Fans of the Back to the Future movie series were in for a treat recently as the real world finally caught up with Marty McFly’s time-traveling DeLorean in the second movie when he trekked 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015.
The internet was abuzz on Back to the Future Day with all the goofy 80’s era predictions about our “present future” that didn’t come to pass (flying cars, hover-boards, flying “Roomba-esq” dog-walking robots, etc.) as well as more pessimistic observations that the world of today downright sucks and everything in every way is getting worse and worse by the minute.
But is it true? Certainly the biggest bloodbaths lead the evening news each day and negativity and despair sells when it comes to making headlines in the mainstream global media.
I argue that just the opposite is happening. Not only is the “future” becoming a kinder, gentler place, but never before in human history have we, the ordinary people of Planet Earth, had more power than today to change our world for the better and help our fellow Earth citizens in need.
Case in point. In the early 1980’s, a few years before Marty took his joyrides all over the space/time continuum, I was a five year-old girl living in the small town of Swansea, Massachusetts. My only connection to the outside world was a slow-to warm up, hand-me-down television set that was often infested with static and noise. It caught the main network channels like NBC, ABC, and to a lesser-degree CBS and PBS as well as my favorite, “Channel 56” that often had Mighty Mouse, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, and Bugs Bunny reruns on for kids.
My family always had the habit of keeping the thing on most of the day, even in the background, maybe just to ensure that it wouldn’t shut down for good and really cut us off from the rest of the world. As a result, I was often exposed to the things we usually try to keep away from our children. For me, it was the famine that was ravaging Ethiopia at the time.
I saw children the same age as myself with giant “beach ball” bellies and stick thin limbs wandering around a dusty, barren wasteland with hollow and empty eyes as flies crawled across their faces. The adults doing the TV voiceovers focused on one boy in particular, name now forgotten to me, “who knew something bad was coming to his land.” He just knew before everyone else apparently, even the adults who were supposed to protect the children from VERY BAD THINGS.
Back then I didn’t understand the difference between Swansea, Massachusetts, USA and the distant land of Ethiopia and so I thought if it could happen to them then it could also happen to us. I started storing food under my bed “just in case” and I dreamed about a day when I could go to Africa myself and be of service to children in need. As far as I was concerned, “they were me and I was them,” and if I could help in some way, then I should because presumably they would do the same if the tables were turned.
Here let me pause to deflect a cynical, 2015 remark sure to be made about the so-called “White Savior Complex,” rampant negative depictions of Africa in the media, and how this resource-rich continent is actually teeming with potential and innovation. Of COURSE it is. But my five year-old self is sincere and luckily in the exciting future of 2015 she actually gets to make a difference in her own way along with anyone else who wants to.
I’m talking about the ability for anyone to help someone in need through the power of that modern-marvel, the Internet and a whole host of easy-to-use crowdfunding and social media platforms available. Today we get the scoop on what is going on in the world that much faster and we have the tools available at our disposal to take action without waiting for some large organization or government program to get the ball rolling for us.
In our wonderful present-day 2015, anyone, no matter how small, can set up a project to help someone else in need and collect support, resources, and donations to help alleviate someone’s suffering. Better still, the recipient doesn’t have to be an entire community featured on worldwide television as was the case with the Ethiopian famine in the 80’s, but a neighbor down the street down on their luck or a simple sponsored pen pal aiming to continue their education halfway around the world.
In 2015 if an earthquake destroys a major city many time zones away, we hear about it immediately and the good people of Planet Earth get to work trying to help. Never has this been more the case in our here and now, especially if you look at how things were done centuries and even millennia ago.
Look, if you would like to be convinced further that the present is “as good as it gets” for humanity and only getting better, look no further than one of my favorite books, The Better Angles of Our Nature. Why Violence Has Declined by Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker. It’s a must-read for anyone wondering if they should still bother getting up in the morning in the face of such perceived gloom and doom reported by the media.
So yes, it would be cool if I could hop on my flying hover-board on my way to work today. But give me this 2015 over Marty’s Back to the Future 2015 any day. First of all, I think we dress better. Secondly, using the power of the Internet and simple free crowdfunding and social media tools, I’ve been able to help raise $111K+ for over 90 housing, health, education, and income generation projects for needy children and their families on four continents since 2004 in my so-called spare time.
And thanks to now also having the ability to create, publish, and spread the word online without waiting for special people with special connections to choose me, I also was able to write a book, Crowdfunding Confidential: Raise Money For You & Your Cause to help other ordinary people with zero previous crowdfunding experience do the same.
How will YOU take advantage of your own superpowers to make the world a better place in 2015, 2016 and beyond? “Jumping gigawatts!” Don’t wait another 30 years to find out.
Kristen Palana is an artist, author, and educator based in Rome, Italy and a tenured Associate Professor of Digital Media at The American University of Rome where she also runs its Film and Digital Media Program. She also teaches online to over 12K students on platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, and through the UN-mandated University for Peace’s Centre For Executive Education.
In December of 2015 she will travel to Ethiopia for the first time to present an intensive animation course at Addis Ababa University where she hopes to help empower students to better tell their own stories through multimedia and animation.
Visit her website at https://kpalana.com