Finding One’s Jetpack
Ah, Facebook. That unanticipated joy of reconnecting with people in your distant past, people you will never meet face to face, and a select few folks you actually see live and in person on a regular-ish basis. I say unanticipated because if there’s very little science fiction out there which foresaw the internet as it exists today, much less something like Facebook. I suppose that if it had been foreseen, somebody might have invented it sooner.
I bring this up because a few days ago one of the people in the first category asked where his jetpack was and I replied that it was in the trunk of his flying car. These two inventions have been promised by science fiction for decades, but so far they are in an expensive prototype phase. One of the other responders to my acquaintance from long ago (he was my brother’s friend twenty-some years ago) linked an article about a company which had, in fact, invented a jet pack they hoped to make available to the public in the next year or two at a price of about a hundred grand, not counting the cost of lessons for flying the thing. Oh, and you can’t use it in the city; it’s intended for “non-urban” use. So much for it being the everyman’s preferred method of commuting.
Science fiction has managed to predict so many interesting things which came about in some form or another. Even Orwell’s 1984 is here, more or less, with the caveat that the eyes on everyone are (mostly) willingly and joyfully placed by the people being watched so they can be watched by anyone with an internet connection. I have a little music machine (think iPod touch but a bit thicker and not from Apple) on which I have peeked at an otter-watching webcam. I am certain I could find naughtier cams with it, but the point is I could watch something happening in a distant location with a handheld device.
Still flying cars and jetpacks are not exactly here. Sure, some daredevils have built jetpacks for death-defying fun and there are one-person aircraft out there, but we don’t have the airborne traffic jams envisioned by science fiction as recently as Back To The Future II. Admittedly, that particular movie did specify the year 2015, but it seems extremely unlikely we’ll see the kind of low-priced flying-car tech seen in that movie in the next four to five years. Mr. Fusion doesn’t seem likely either, which is equally disappointing. As is the hovering skateboard thing.
The reality is that these things, while possibly possible, have some hurdles science fiction either ignored, did not foresee, or did not give us enough time for. We could have flying cars now, but the stack of government regulations which needs to be created for their use has made it nigh impossible to make them a practical idea. Same with jetpacks. The cars and the hoverboard also suffer from one other problem, and that fits into the third category: We haven’t invented a hovering technology yet which does not rely on conventional flight technology. The flying cars in Back To The Future II and just about any other science fiction show with flying vehicles have some sort of glowy things to keep them airborne. So really all we need to invent are the glowy things.
Of course, sci-fi has had a few misses in the other direction. For example, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew of the original Star Trek series (which had shuttlecraft with glowy things) had “communicators” which pale in comparison to today’s cell phones. And although sci-fi has foreseen globalization happening through technology, I haven’t seen read anything predicting social networking places like Facebook which have made the world a smaller place one Farmville friend at a time.
So I guess we have a little longer to wait on the jetpacks and the flying cars, not to mention Mr. Fusion. Perhaps it won’t even be Mr. Fusion at all, but some other technology–and quite a few have been proposed–which powers our glowing anti-gravity devices. Regardless, I look forward to going somewhere with my jetpack in the trunk of my flying car next to my hoverboard and portable teleporting machine.