6 Plot Lines from 90s Sitcom, Friends, that Today’s Tech Would Resolve
As we enter 2018, predictions for what technological advances this year will hold are abundant and point to the development of technologies many are still trying to envision—autonomous vehicles, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), artificial intelligence and space exploration, to name a few. The focus is the future and while the rapid pace of innovation makes it increasingly difficult to picture what our world might look like in 10 or 20 years, it prompts us to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the challenges we faced 10 or 20 years ago that technology has since solved.
In this reflection exercise, I’ve highlighted six plot lines from the popular 90s sitcom and my favorite television show, Friends, that present challenges the characters would no longer face in 2018, thanks to the advent of various technologies. For context, Friends was live on the air for ten seasons from 1994-2004.
- Video calls and conferencing (Facetime, Skype, etc.): In “The One Where Old Yeller Dies,” Ross grows increasingly frustrated that he keeps missing important steps in his son’s early life, as his ex-wife (Carol) and her life partner (Susan) maintain primary custody. As a solution, Carol and Susan offer to share a video tape recording of these events and agree to let Ross watch him for an entire weekend. In 2018, Carol and Susan could simply pull out their smartphones and live stream the footage to Ross’s phone, allowing him to feel more involved.
- Mobile GPS applications (Google Maps, Waze, etc.): In “The One Without the Ski Trip,” Phoebe forgets to fill up her gas tank before driving the group into the mountains for a ski trip, leaving them stranded in the snow. She calls roadside assistance, but can’t communicate the group’s coordinates or even indicate which interstate they were driving on before running out of gas. As a solution, a disgruntled Ross drives into the mountains with a spare tank of gas to rescue his friends. In 2018, Phoebe could simply look up their location on Google Maps when seeking help from roadside assistance, or perhaps call a Lyft to take her to the nearest gas station.
- Task services (TaskRabbit, etc.): In “The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding: Part 2,” Joey shows up to officiate Chandler and Monica’s wedding not just late, but in a bloody World War I costume he was wearing prior to the wedding, on-set for a movie. As a solution, Joey purchases an embarrassing ensemble of white tennis clothes, ruining Monica’s wedding photos. In 2018, Joey could have ordered a TaskRabbit service person to pick up his suit and meet him with it at the wedding hall.
- Medical IoT bracelets (pregnancy monitors, etc.): In “The Last One: Part 1,” Erica’s (the mother of Chandler and Monica’s adopted child) OBGYN casually mentions that the next baby will be along in a minute, leaving both the birth mom and adoptive parents in shock. Erica explains that the doctors kept saying “both heart beats are really strong,” but she assumed that referred to her and the baby. In 2018, connected medical devices, such as a pregnancy-tracking bracelet, could provide additional insight to keep the mom informed and prevent this type of confusion.
- Home sharing (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.): In “The One at the Beach,” the gang ventures to Montauk to spend a weekend at the beach. When they arrive, they realize an ongoing rainstorm caused flood damage, filling the house with sand and leaving them without power or a way home. In 2018, they could pull up their Airbnb app and book another home nearby.
- Text and SMS messaging: In “The One where Ross and Rachel Take a Break,” Rachel asks Ross for a “break” in the relationship after a heated fight that takes place on their anniversary. Ross leaves the apartment upset and ventures to a club to meet Joey and Chandler, who convince him to call Rachel and work things out. When Ross calls Rachel, he hears a man’s voice in the background and quickly discovers the man is Mark, Rachel’s ex-coworker that Ross insists was trying to come between them. Ross hangs up the phone in anger, assuming Rachel had already moved onto Mark just hours after their breakup and proceeds to move on himself. When Rachel learns this the next day, she is heartbroken and permanently ends the relationship. In 2018, Rachel could have sent Ross a quick text saying, “I am not with Mark. I love you and want to work things out,” preventing Ross from making his mistake and avoiding what became arguably the largest plot line in the show: Were they or were they not on a break?
Many of these technologies are now second nature, a given, a staple of society we take for granted. Looking back, we can appreciate what life once looked like without them and can only imagine what new technologies we will identify as absent from our current 2018 sitcoms in another 10 or 20 years.