The Jetpack Effect

So I was chatting with a friend (Nats) this morning about jetpacks, and the fact that neither of us knows anyone who owns one. And as we shared a chuckle over all the many other technocratic niceties we were promised in our eager youth but have yet to see (meals in a pill, holographic video-teleconferencing systems, etc.), a strange sense of déjà-vu came over me.

As it turns out, a few months or so back, the Internet was astir with all kinds of grousing over this very same subject. All anyone could talk about was what the non-existence of jetpacks, you know, Meant. Like, really MEANT on a deep and profound level.

Some writers used the Jetpack Effect as fodder for a takedown of the Post-World-War-II Better Living Through Chemistry mindset, that outrageous folly based on the premise that the best things are made, now grown. Others wagged fingers at the Consumer-Technological Complex and blamed the glacial pace of certain advancements in technology on overfed, undereducated consumers who lack the brains or foresight to invest their spending dollars in the really useful or interesting stuff, like, oh say, 100-pound metal backpacks that propel you into the path of oncoming 747s.

And yeah, the absence of those jetpacks may fly in the face (HA) of the mighty predictions made about the brave new millennium and all it was supposed to offer us humans: the eradication of infectious disease, cryogenic immortality, robotic companions who would help us perform our toilettes and then guard our houses from air attack while we slumbered securely inside steel-trap towers perched high above the stratosphere.

But WHATEVER. I feel like everyone is trying so hard to be visionary and clever that they’re leapfrogging right over a larger and, I think, infinitely more interesting truth about a civilization that is so irresistibly compelled to peer compulsively backward and compulsively forward at every opportunity. And that truth is this: the predictions we make about the future tell us far more about who we were in the moment we made said predictions than they ever will about who we are supposed to become. They tell us what mattered. What we hoped for and what we feared the most. Profound? Perhaps not quite so profound I’d like to think. But definitely interesting to ponder.

So shut up about the jetpacks, already. As if your iPad and your 200 gigabyte digital music catalog (which you got for FREE because of the modern wonder that is digital piracy, I might add) and your 6-hour Trans-Atlantic flight weren’t nearly enough. As if The Rocketeer wasn’t the most pompous and overblown fluffjob of a film to come out of the early ‘90s anyway. Shame on you all.


2 thoughts on “The Jetpack Effect

  1. Lisa says:

    Me gusta el pensamiento de eso mucho! Lately I’ve been fantasizing about getting a sankofa tattoo since it has some meaning about bringing the good of the past forward to the present. I’m not quite sure what that has to do with your post, but it made me think about that concept. I may very well get said tat someday and you absolutely must be there with me if I do! Or better yet- get one with me!

  2. Emily Sussman says:

    The thing about the iPad is this: it’s not going to make the Internet (or the actual content of online media, i.e., the stuff we’re going to be looking at ON the iPad) any better, qualitatively speaking.

    And that’s what I’ve realized lately about personal technology as it relates to my own work. I can diddle around on the computer, trying to find the ideal applications with which to organize my thinking and facilitate the creative process, or I can settle in with a pen and a pad of paper and get to work right away.

    … Great post, EJB! I can’t wait to see more.


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