What is the nearest time period that the present would seem "futuristic"?

I was thinking about this last night and thought it might be an interesting discussion. Hopefully I can express the question in a manner that can be understood.

Imagine there’s a time traveler originating from sometime in the past. Assume this person is from a place where the latest technological innovations of his/her time are at least known, if not commonplace. This time traveler comes to what is, for us, the present. This person’s time travel lands them in a place that most of us in the “Western world” would consider to be, for the most part, technologically average, like New York City and not out in the woods in the middle of nowhere.

What is the closest approximate date (from our present) from which this person could originate and consider the present to be fantastically “futuristic,” as in a completely alien culture and technological era? The 1920s? 1910s? Civil-War era? Earlier than that?

Are there accounts of people who have been isolated or unconscious for many years, reentering society, and saying that it seems futuristic?

E.g. a person who has been in prison, or a coma, for 30 years.

I wonder if you would have to go back that far (or else I wonder exactly how different something has to be to be "futuristic).

In the 60’s and early 70’s, computers were huge room-sized monsters that only the government, universities and large businesses had. Telephones were attached to cords in the walls. Hand-held electronic calculators were a big deal. Television was broadcast (I think, I don’t remember when cable TV first started).

Fast forward from 1975 to 2011, where millions of people carry little miniature computers around with them (smart phones) where they can access almost unlimited amounts of information on the internet, as well as make phone calls from anywhere to anywhere. If I think back to the person I was in 1975, that would seem pretty futuristic to me.

Except for the lack of flying cars and teleportation, that is.

I think even someone from the 1950’s would see 2011 as “fantastic,” especially with regards to communications technology. An iPad would seem like crazy magic to them.

If you went into a coma in 1962 and woke up in 1970, you’d have a hard time believing you were on the same planet. Ditto 1995 and 2001, because of the Internet.

I was born in 1965. Take an adult from that year and bring them forward to 2011, and they’re going to think we’re very futuristic. The technology already mentioned is part of it, but there’s more. Segregation is over. Schools are integrated. People are openly homosexual, and in some places they can get married. We’ve been to the moon, and space shuttle launches barely merit a yawn on the news. Women are doing things virtually unimagined back then…politics, law, medicine, science. Newspapers are dying. There are more than 3 TV channels. Almost no one has an aerial antenna for TV anymore. Etc.

I’d say that 1995 is the earliest possible year. By the late 90’s, high-powered smartphones would be at least conceivable using current tech, but in the mid-90s the cell phone and computer tech just wasn’t there. Being able to access information anywhere instantaneously, and in high quality format, is a HUGE leap from the early Internet. And it’s not just some people who are doing this, it’s everywhere.

1995 wasn’t that different though. The internet, and more importantly, the world wide web existed, and had actually even been around a little while. People had email. Cell phones were starting to be relatively common. Even early large flat screen televisions were on the drawing board. DVD players were new.

I’d say pre-1975, myself. For the most part, there weren’t any video games other than Pong, cell phones, cable TV, home video recording (beta was really new), no personal computers, much less an internet or world wide web. Answering machines weren’t that common either. 8 tracks and LPs ruled the music arena, along with broadcast radio- walkmans didn’t exist!

Everything was old-school telephone, pen and paper. People read books, watched the big 3 networks, or did hobbies, etc…

Thinking about how vastly different and primitive things were when I was a small child (~1975) is kind of eye-opening. Hell, thinking back to high school graduation in 1991 is kind of shocking as well.

I’d say the early to mid-80s at the earliest. Later than that, and 2011 would seem very high-tech and advanced, but not exactly fantastical. Most of today’s technology was present in some form, just not nearly as advanced or common. The earliest cell phones were around in the mid '80s, and while not common were fairly well-known as a high-tech toy of the wealthy. Personal computers were similar, very expensive and not very common, but they would have seen them in movies, TV etc. An iPod would be like a Walkman, but “with computers” instead of tapes. The modern world would certainly be a cool place, with everyone having what would have only been available to the very wealthy in 1984, but they wouldn’t encounter many things that couldn’t be described as a very advanced version of something they were already familiar with.

I think 20 years is pretty good, if you look at some specific technology.

The first web browser was written in 1991. People were using CDs for music and VHS tape for video.

I think about the scene in Back to the Future where 1955-Doc is marveling over the handheld video recorder.

A substantial number of people now carry around in their pocket a device that can do everything that video camera did, and also take still photographs, make phone calls, translate written language in real-time, take voice commands, carry and display dozens of movies or hundreds of albums, act as a remote control for hundreds of other machines. etc.

That’s pretty damn futuristic.

