Where are the flying cars?
Technology was supposed to make us happier and give us more time… what happened?
Where are the flying cars?
In September 1962, riding on the success of the Flintstones, animation studio Hanna-Barbera aired a new cartoon series called, The Jetsons. It features the Jetson family: George, his lovely wife Jane; their children, teenager Judy and little Elroy; a robotic maid named Rosie and a talking dog named Astro who live in a futuristic Utopia powered by robotic contraptions and fanciful inventions. People live in houses in the sky equipped with high-tech devices. They work only three days a week and drive around in flying cars. Their marvelous technologies give them abundant leisure time to enjoy life and be happy.
Such was the wonderful promise of the future. Technology, in all its glory, was the savior. We were sold this idea that as technology improved, it was going to make us happier, healthier and leave us with plenty of time to enjoy life more. Gone will be the days or rushing about and having to work all the time. More tech would make our lives better and easier so we could enjoy a wonderful life of leisure with flying cars, fun robots and space travel. Freed from the shackles of hard work by robots and software, we could now have plenty of time to enjoy the joys of living and self-expression the highest state of being.
Like millions of others, I believed this idea; and today, many still do. As a society, we are still obsessed with the notion that more tech will save the day. The future was meant to simplify things, make us happier, and give us more time and freedom to enjoy life.
But has it?
We are now living in the future that The Jetsons portrayed. What is really going on now?
Back to the Real Future
When I was 10 years old, I went to the movie theater to watch the highly anticipated sequel Back to the Future II. It was 1989 and like in The Jetsons, the future showed in the movie looked incredible. There were flying cars, hoverboards, self-drying clothes, 3D graphics that jumped out at people on the streets, and mini pizzas that became full size and ready to eat in seconds. This was the envisioned world of Oct. 21, 2015 and I, like many others, believed it was possible. Or at least something similarly cool.
Now imagine yourself as a child traveling through time into the real future this future. What actually happened? What is the real world like? How does it match up to what the movie portrayed?
In my case, on Oct. 21, 2015, my future self-wasn’t flying around in a flying car or playing on a hoverboard as my 10-year-old self had expected. Instead, like millions of others, future Michael was hunched over a laptop feeding a mild online shopping addiction on amazon.com, browsing the Internet, checking Facebook and fiddling about with his phone. The future, it turned out, was quite a letdown.
I distinctly remember that day because while I was shopping on amazon.com, I saw a big banner showing the DeLorean dashboard transform into Back to the Future with the date 10.21.2015. Amazon’s marketing department had cleverly reminded me and millions of other shoppers that THAT day was THE very same day they depicted in the movie many years ago. And of course, they provided a link to watch the movie for free with Amazon Prime (a genius piece of marketing if ever there was one).
As I sat there at my desk looking at that banner, I felt a peculiar feeling come over me. It was a surreal moment. I thought, “Wow! I’m really in the future. Today, right now, I am living inside the magical future I had imagined when I was 10.”
And in split second, the last 26 years flashed through my mind. It felt almost like I had a mini life review, similar to those who have near death experiences; I saw everything that I’d experienced the joys, the “mistakes” and everything else and then abruptly came back to my senses.
Overwhelmed by what just happened and not really in the mood to think too much about my life, I did what most people would do. I chose to distract myself from my feelings so I swiftly abandoned the work I was attempting to do, clicked the banner link and watched Back to the future II on Amazon Video.
For the next 90 minutes, I relived those movie scenes that my 10-year-old self saw back in 1989.
As I watched the movie once again, what shocked me the most was how appallingly inaccurate most of the movie makers’ predictions turned out to be compared with the actual world in which I was living.
In my real world, there were no flying cars (as least not in the possession of the average person), no mass-produced hoverboards, and no self-drying jackets. There were no hydrating machines that turned little pizzas into big ones, no weather service that give forecast accurately down to the second, and no upside-down transport machines. In reality, phone booths were all but dead, hardly anyone even knew what a fax machine was and most people got their news online. To the film creators’ credit, there are flying cars being tested along with some prototype hoverboards that work on special surfaces. But none of these inventions are anywhere close to being mass produced for us to use.
