Your name is Marty McFly and you are a (semi-) professional time traveller. You have just ironed out the latest ethical wrinkle in the fabric of space-time and now arrived in a new era. You are Back from the Future.
You laboriously kick open the hulk of your battered DeLorean falcon-wing door and emerge with glazed wonder to take in another possible universe. So far, so good. As has become standard practice, you hunt for a discarded newspaper in a dustbin to establish today’s date. But you can’t find any. It seems whatever year this is, people no longer read. You try to ask a passerby with an aggressive undercut what year it is, but he has two ugly white snouts poking out of his ears and seems unshakeably absorbed.
You attempt to meet the gaze of a passing woman (dressed, it must be said, in the blatant fashion faux pas of a double denim ensemble), but her eyes remain locked on her mobile telephone. This happens again and again, as zombie commuters walk into each other, their faces buried in screens impossible to disturb. They look a lot like the mobile phones everyone was carrying in your last temporal stop off, 2009, only somehow worse – bigger, flatter, uglier, and clearly worryingly more addictive. What could all these people be talking to each other about all the time?
Despondent, you head to that corner cafe or bar that seems to take on new clothes with every passing instalment of your era-hopping adventures. The sign outside says it is now a "coffee curator" and "collective workspace". Good, caffeine always helps shake off the jitters of a time travel hangover.
You walk inside and survey what that familiar L-shaped room might hold today. Sadly, this might be among the dullest incarnations; the walls are a clinical white, the wood blonde, and all the air ducts and ceiling lights have lazily been left exposed. A stray bunch of sage hangs conspicuously over the counter. Curiously, one wall is devoted to a bright collage of out of focus Polaroid pictures of customers making stupid faces – didn’t digital photography kill film years back? – while the menu is written on the kind of chalkboard last seen in 1990s classrooms. You scan the selection thirstily, yet nothing makes any immediate sense; there is the scary-sounding nitro coffee, cold brew, slow drip, and something dubbed “bulletproof coffee”. What happened to the trusty Americano?
You approach the man behind the counter, who looks suspiciously like a pirate; he has a long, stupid beard, which appears both combed and cluttered at the same time, while his hair appears to have been dragged through a bush deliberately, at least twice. His entire left arm is covered in tattoos, and he has a cluster of piercings in each cheek. Flummoxed, you turn away, and spot a jukebox in the corner, below a display of seven-inch rockabilly and surf singles, which look brand-new despite clearly having been left to collect dust since the 1950s.
All around you, people are sitting in silence, and seemingly alone, hunched over laptops that look far sleeker than the ones you remember, some branded with offensive stickers and nonsensical slogans. “Keep calm and eat hummus”, one ridiculous catchphrase demands.
Despite that, many customers are instead nursing an identical plate of garish green mush on toast, which you surmise must be “deconstructed” avocado, because it’s the only food item on the menu. It comes served with a side of “avo-lime jam” no one seems to know what to do with. “I’m on a keto diet,” one girl nonsensically whispers to another, who is wearing what you later learn is known as a Korean face mask. It’s the first time you’ve heard human speech in what can only be 2019.
Most of the men have their hair tied in a silly topknot (a “man bun”, you snigger), and all have excessive facial hair, even when their natural ability to grow a beard is questionable.
The women, meanwhile, are generally in patterned leggings or high-waisted jeans, paired with crop-tops. A few have gone to the effort of wearing a dress, only to undermine the effect by pairing it with bright, shiny new tennis shoes.
In the corner, you notice a "device-free zone" with a sign that orders "get off your phone and have a conversation". It is entirely empty. Instead, everyone looks hard at work on, well, something, but these people can't all be scribbling screenplays that will never be read.
You strike up the nerve and approach a man in a tattered vintage Hawaiian shirt and neon bike shorts. “I run a boutique social media consultancy agency,” he says with a misplaced sense of pride. “I’m a digital nomad,” replies another, clad in a boiler suit and what looks like prescription goggles. In what twisted schism of space time are these actual jobs, you wonder.
“Yoo-hoo, we’re influencers, zaddy,” chips in a voice annoyed it wasn’t asked first. You turn to confront an alien-orange woman who has stuck-on lashes and huge eyebrows, her forehead frozen, not moving. When you don’t immediately swoon in appreciation, she stands up, exhales “I’m baby” loudly and marches towards the “meditation zone”.
Exasperated, you head outside, and spend a few minutes bemusedly deciphering the primitive graffiti (“street art”, apparently) covering the building’s exterior wall. Where are police at, you wonder. Across the road, you spot a group of tall men dressed in a uniform of deliberately mismatched workout gear, striding around the square with great intent, glancing at dorky digital watches at annoyingly regular intervals. “Only 4,863 steps left to go,” one shouts cryptically. “Squad goals!” everyone else yells back in unison.
You’re tired, and looking for a hotel chain called Airbnb, which is what the hipster barista recommended for a cheap bed. Yet his directions sucked. “Get an Uber,” he simply said, shrugging insouciantly.
After nearly being run over by someone wearing an offensive teal getup and driving a pathetic moped, apparently made by the unfamiliar brand Deliveroo, you stumble into a group of otherwise well-heeled office workers who must all share the same incompetent tailor. Each one’s trousers are an embarrassing seven centimetres too short, lending a schoolboy air to group, not helped by the childish mini electronic shisha inhalers they’re each clenching contently.
Eventually, you reach the park, where a grown man in a vest patterned with cartoon fruit items and drop-crotch trousers appears to be playing with a remote-control car; yet his dorky trucker cap remains pointed towards the sky. Only then do you realise that the silent, military-grade mini helicopter hovering above you is somehow under this simpleton’s control.
“Getting some great footage for my vlog,” he cackles at his wife, who is dressed in an animal print jumpsuit and sprawled on a plastic picnic mat. A childish halo of flowers atop her head, she pouts while raising a can of what is apparently a seltzer. Like, water.
This is the final straw. Disgusted, disgruntled, and still in need of a good coffee, you give up, turn around, and head back to your grimy, dated DeLorean. Whatever was wrong with the past, you’re not ever coming back to this future.