Anecdote: spring 1981. Grade 13 calculus class. I, a 17-year-old in his last year of high school, was absorbing the idea of iteration and the limit theory. The teacher announced he had something special to show us. He and a student left the room, and came back with a computer. The student was carrying a Commodore SuperPET, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow! A computer so small one person can carry it!” :slight_smile:

Cellular mobile phones arrived in the mid-1980s. There were mobile phones available previously, but they were car phones, a plaything of the rich. There was one powerful transmitter tower for a city, and a very limited number of channels that the phone could communicate on, which led to a maximum of a few dozen conversations at any time.

And you couldn’t hand off from one tower to another. That was the critical innovation of the ‘cellular’ system, which required a huge amount of automatic and invisible background coordination between the handset, the towers, and the switching system.

If you say fantastically futuristic to the point of being alien, then I’d say the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century.

The Ipad is neat, but it’s radio+tv+computer. Someone in the 1960s could see the radio, tv and computer and think that someday, they’ll all be put in one small, light, convenient package.

Think of it this way: once the gramophone was invented, people could conceivably think that the disks would get smaller and smaller while containing much more data and that one day, we would have very tiny high-tech gramophones that would contain thousands of songs. The evolution from the gramophone to the Ipod is quite substantial but someone who’d seen a gramophone wouldn’t be at a loss that a device could record and play music. It would be an extremely advanced gramophone, not something alien. People who existed before the gramophone though, might not as easily conceive that you could play music without having musicians here and now.

The industrial revolution, the internal combustion engine and instantaneous communications were changes that made the world alien from what it had been although I’m sure there are others.
Socially, the Suffragette movement, purely naturalistic explanations of origins (Darwin) and liberalism (thinking here mostly of JS Mill) were minority influences but still substantial in the latter 19th century. A Millian Darwinian Suffragette might not be all that shocked at today’s world.

Back in the 60s, the concept of doors that opened by themselves was literally something out of Star Trek. Take someone from the 60s to the bathroom at my office, with toilets that flush themselves, and sinks that turn on themselves, and heads will explode.

For people from the past who could dream a futuristic future I think they may be disappointed with how un-futuristic it is. Think of the things you dreamed about in 1975 and how little of them have emegered.
Any flying cars yet? Nope.
Robots walking the streets? Nope.
Space hotels? Nope.
Moon base? Nope.
Public transportation coast to coast under 3 hours? Nope.
Any levitating vehicles? Nope.
Futuristic architecture everywhere? Nope.
Solar powered homes? Nope.
Jetpacks? Nope.

Sorry kid. Check out my i-phone though. It has this cool app where you can punch a cat. Whoaaa…

I’d say it depends what you are talking about. Some motorcycles, for example, have had the same design (and new models of retro designs) since like 1950. If we’re talking about cell phones and personal telecommunications, I’d say 20 years. Luxury cruises are probably the same since the Love Boat aired.

So, I’d say to really, truly shock someone on all fronts you’d have to go back to ~1940. 100 years would be even better. As a rule of thumb, I’d say that for any given era, 100 years before would be enough, and even then a lot of things would be similar, e.g. baseball, movie theaters, etc.

I was thinking it would have to be at least the early 1900s when I conceived the question. I’m talking about completely alien, head-exploding shock. Think of suddenly finding yourself in a world like Aeon Flux; almost nothing is familiar-- most things you see you have either absolutely no conception of or are complete impossibilities to you. That kind of futuristic.

An adult in the 60s, transported to 2011 without experiencing the decades in between, would feel head-exploding shock at the idea of a black man being POTUS. Such a thing was inconceivable then.

Same reaction would likely apply to seeing their first episode of Will & Grace.

Probably the 1890s or so, because most everything we take for granted didn’t exist in any meaningful way back then. Communications, travel, culture, government policy, shopping, etc. are all far away from what they were back then.

But the grain which could make people fathom those ideas existed in 1965. It is possible in 1920 to imagine a world with global air travel, but pretty hard to imagine it in 1880.

Homosexual liberation, desegregation, moon launches, space shuttles, women’s lib, etc all existed in embryonic form back in the 40s and 50s. But the concepts were so far off to be unthinkable if you go back further than that. So I think you’d need to go back further.

ie, there is a difference between fathoming a world with 3 TV channels vs. 200 and a world where the concept of TV doesn’t even exist vs a world with 200 channels.

Considering that the 60s saw a woman at the head of the State of Israel, the Stonewall riots, free love and (in Canada) the decriminalization of homosexuality, I think someone from the 60s would see a lot of change today. But if he took the time to think about it with some imagination, he could see it coming and wouldn’t be all that surprised it turned out that way. In other words, it wouldn’t be like the difference between a horse and a modern car, it would be like the difference between the Model T and a modern car.

Gay marriage and Will & Grace seems a long way down from the Stonewall riots and free love but it’s a long way down from the same road.