It’s 2015, and You’re in the Future

Time flies. Years that seem recent can quickly become buried in the past, and if you tune out for a second, you can quickly find yourself standing in the future. Suddenly, today, it’s 2015. Let’s look at what that means:

The 21st century seems like it just started, but we’re already half way to 2030.

The Wonder Years aired from 1988–1993 and covered the years 1968–1973. If it were made today, it would cover the years 1995–2000. Instead of episodes about the moon landing, The Beatles, and the Civil Rights Movement, they’d be about AOL, ‘N Sync, and the Bush-Gore election. The characters in a Wonder Years made today would be watching Friends (’94 – ’04), South Park (’97 – present), Dawson’s Creek (aired 1998 – 2003), Sex and the City (’98 – ’04), and they’d even catch the first couple seasons of The Sopranos (’99 – ’07).

Speaking of the moon landing, the following movies were in theaters closer to the moon landing than to today:

  • Wayne’s World
  • My Cousin Vinny
  • The Newsies
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Terminator 2
  • Hook
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Addams Family
  • City Slickers
  • Father of the Bride
  • Home Alone

These movies were in theaters closer to JFK’s presidency than today:

  • Batman
  • Back to the Future 2
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Indiana Jones
  • Honey I Shrunk the Kids
  • Field of Dreams
  • Major League

And these movies came out closer to World War II than to today:

  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • The Shining
  • Airplane
  • Caddyshack

Then there’s the Godfather, which came out in 1972, a date closer to the 1920s than to today. Likewise:

Born before June 1, 1972? You were born closer to the 20s than to today. Today’s 38-year-olds were born closer to the 1930s than to today. I was born in 1981 which is closer to the 1940s than today. 28-year-olds and 23-year-olds, before you laugh, you were born closer to the ’50s and ’60s than today, respectively.

Know any 85-year-olds? Their birth is farther away from today than is the 22nd century. And there are millions of people alive today who will live well into the 22nd century.

Remember 1995? The way we thought of the 60s then is how someone who today is the age you were then thinks of the 80s. The way you thought of the 70s then is exactly how far in the past the 90s are today. In 1995, the Mad Men era was the same distance back as the Disco era is today.

How about 1980? It’s closer to FDR, Churchill and Hitler fighting each other than it is to 2015.

1977 is 38 years ago—1/4 of the way back to the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency.

How about other presidencies? If you’re a 33-year-old American like me, your early childhood took place during the Reagan administration, you finished elementary school during Bush Sr.’s presidency, and high school coincided with Clinton. Someone who’s 13 today views W. Bush the way I view Reagan, and for them, the Clinton years are as far back as Watergate and the Vietnam War are for me. Reagan, for them, happened when JFK’s presidency happened for me.

And finally, one of my favorite childhood movies was Back to the Future, during which the present was 1985. The year the movie used as the faraway future? 2015.

Want the full perspective? Here.

  • N00less Cluebie

    We may not have to rocket cars and hooverboards, but our cellphone and computer technology make Star Trek and Dick Tracy look hopelessly backwards

  • Jovellanos

    I was born in Spain in 1991. Interestingly enough, today, I’ve been reflecting on how the 80’s culture shaped the early 90s, and how, I, as a child, learned to recognise the fact that I had been born on a world that just recovered from witnessing something big:

    In Spain, the 80’s were the coming of age of the Spanish baby-boom generation, who were born in the 60s. Everything happened during that decade. After a long dictatorship, my country’s eyes were opened to democracy and freedom, but also to rock music, fun-loving youth, drugs and free love.

    In 1991, every person with use of reason had been alive in the 80s. And in the 70s.

    In the early 90s, in Spain, you could breathe the embers of the 80s. For me, my world felt like a hangover morning after a crazy night. I learned to associate that feeling with my childhood, although paradoxically, I never lived in the 80s.

    Now… knowing that today, in 2015; me, a 23-year old, was born closer to 1968 (!) than to today… wow. We don’t breathe the 80s anymore. Not even the 90s. Not even the 2000s… As of today, we’re closer to 2020 than to 2009!

    • pinta_vodki

      I know how you feel. I was born in Russia in 1988. And though my childhood happened in the 90s, I often feel as an 80s kid.

      Russia was pretty poor after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so NES was the most popular console until mid-90s at least, and when the market was finally free of communist constraints, it was flooded with the best of western 80s’ culture, especially movies. Not to mention the naive-but-freedom-loving spirit of the Perestroika 80s hanging around Russian media space until the late 90s. Ah.

      It is nice to read the thoughts of someone from another country altogether and find how close you relate to them. That’s why I love Wait But Why.

