What ‘The Jetsons’ got right about the future

Am I worried about the future of the newspaper business? Not a bit, and I’ll tell you why.

Fifty years ago this fall, the government funded an enormous and ambitious Kennedy-era research program – on par with the space program in terms of scope and price tag – that was designed to determine exactly what the technological future held in store for humankind.

The program was called “The Jetsons,” and, if that name rings a bell, that’s because the government sought to offset its staggering costs by airing their research on television in the form of a cartoon.

So, to mark the 50th anniversary of the program, I did my own research and found, to my delight, that newspapers will indeed survive into the future, according to “The Jetsons.” It eased my mind greatly to see that George Jetson, that futuristic everyman, like to relax with his news source of choice, his home-delivered newsprint copy of The Daily Orbit.

You scoff? You say that “The Jetsons” can’t possibly be any kind of accurate gauge of the world that awaits us? Allow me to remind you that “The Jetsons” was spearheaded by the same blue-ribbon super-committee that assembled the team of Nobel-laureate anthropologists and evolutionary biologists which gave the world “The Flintstones” several years earlier, and, as we all know, “The Flintstones” today still forms the bedrock – har, har – of what we know about human origins. Credibility, thy name is Fred and Barney.

“The Jetsons” was set in a world 100 years into the future, and since we are now exactly half way there, perhaps we can see the world of “The Jetsons” finally emerging.

I spent a recent afternoon binge-watching episodes of “The Jetsons” and it was like peering directly into the future. I learned so much – like the voice of the Jetsons’ dog Astro is the same as that of Scooby Doo. Look it up.

There are aspects of the “Jetsons” future that are already beginning to unfold. When George goes to the doctor for a physical, the doc holds up a little golf-ball-sized thingie he calls a “peek-a-boo prober capsule,” a tiny camera that George swallows to take pictures of his digestive system. Today’s teenagers should be grateful that colonoscopies are soon going to be a whole lot easier.

“The Jetsons” is, you’ll remember, famous for its hover cars, those little chirping bubble-top cruisers vaguely reminiscent of the old AMC Pacer from the ’70s. You’d think that we’d start to see some prototypes popping up right about now, and sources tell me that that enormous Tesla plant on 880 on the way to Oakland is warehousing hundreds of them. Of course, my sources are a couple of 10-year-old boys strung out on Rockstar.

Once we get our hands on those flying cars, then a whole new dimension of a “Jetsons” world opens up: living in the sky. There is no explicit mention of global warming in “The Jetsons,” but clearly the people of the future will figure out that – just as the summers are milder in mountain towns – temperatures are more tolerable the farther away from the ground you happen to be. Or, perhaps, polar cap melting and sea-level rise have obliterated most of the livable land on the planet. But if we have hover cars, who cares?

Consequently, everything in the new world will be on unfathomably tall stilts – schools, apartment buildings, workplaces, hospitals. Even golf courses will be little more than a series of floating chunks of turf, rendering the views at Pebble Beach suddenly yawn-worthy.

Also, if the world of “The Jetsons” comes about – and by “if,” I really mean “when” – we will have finally solved the pesky and annoying problem of walking. Moving sidewalks for everyone! Heck, we may not even need legs in the future. And where there are no moving sidewalks, there are big plexiglass vacuum chutes that will pinball you to another part of the building in a flash. I’m totally ready!

What’s particularly exciting about the future is how we are all going to embrace a retro aesthetic. Things we think are passe now will come roaring back into prominence. Forget all this touch technology currently the rage with the smart phone and the iPad, soon we’ll all be going back to the whimsical world of dials, buttons, levers and switches. And the lowly whip antenna we now only see on old Chevys, those things will be everywhere, especially on hats. A TV of the future will descend from an unseen spot in the ceiling on command, but it will still have rabbit ears.

Sitting on the cutting-edge of the new technology of the future is, of course, that hipster teenager Judy Jetson. And, it is my pleasure to report, Judy isn’t all plugged into iPhones and video games. To her dad’s frustation, all she cares about is her “stereophonic music tapes.” Tapes! Just like kids today embrace the vinyl LP!

It’s a place where you can “dial your breakfast,” with – that’s right – an old-fashioned rotary dial, where you wear your iPhone on your wrist like a watch, and where TV screens appear on the back of cereal boxes and collars look like dinner plates.

But what’s most exciting about the world we are soon to inherit, according to the “Jetsons,” is what’s not there. Everyone seems to have a desk – one of those C-shaped jobs like Stephen Colbert has – but no one has a computer on those desks. There is no mention of Google, or Facebook, or Craig’s List or HuffPo.

Maybe we’ll have figured out by then the key to a simple and happy life, that all you really need is your copy of the Daily Orbit.


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