Saying that something is ahead of its time always tends to be contradictory. Something that was made in its time cannot truly be ahead of its time, of course, even though a lot of people wish that this were the case. Lots of things are very modern, but they are not so modern that they are divorced from time and space. Still, there is a great deal of technology that has managed to seem ahead of its time in one way or another.
Technology that appears to be ahead of its time is always defined as such after that point. People are not going to see certain types of technology that way, for better or for worse. Early 8-track tapes, for one thing, do not impress many people even though these were cool pieces of technology in their own time and there is really no reason to say that 8-tracks are worthy of scorn.
In today’s world where technology moves so quickly, it is important for people to avoid becoming too attached to the tech of their day, and they should also avoid becoming too critical of the tech from the recent past. Scoffing at large 1990’s brick cell phones seems strange in a world in which cell phones have gone through countless changes in the space of only a few years. People who are laughing at cell phones that they used two years prior and talking about how outdated they are will probably just seem odd to many.
When you think about how people in the recent past saw the future, sometimes all you have to do is think about how people today see the future. People today usually imagine that the future is going to be exactly like the present, except the buildings and the cars are shinier and more powerful somehow.
A lot of the science fiction from the 1990’s did predict that people would have picture phones. However, they overestimated the amount of time that people would spend using them. We have Skype today and smart toilets, but most of us still prefer to place a quick text or toilet paper. While people twenty years ago could predict the tech, they couldn’t predict the social mores.
Some sci-fi characters basically had tablets in 1990’s sci-fi. However, the writers did not imagine the full capabilities of the tablets. They imagined themselves as people who used multiple tablets in order to communicate and record information, effectively treating the tablets like they were pieces of paper. The Information Age was in its infancy twenty years ago, and people still had not really grasped the full potential of the Internet and the fact that one device could do anything.
Some people twenty years ago had people today using more advanced phones, but they did not imagine that our phones were more or less going to act as a lot of miniature computers that could replace a huge portion of other tech functions. It’s difficult for a lot of people to see beyond their time period, and we should all try to be forgiving of the people of the past who couldn’t make it happen. In all likelihood, we’re wrong about a lot of things as well.
Most science fiction today features science fiction worlds and ships that make everything seem like the Apple store. The tech we imagine today looks like the tech that we have now. This has been constant throughout the history of science fiction, which is arguably much older than people think today. People tend to see things as being reflective of themselves and their own mores. It’s harder for people to really see outside of their own time. Being ahead of your time is really all about shaking off the biases that exist in your time. However, you are still technically a person of your time even then.