what happened to the jetpacks?

well, here it is, the late 1970s, going on y2k, and i’m beginning to wonder what ever became of the dreams of the future we used to have.

the first decade i remember rolling in was the ’80s. it was explained to me that it was a new year, a new decade – so i had to learn how to write what day it was all over again. i was but a wee child, so it made no difference to me that it was no longer the ’70s. i was too young to remember or miss disco, presidents ford and carter, the oil crisis, or the first few, funny seasons of saturday night live. i wouldn’t find out about and appreciate all that that decade had to offer until much later.

it wasn’t until i started into reading science fiction novels and stories – in middle school – that i did the math, to see how old i would be in the far-off future of the year 2000, the designated date of all future happenings, it would seem. it’ll never happen, i though, i’ll never be that old. and when i am, i’ll be jetting around in a personal jetpack with a robotic companion.

then, all of a sudden, it was 1990. i was an awkward youth, having terrible trouble in school and every other aspect of my life. (i look back now and realize, hell, everybody i knew was going through nine layers of crap every day. i’m actually lucky to have survived in as good a shape as i did.) so i liked to escape into futurist stories and perilous daydreaming with friends of how the world should have ended up – alternately utopian democracies where all humans spoke with one voice and dystopian visions of society ruled by the hyperintelligent elite (namely, us). all, of course, being facilitated by genetic alterations and medical technology far in advance of what we knew of at the time.

an english teacher once asked us all to write a short story about what the world would be like in the future – five, ten, or fifteen years ahead. i wrote about coming home from work and taking off my lead-lined overcoat and cowl, scanning the contents of my dinner with a geiger counter and relaying the days progress at work with my wife in russian. she didn’t like it.

and here it is, almost 2000 – only a year from when arthur c clarke said we would be sending manned missions to jupiter and discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life – and what have we got in the way of whiz-bang technology? where is the self-driving car that turns into a helicopter to avoid downtown traffic? where are the floating cities, the interstellar visitors, the phasers set on stun?

maybe it’s because part of me is still the middle school boy fascinated with aliens and ufos, bigfoot and the loch ness monster, but i get the feeling the future has let me down somehow.

sure, we have household robots, like the aibo and r100 – but rosie jetson they are not. certainly medical advancements can cure most any disease and the average human life expectancy has increased drastically, even since i was born, but there are yet to be cancer-curing pills or injections that will make me smarter. and if i get killed, there’s still no way to resurrect me or download the collected thoughts and memories from my brain into some kind of storage device. dammit, i don’t care if i don’t have a body, i want to live forever!

we haven’t been to the moon in more than two decades, and have yet to establish any kind of permanent settlement anywhere above the earth or even underwater. as a species, we owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren to expand beyond the 15 or so percent of the one planet we currently inhabit. all sorts of nasty things can happen in the universe, and given enough time, they all will.

but the biggest disappointment above all is that we have yet to contact or be contacted by intelligent life from another planet. heck, we can’t even all agree whether there was ever life on mars – something we should know conclusively by now, since we should alredy be living there.

but i must say, there are some things we have now that the best ’50s kitsch visions of the future could never have foretold. personal computers so small and powerful that i can carry an entire library of information in my hands. the Internet, where that library is dwarfed by the immediately accessible information of the entire planet. children now live to grow up and lead full, healthy lives that, had they been born twenty or even ten years earlier, would never have lived to see their first birthday. sure, we still haven’t got personal jetpacks, and we haven’t been contacted by a race of generous, hyperintelligent aliens, but we’re not doing too badly for ourselves.

and so, it is my new goal to live to be 200 years old, in order to see all my childhood dreams of the future come true, as well as see current trends, bleak as some of them may be, come to fruition. based on a best-fit curve of human life expectancy, i’m only allotted about 85-90 years, but i think i can finagle another 100 or so from the system.

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