The absence of flying cars was the least concerning discrepancy between the imagined future and the real one. In my view, the biggest blunder of Back to the Future II and similar movies about the future was that no one predicted the rise of cellphones and social media. The movie makers failed to predict a world where millions of people, instead of “driving” around in the sky, were instead looking down at a little screen in their hands, utterly unaware of the world around them.
It wasn’t only the movies that got it wrong. Even those who were in the technology and software industry were clueless. For example, I spoke with a retired executive of a large computer company that produced hardware for companies like Apple Inc. I asked him what he thought of the current state of technology and how things have panned out.
“For many years,” he said, “I used to meet with other executives to imagine the future of their industry. Our success depended on knowing where the world of tech was going. So every month, we would meet to brainstorm ideas and try to imagine where things were going.”
“We used to leave those meetings feeling on top of the world and larger than life,” he said, smiling. “We thought we had it all figured out. But frankly,” he paused and shook his head, “we got it all totally wrong. We were so far off it’s even funny now. None of us saw cellphones, the Internet and iPads coming.” He shook his head again with a smile. “It goes to show what a genius Steve Jobs was,” he added. “He saw what none of us could ever imagine.”
I was quite surprised when I heard this. In retrospect, it is normal that everyone now has a smartphone, but it wasn’t obvious back then.
This technology executive is not alone in his disbelief and bewilderment of how things turned out. I find it fascinating that, despite endless movies and novels about the future, to my knowledge, no one (with the exception of Steve Jobs and perhaps a handful of others) foresaw the rise of these devices and the virtual world that came with it. No one saw it coming.
Smartphones instead of flying cars
The glaring inconsistency between the imagined future and the real one was two-fold. On the one hand, our real world lacked flying cars, hoverboards, and 3D holograms. But on the other hand, the real innovations in 2016 existed not in physical space, but in cyberspace. As it turns out, the future was not actually in the physical world, but inside the devices that billions of people carried around and attached to their bodies like a second self or enhanced brain.
Instead of our physical lives being adorned with futuristic pleasures like flying cars and exciting space travel as depicted in books and movies, we had become a society of escapists who are, on average, investing approximately 4-5 hours a day of our waking time absorbed in a virtual world. To put this into perspective, that’s nearly four months per year, lost in a screen.
Over a period of 10 years, we will have spent about 3.2 years of our lives in virtual reality, and that’s being conservative! If this continues, within a period of 30 years we will have spent 10 years of our lives being hooked into a fictional reality, divorced from our day-to-day lives and our physical bodies.
And it’s only going to get a lot worse when Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality take over the world (more on this later). The real future will more likely be something akin to the television program Black Mirror’s dystopian predictions where technology has given birth to a host of twisted, horrific side-effects never before imagined. If you have not seen any Black Mirror episodes and can handle a little shocking imagery, then it’s worth checking it out as a reminder of why cutting back on technology is an exceptionally good idea.
In our current world, there are no flying cars. We have not solved violent crimes, terrorism, world hunger, diseases or other health crises. In fact, we are trashing the planet with wild abandon. In his book Britain On the Couch: Treating A Low Serotonin Society, psychologist Oliver James wrote that, despite being richer and having an endless barrage of on-demand entertainment, people are, on average, 8x more depressed, stressed and anxious than we were in the 1950s. We are taking more medication for mental and emotional distress. We are unhappier, consuming more drugs, and have more health problems. And recently, it’s been shown that the average life expectancy of people in the western world is even getting shorter.
How has technology improved our lives?
We may think our modern life is vastly enhanced thanks to the “improvements” in technology. But even compared to the 1990s, life today is actually less different than we may assume. Back then, we had TVs, washing machines, music players, ovens, microwaves, toasters, blenders, juicers, computers, phones, cars, planes, and electronic music. Sure, these things were clunkier and not as fancy as the ones we have now, but they basically serve the same purpose. Our homes may have a few new Bluetooth gadgets and some high-tech features here and there but overall it’s pretty much the same.