      • zmora

        Hey, I was born in Poland in 1990 (in middle-class, polish, catholic family) and I’ve got the same feelings about 90s as pinta_vodki. The most popular console was also NES (or local versions called “Pegasus”). Although everybody felt in 90s “wind of change”, it was not so happy time. People were poor, the years had passed before we rebuilt the country after the comunist “heritage”.

        My mom was born in 1960 and when she was a kid, the year 2000 seemed so distant to her. She had been always moaning the she will be “so old”, when this year comes. This year was 15 years ago…. Now she is 55 and she’s laughing when she talks about it. 🙂

        When I realise that we are closer to 2034 rather than to Windows 95 release… Yay! And “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in theaters 34 years ago. And in 34 years from now – there will be 2049 – almost half of XXI century. Amazing…

    • Cheryl Hartz

      You’re the same age as my daughter, born in 1991. I loved that you pointed out that you were born closer to 1968 than to today, since I was born in 1968. “Closer” in this case only means by a few months! 🙂

  • Sooty Mangabey

    I was born in the 80’s and this just helped validate my feeling like a dinosaur. Oy…

  • Leo X

    I remember when vinyl was a thing of the past…

    • Rodrigo Gomes

      I remember laughing when someone said that CD would eventually replace vinyl.

    • The_Postindustrialist

      I remember vinyl.. o_o
      (also, like Tim, born in 81)

  • istvan

    I don’t know most of this stuff. It’s too US centric. I think many of your readers are non-US people, maybe you could write a bit more internationally targeted posts. But maybe I’m wrong and we non-US folks are just a small minority. You have better stats.

    • wobster109

      What country are you from, if you’ll pardon my asking? You’re using a spelling I’ve only seen in Hungary.

      • istvan

        Yep, I’m from Hungary. Of course I know the big movies mentioned in the post but not all the tv shows. The Reagan or the Lincoln administration don’t click have intuitive feelings and connotations for me, they are just facts and dates that I know.

    • Tim Urban

      Fair point. This is something a few readers have mentioned in emails or comments, so let me address it.

      First, the stats show that 58% of WBW readers are in the US and 42% are not.

      Second, the thing about targeting certain groups of people is that it’s a hopeless task—if I aim to target people who love math, I’ll alienate people who hate math; if I target people who hate cursing, I’ll disappoint people who find cursing funny. So the only logical starting point when I write something is what I find interesting or funny—with the assumption that out of 2 billion people on the internet, some of them will happen to be really similar to me and also find it interesting or funny.

      Because of the wide range of topics, every post will click with certain people and alienate others—my last post alienated people who don’t think making fun of teenagers is hilarious, and the one before alienated people who don’t think personal existential catastrophes are fun. The perspective in most posts has nothing to do with me being an American and is just as likely to connect with a non-American reader as an American one (which is why there are a lot of international readers)—but the posts that call on a lot of recent cultural or historical examples will draw on my own cultural experience and will probably end up at least partially alienating non-Americans, which is why that happens sometimes.

      • Biff Wonsley

        Well this time you’re alienating people born in 1965. Actually, I love WBW. It is, though, disconcerting to see people saying “that makes me feel so old.” And it turns out they were born in 1981! I vaguely remember going to NASA to see the moon landing (I think I slept through it,) and that’s closer to the Revolutionary War than it is to today. You wrote that once, right? I’ll have to go back & check. Keep up the good work.

        • tomamitai

          The revolutionary war ended in 1783, and the first Moon landing was in 1969, a difference of 186 years, compared to 46 between now and 1969.

          • Connall Richmond Pettit I

            It was a joke.

      • Geoff

        Now I want to read the post before this one, I think making fun of teenagers is hilarious.

  • humanequalswonderlust

    I’m not really sure how millions of people living today can live well into the 22nd century, but I guess that’s just me (I’m 12) so..

    • DrSuess

      22nd century begins in yr 2101. Only 85 years from now. Life expectancy is 75-ish and is increasing with medical advances. The average person born today will likely see the year 2100….. if they make it 100 yrs, they will see 2115. A world-record for age geezer born today could see 2150.

      And using Tim’s “closer than” comparisons…..2150 is much closer to the birth of (fictional) Captain James T KIrk in 2233 than my birthday of 1970.

      I’m just gonna curl up in the fetal position for a bit and weep.

      • sabs546

        I was born in 98 so I never saw the 90’s
        Early 2000’s though I remember
        I was born and grew in the transition phase
        Where kids were stuck deciding if they wanted that toy or that video game
        That’s my experience anyways
        I know before they the internet was a bit less popular or known

        • Nick

          There was no “Internet” – only the Arpanet. Universities and geeks only. First web browsers for the public showed up in the early 90s. The internet as you know it basically started in 1993 with Mosaic, and in 1994 Navigator became the web browser.

