than a decade away when they were in their teens. For others, the 2020s were 40 or 50 years in the future, or the equivalent of guessing now what the world will be like in 2070.

“I honestly didn’t think about technology much in the early 2000s, although I was an avid HitClips user, and was obsessed with every iteration of the iPod as they came out,” said Technical.ly’s senior reporter in Philadelphia, Paige Gross, when we floated the question on our public Slack. “2000-era Paige would be thrilled with streaming.”

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“I most definitely imagined flying cars by now,” Technical.ly Operations Manager Na’Tosha Wyles said. “I do not know if we’re ready for that but I feel like we’re close to seeing that happen. Technology exceeded my expectations a little as far as the way we listen to music, how the internet works as a whole, and simple things like [AirDrop] via Bluetooth kinda amazes me … when it’s working properly.”

Images from pop culture have done a lot to shape our youthful expectations for multiple generations, going back to the late 20th century.

“‘Back To The Future‘ warped me,” said Mark Constan, managing director of MTC Search Group. “It was 1985, I was 7. I hoped there would be flying cars. BTTF and BTTF2 had some really cool other ‘inventions’ like the hoverboard.  What we have today is nothing like the one in the movie. Mr. Fusion was using garbage for gas.”

While hoverboards that actually hover and garbage-fueled energy reactors aren’t commonplace in the 2020s, the movies got a couple of things right:

“They did have a video call right to the house, so that part was similar to FaceTime,” Constan said. “They also had voice-activated appliances that are similar to Alexa.”

Early home computers were influential in how some Gen X kids saw the future.

“I got my first second-hand console game system (a TI 99-4A) about 5 years after the Atari was out,” said Randy Reitz, senior Microsoft web developer at Estenda. “I learned BASIC on a TRS-80 in a school computer class around the same time. So I imagined every home would have a big TV and an Atari and a green CRT computer on every kid and adult’s desk. Like ‘Star Trek,’ I wasn’t entirely wrong, but it looked a lot different than I imagined.”

Kids in the ’90s started looking to the futures in environmental terms.

“I was convinced reliance on fossil fuels would be drastically lessened by now, at least in regards to commuter vehicles,” UX designer Ryan Nagle said. “I actually wrote a short sci-fi story in middle school (1993-1996, somewhere in there) about the challenges faced by implementing a hypothetical alternative power source in the near future.”

“I grew up in the 1990s and remember our family’s first desktop computer,” said Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s CEO. “If I understood that computers had been much bigger, I’d probably have imagined very tiny computers, which, you know, cell phones sorta are.”

And of course, advances in genetic science were top of mind, too: “‘Jurassic Park‘ came out in 1993, and so I probably woulda expected us to have dinosaurs by now,” Wink added. “Genome mapping and cell advances aren’t far off!”

Technical.ly’s editor in the DMV, Sameer Rao, was getting ready to for some fantastic journeys.

“Not gonna lie: I really thought we would’ve figured out time travel by now,” he said.

As for me, I imagined just about everything — outer space travel, picture phones on the walls, video games that look like animation (my expectations were exceeded with this one). I imagined futuristic cityscapes — again, “The Jetsons” with it’s mid-mod buildings in the sky influenced this — and, while cityscapes do look different than they did decades ago, the biggest changes have had less to do with the way the world looks and more about how we exist, communicate and interact as a planet since the internet hit the social media age. It’s been far more impactful, incredible and terrifying than I ever imagined.

Join the conversation on our public Slack for daily questions, networking and meeting new people across our markets — and to celebrate the winners of our 2022 Technical.ly Awards in real time on Dec. 14.

Series: Technology of the Future Month 2022
People: Technology of the Future Month 2022 / Sameer Rao / Paige Gross / Christopher Wink
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