This is Joshua Wehner's archaic Blog

Optimistic

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.

Permalink • Posted in: geek-culture, sci-fi, tech stuffComments (1)

Comments

Sam Apr 27, 2007

Maybe you should go back further in the sci-fi food chain... communicators, robots, etc. :)

Sure we may not fly into our skypads with our jetpacks and have our sentient bot-servants pour drinks... while we lounge around with furniture-girls. But have you looked at footage of a car manufacturing plant lately? The science in industry? Intelligent fabrics? Digital paper? Wondered at your little digital pager you get when you order a take-away coffee? International space stations? Tourists on space flights? Flu-less fireplaces that run on denatured ethanol, the staggering amount of proprietary products in the building industry that click clack together and hey presto, mid-century modernist house. Even ipods, I mean frack! I sometimes (by sometimes I mean, often) think like that. Then I sit on my couch flip open my laptop, power up my desktop with it's beautiful flat panel. Fire up the wireless connection to the router, fly through the internet on broadband - go get my mobile to check my text messages and emails and photos on my phone, and think... phwoar! The democratisation of technology is increasing in pace every time I blink... one minute it's in a science journal or on a 'new inventors' type show; the next it's in a product. A sense of wonder can be fanned or fatigued by our level of expectation and integration (I read once that about 30 days is the time before something new becomes 'meh', to the brain).

It comes down to the fact that: What we imagine (and then express in Sci-Fi), we create. We just do the imagining a whole lot faster! Is it being from a generation characterised by ennui? You bet! Is it growing older, boring, more stable? Absolutely! Is it still in ones power to regain a sense of wonder? Totally!

Just put me down as an optimist ... jaded, yes, but still an optimist, nonetheless.

All that being said, though... I still want my friggin' jetpack! ;)