          So yes, you could say the internet was a bit less popular or known.

          • sabs546

            The first one was Milnet wasnt it?
            The one for the military which was adapted for the rich nerd into arpanet
            or is it the other way round

  • nupi

    Thanks for depressing me (born in 83) even more (like the weather wasn’t bad enough on its own)

    • Cheryl Hartz

      You think you’re depressed? Try being born in 68. You were 2 when I graduated high school! Someone who was 2 when you graduated high school is now 17 and about to graduate from high school. Ha!

  • tag1555

    As the joke goes, you made a happy man feel very…old.

  • Frank

    Stop it, that hurts! I’m feeling really old!

  • Erik
  • wobster109

    LOL! Happy new year to you too. 🙂

    All of the 2000s feel like recent memory, and yet. . . I have coherent, articulate students born in the 2000s. It’s very scary! My own baby sister cast her first vote in November, and my mother’s taken to pressuring me for grandkids. Whee!

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  • tomamitai

    I remember watching Armstrong & Aldrin walking on the Moon and thinking that I’d be able to retire there. Unless somebody gets their butts in gear THAT ain’t going to happen!

  • SelectFromWhere

    “Xanadu” came out in 1980, and had flashback scenes about the 1940s. It is now as far back to us as the 1940s were to that movie.

  • d

    but the weird thing is that people think 80s fashion is great but nobody would be seen dead using this

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  • Milo Miles

    Ho hum. My father was born in 1890. Come this June, one or the other of us will have been around for 125 years. He was good at math. Read excellent classic novels aloud to the family. Never conveyed the slightest hint that words and numbers were anything but compatible. Liked geology. Was a total ignoramus about ecology (understandably). Regarding recent history as ancient history is one force that’s driving America into the dirt.

    • Nick

      My dad was born a poor dirt farmer in 1928, had no education past 8th grade when he came to the US, and became a successful engineer by going to night school and working his butt off. Another problem with kids – they don;t like working hard. They want a hundred K salary when they graduate.

      Wisdom comes with learning. I think I would have liked your dad.

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  • Yoda

    “Today’s 38-year-olds were born closer to the 1930s than to today”. That’s only if by 1930s you mean 1939.

    • 1939 is in the 1930’s so it’s a perfectly valid statement, no?

      • Yoda

        30’s is a decade, so most of it took part before 1939. Calcualting by median (1935) or at least 3-4 years in (1936-onwards) would have been more precise. But that’s just me.

        • I think Tim was going for effect here, not precision.

          • Yoda

            My point exactly.

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  • As a fellow 33 year old it pained me to read this article.

    • Nick

      As a 49 year old I resemble that remark.

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  • sblakk

    i really enjoy your writing Tim, but why do you continue to pick subjects like this? We all know that we’re rotting and it doesn’t help to be reminded by you constantly. You should only write about time framers greater than a billion years or something – a number so irrelevant that we can’t even process. I hate this decade, 2 decade, 3 decade crap.

    • Popeye

      Lighten up, Francis.*

      *From a movie (Stripes) that was made in a year (1981) that is closer to the Truman administration than to today. 🙂

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  • J.

    One time in the late 1990’s I went to a place for a haircut, and when a certain song came on the radio, I said to the lady cutting my hair, “I feel old. I remember when the original version of that song came out.” She replied, “I didn’t know it was a remake.”

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  • Nick

    I loved reading about WW2 when I was a kid. Of course, I was born only 20 years after it ended.

    Hurry up and get me that youth rejuvenation. I have a whole lot more living to do.

    • Bob w

      Yes, was a 59 model. We watched the war movies thinking it was a long time ago but I’m sure wwII was still fresh in my parents mind.

      • Nick

        Amazing, isn’t it? And how much people take for granted nowadays.

        Hey kids, get off my lawn! There, I’m done…

  • Planar

    I am part of a very diverse group of people sharing a common passion of rock climbing. The younger in our group are in their 20s, the older in their 50s but we have lots in common due to the nature of the activity. Too often in our team it is easy to forget the age difference. Just yesterday I was talking with a 22 years old and suddenly this thought occured to me:
    “How old will I be when she becomes my age?”
    If you are above 30, try it. Its scary…

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  • Bob w

    There are 10 people alive whose fathers fought in the civil war. The date of my grandfathers birth was 1890. My unborn youngest grandchild could live until until 2138 if they die at age 90. That is a span of 248 years and I will have known them both very well.

  • As a 19-year-old this post didn’t really affect me the way it was supposed to

  • Geoff

    I’m organising a movie marathon with my mates to watch Back to the Future 1,2 & 3, on the 21st October 2015!

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