What we didn’t have back then was constant access to the Internet, social media, instant messaging and a powerful pocket computer or virtual reality device that allowed us to get lost in an endless array of highly addictive apps and games, and ignore the world around us. Back then, we didn’t have masterfully designed social media tools that hooked millions of people into tapping and swiping on their tiny screens, abandoning the world around them.
Today (the real “future”), we have more diversion and entertainment than ever before and yet, our lives overall have not improved. Life has arguably become worse due to the chronic stress most people feel trying to keep up with the pace of modern life and being plugged-in 24/7. Despite being more connected than ever, we are, on average, far unhappier, lonelier and more dissatisfied with our so-called wonderful modern lives. All this technology that was meant to save us time has ironically made most people feel there is never enough time. Being fed with endless images of other people having better lives, we end up comparing our own lives to theirs, feeling inadequate and needy.
Sure, there are some benefits. We can now go online and buy stuff we want and have it delivered to our doorstep. We can work online or away from the office. We don’t need to leave the house as much as we used to and we’re able to create our own gated kingdoms. But at what cost?
Online shopping, while convenient, can easily foster a shopping addiction and lead to excessive spending, debt and unnecessary clutter that would less likely happen if we had to get off our ass and drive to the shops. Working online is great, except when we no longer have any friends or social skills because we hardly ever talk to real humans.
Perhaps one of the most severe downsides to “smart” technology that most people do not realize is that apps, games and social media are not created to be neutral. They have been purposely weaponized, designed to become undeniably addictive and indispensable that we end up with a behavioral dependency on them. Feeding our tech addiction for thousands of hours, we use it in ways that ultimately harm us while benefiting a handful of powerful companies. Technology now dominates us, demanding more and more of our time, and as it becomes more and more intrusive and demanding, it gives us less and less real joy in return.
This is not the future we were told. Nor is it the future most of us in our right minds would like to live.
The problem we face is that using weaponized tech takes us away from our right mind into the addictive mind. It is designed purposely to get us hooked and keep us hooked, despite the harm it causes in our lives and our mental and emotional well-being. We’ve been so suckered into it due to the pervasive myth that new is better.
Servants or masters?
For the last 100+ years, the prevailing idea that technology would save us time and give us endless hours of freedom has turned into the exact opposite like a freedom fighter who turned into a dictator. Instead of liberating us from work and living in a Utopian life of pleasure like the Jetsons, in our “jacked in” world most people are now spending, on average, a third or more of their waking time plugged into their devices. We are losing over three months a year plugged into these things. Three months that could be spent in other real-life pursuits and personal growth.
Instead of a life of leisure and freedom, we got a life of tapping and swiping with endless notifications demanding our attention and compliance. Instead of enjoying real bonding time with our loved ones, we ended up discontented and lonely, with a thousand fake friends and shallow relationships that leave us feeling empty. Instead of looking up into the sky and living our dreams, we’re looking down at our hands in low-level despair that we didn’t get enough likes on Facebook.
We’ve made our tools our servants“smarter” and more sophisticated than ever and yet we, the so-called masters, have become dumber, more addicted and more dependent upon our tools. We’ve become lazier, lonelier, more miserable and lost than ever.
And who are the ones benefiting from all the excessive consumption?
The profiteers of this unrestrained, overindulgent usage are a handful of tech companies most of them in the Silicon Valley are many of which, like Facebook, Google and Amazon didn’t even exist at the time of Back to the Future II. The new kings of the world are the ones who feed us with more and more tech, and profit from selling us faster and faster devices and more and more addictive apps, games and social media channels.
This course is about re-imagining the future and creating one for yourself that’s worth celebrating.
It’s about using the tools we have to serve you, and not you serving them.
It’s about putting your life first and breaking free from the dystopian society of addicts. Freeing yourself from the monotony of notification tyranny, of endless superficial connection and mind-numbing entertainment.
It’s about freedom, living in the future that technology promised us now, and being the master of your life.
NOTE: In case you are curious, a few other things they did get right about the future are flat screen TVs, wearable tech, virtual reality headset, drone reporters, self-service restaurants and ‘80s nostalgia.