We’re the Jetsons, Not the Jedi

Show me your average Silicon Valley millionaire tech geek and I’ll show you a Star Wars fan. I was in college when the movie came out and I was expressly underwhelmed by it. “A western in space,” was my terse review when people asked me about it then. I was more hifalutin’ in my sci-fi tastes, leaning toward Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Dick and scoffing at the show-biz pretender Lucas. I worried about a future in the hands of people who thought Star Wars was art and video games were sport. 

Well, those people went on to populate the Valley with their peculiar genius and, in their own special way, conquer the world via algorithms transmitted to everyone’s pocket. But the fact of the matter is that the high-tech life of the future they’ve created is decidedly more mundane than the one that plays out on the volcano planet of Mustafar. As for predicting the future, it appears that the job was best done by a less hallowed and more trivial piece of futuristic entertainment from my youth. The high-tech world is turning out more Jetsons than Jedi.

Much as we talk a good game at Comic Con, we prefer to use our technology to make our lives cushy like the Jetson family’s, not arm ourselves with light sabers and starfighters like the Jedi. This mundane reality was brought home to me ever so clearly this week when it was revealed that Walmart was making a move to assemble its own drone force. When Jeff Bezos unveiled his Prime Air drone on 60 Minutes a few years ago, the revelation retained a mad scientist air about it. But Walmart? The mass retailer’s involvement with the technology makes it immediately uncool. It conjures up the queasy feeling that you got in your gut back in the Seventies when your Aunt Sophie first showed up at a family party in a pair of bell bottoms.

Back to George and Jane and the kids. While, sociologically speaking, the Jetsons were firmly rooted in the Sixties, their stuff was a straight-on preview of the world today. Huge flat-screen 3-D TVs. Push-button meals (think Seamless). Push-button jobs. Two-way video communication, self-driving vehicles, robots to do the housework, video watches. Even Elroy presaged a 21st Century ruled by a precocious, young technocracy.

The big, bad Empire exists, to be sure. Technology at its highest levels is and will continue to be used to create more—and more destructive—weaponry. Albert Einstein, who wrote the fateful letter to Franklin Roosevelt alerting him to the possibility of building an atomic bomb in World War II, also once wrote, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

Far be it from me to contradict Einstein, but one wonders if he underestimated the power that humanity’s penchant for easy living holds over its more atavistic instincts for violence. If you look at the top 10 in The Wall Street Journal‘s “Billion-Dollar Startup Club,” you find a car service company, a virtual hotel chain, a smartphone maker, and two companies that offer people different ways of posting and sharing pictures online.

So, I say, let us continue on our course to become citizens of Orbit City, and not Tatooine. Let us aspire to sit on our sofas and master “Call of Duty” and not to build death stars. And if you have an undying urge to conquer the universe, summon up Amazon on your Apple Watch and have Jeff Bezos drone you over a copy of “Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection.”

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