Monday, February 8, 2010

Where's my Jetpack?

2010. What a disappointment. Where are the flying cars? What about the jetpacks? Don’t even get me started on space travel, or more accurately the lack thereof. Where’s the future science fiction promised us when we were younger? It sure as hell hasn’t gotten here. No, all we’ve got is reality television and Orwellian surveillance programs. Two things I could live without, for the most part. This whole century’s been a gyp. But really though, who’s to blame?

Sure this could come down to my own inflated expectations, but that would be blaming myself and too easy. Similarly, this could be framed as some greater societal narrative about our need to create fantastical and futuristic worlds in order to avert attention away from the rather depressing present situation. While that all sounds nice and all, it wraps things up in a too nice of a knot. No, what’s really at issue here is that we as a people have been led astray by the weavers of fiction that entranced us to begin with.

According to Clarke and Kubrick by 2001 we were supposed to be floating around in zero gravity listening to classical music as a sociopathic red eyed artificial intelligence opened the pod bay doors. It’s been 9 years and… nothing. Blame it on the Russkies for choking out of the Cold War I suppose. It’s not really a space race if it’s just you out by your lonesome. Equal blame should also be put on the scientists for not following on with research and development. Of course then you’d have to blame the politicians and bureaucrats who refused to allocate the proper funding. And then you’d have to blame the average public for losing interest in the space program, thus allowing those in charge to take the foot off the pedal. And so on and so forth. That’s why I hope the Chinese release plans for a moon base. That should put the fear of god into ground control. Or godlessness to be correct, the Chinese being communists and all.

Call me crazy but I’ve always had a soft spot for jetpacks. I don’t know why, it’s just one of those things. Boba Fett was a particular hero of my childhood, ignoring the fact that he went out in a less than ideal fashion. For ages, man has wanted to fly. One can only look at Da Vinci’s drawings of a flying wing centuries ago to see that it’s been an ever-present aspiration. In the last century we got planes, but there was always something personal and fanciful about jetpacks, ditto with flying cars. You can only imagine folks in the ‘60’s watching the Jetsons and thinking that that would be in the not too distant future. Of course that was before a little thing called practicality reared its comely features.

People drive cars today and people who drive in cities spend most of their time in gridlock. So imagine traffic choked midtown Manhattan and then look above to see flying cars similarly congesting the narrow pathways through the glass and concrete canyons. And I’m only guessing, but will people in jetpacks be to flying cars as pedestrians are to normal cars? These are the questions that unfortunately have to be asked and are the source of buzzkill. Kidding of course, there will probably be conveyor belts or something for pedestrians. The biggest problem with jetpacks has to do with lack of protection for the human hindquarters. I say fireproof pants, but maybe I’m just making excuses at this point.

In the end though, we’re all to blame. Yes I know that’s a cop out, but it really is in our nature to expect more than we are ever likely to receive. It really is too easy to be seduced into believing what we see on screen is an actual possibility. I need only point to the stories of people getting depressed after seeing Avatar and realizing that reality is not that enticing. Maybe that is the great lesson to all this: Be more cynical and don’t believe a thing you see, including what you just read.

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