I remember, when I was just a little bit younger, feeling that anything (jet packs, colonies on other planets, alien species) was possible; and not only possible, but idling just around the corner. And, simultaneously, that there were mysterious forces arrayed against each other. Specifically, that everything "good" or "normal" was on some knife's edge, being constantly nudged towards "bad" or "chaos" or… something.
This is the essential, emotional undercurrent of several cultural phenomena of my youth: mostly Babylon 5 (which Liz and I have been re-watching recently), where our protagonists are surrounded by sensa-wunda (machines the size of planets! spaceships made of organic technology! human telepaths! weird aliens!), while simultaneously, the Shadows are at work, undermining all that is good in the world (alien agents on Earth! spies! treason! sedition!); but also X-Files, Star Wars, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I have lost this sense — both that anything is possible, and the sense of imminent chaos. While I realize that I'm just another voice whining about the lack of jetpacks in the 21st century, I'm more depressed by my (our?) loss of the sense that jetpacks were possible, even probable. And while I'm tempted to characterize the latter as part of the process of becoming a more stable individual, it's hard not to also see it as a kind of complacency, part of a larger acquiescense to a disappointing reality.
More than that, though, I wonder if this is a feeling unique to me, or part of the natural process of growing older (in the way that all twelve-year-olds seem to believe in jetpacks), or something that strikes a resonant chord with my entire generation.
Sure, maybe that seems grandiose, perhaps, but there are certainly some cohort effects. Every generation has some kind of "zeitgeist"; my childhood was defined by Star Wars, E.T. and a kind-of "Sesame Street mantra" that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. And this was constantly being reinforced by the gradual absorption of new technologies into everyday life: our first — if not the first — home computer.
Many of the sources that I once saw as engines of this "feeling" were extremely technology-oriented (the heady technological optimism of early-stage Wired magazine, say, even the dot-com boom) and they now seem to have dried up, gone south, or suffered a depressing change in tone (Wired is now effectively GQ for Geeks).
I now not only want my jetpack, but I want my want of a jetpack back.