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Back (and Forward) to the Future

Back in 1989, Steven Spielberg released Back to the Future 2, the sequel to his Michael J. Fox blockbuster of five years earlier.

If you don’t remember, BTTF2 propels Fox’s character, Marty McFly, forward into the then-distant future of 2014, that is, 25 years ahead of the movie’s contemporary frame of reference.

And what did Spielberg—one of the great imaginative geniuses and technological visionaries of our time—and his team of top-flight Hollywood creative minds imagine the world of 25 years in (their) future would be like? Well, among other things, they conceived hovercrafts, videophones, dehydrated pizzas the size of cookies, flat-screen TVs with letterboxing and virtual reality video gaming.

On the other hand, Spielberg’s world of 2014 also still had phone booths and faxes instead of cell phones and text messaging. Nor is there a smartphone or tablet computer in sight.


But the lack of mobile computing was only the second biggest oversight. The one big thing Spielberg missed entirely and spectacularly was the internet. There’s nothing remotely resembling an online connection in BTTF2, not even a dial-up modem.

That’s despite the fact that, by 1989, a rudimentary internet (accessed mostly by computer nerds, including—undoubtedly—some of Spielberg’s creative team) already existed, and the birth of the World Wide Web as a mass culture phenomenon was a little more than five years away.

Netscape launched its first consumer-friendly browser in late 1994, putting “the internet” within reach of the broad public for the first time. The dot-com deluge soon followed and by 2000, a little over a decade after BTTF2 came out, being online was a fact of everyday life for millions. Today, most of us can hardly conceive of a world where information, communication and social interaction aren’t readily available at the click of a keyboard, the swipe of a touchscreen or a word to Siri.

But Spielberg and his geeks completely whiffed on anticipating something that huge even though its was just around the corner.

So, why am I rehashing all this on a foodservice blog? Simply to make the point that we are living in a world where things change mighty fast, sometimes too fast for even visionary geniuses to know where they’re headed.

For dining directors and chefs, food may still be made the old fashioned way, even if it’s with new technology like induction cooking or the combi oven. But there’s no doubt that the operational side of things has changed dramatically.

Twenty five years ago, dining directors had to learn about faxing orders to suppliers. Twenty years ago, computer-based order entry was the hot new thing you had to master. More recently, you’ve had to put up websites, provide wi-fi hotspots, offer remote ordering and take cashless payment.

Directors learned to cope with each in turn, but it didn’t end there. It never does. Now, you have to be on Facebook, deploy a smartphone app, take text message orders and be interactive. Some of you even have to Tweet, for God’s sake…

What’s next? Even if I was Steven Spielberg, I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I suspect it will have something to do with interactivity, personalization and convenience.

But don’t discount the dehydrated pizzas either. After all, you never know what the future may bring…

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