The problem with jetpacks

TL;DR: In the broadest sense, we already have powerful engines; to go faster we need better shock absorbers and handling.

Observation: I get a little frustrated when I encounter people who fixate on flying cars, hoverboards and jetpacks. I think it’s because it feels to me like they misunderstand how things actually work and play out.

I think futuristic personal mobility devices were a simplistic extrapolation of the motorcycles and open highways. We just sprinkled future-dust on the outdated mental models we inherited (rather than think from first principles). We don’t often challenge ourselves to think about how things would be fundamentally different.

So I think the real question we should [1] be asking is… what are we currently encumbered by, and what would freedom from that look like?

I think the problem is information overload. We don’t really need to “go” anywhere anymore, at least not the way we used to. We’re now everywhere, all the time. It’s instantaneous and overwhelming.

The hoverboards and jetpacks of 2020 should help us navigate information swiftly, contextualize everything we want. We’re already racing at breakneck speed, and we’re getting vertigo, motion sickness, etc. We can individually choose to take breaks and slow down, but it’s improbable that we’d collectively make that decision. [2] So we need to learn to adapt better to the speed.

The idea that we need shock absorbers and suspension rather than a faster engine sounds a little unsexy [3], but maybe our mental models of what sexy is could use a little revision, too.


[1] The “should” here is based on the assumption that we want to be serious in thinking about progress and development. I’m happy to make that assumption. We can disagree about what progress looks like and how it should play out, but we should be able to agree that progress requires good questions and rigorous thinking.

[2] One interesting challenge that’s being facilitated by instantaneous connectivity is that we MIGHT be able to make such decisions. Maybe. It’s worth exploring.

[3] Come to think of it, shock absorbers and suspension will actually help us move faster than adding more horsepower to the engine. Conversations and explorations get derailed unnecessarily bevause people don’t know how to navigate conflict effectively. So the prospect of those boring things are still exciting because they enable us to navigate better. Which was the original premise! Born to be wild~~~

Leave a Reply