I’m an author of fantasy and romance, but one day I hope to write science fiction, so it’s a habit of mine to explore ideas about what the future might be. Yesterday, however, my musing triggered a sudden, sharp excursion into the past – a memory of my father, way back in the sixties, saying “When you’re my age, you’ll be living like the Jetsons. Life will be all about leisure time and travel. Holidays! People will have lots of holidays.” He was convinced that everything labor-intensive in his day would be done by robots in the future.
For the benefit of those who are too young to remember the Jetsons, this is the cartoon he was talking about:
The Jetsons foreshadowed a life of automation, robotics, and above all, a lack of physical labor. The Jetsons didn’t even walk their dog – it walked on a treadmill. The father went to work, the children to school, and the mother to the shopping mall if she wasn’t hanging around the house doing nothing. Despite these outings, they didn’t walk anywhere. Conveyor belts took them even from one room of their house to another. In the real world, their fitness would have been appalling, but my dad couldn’t have comprehended that. He was born in the 1920’s and lived a life of fresh air, abundant physical exercise (he’d been a carpenter) and lots of fresh, healthy food – much of it grown in our own garden. Back then, nearly everyone was fit and healthy, so there was no mass instruction for people to exercise more or eat better. They were already doing all the right things.
Life was idyllic health wise, but like most people back in the sixties, my dad wished for more leisure. When he wasn’t at work, his time was filled with meetings, yard work and taking us kids places. My mother spent all day every day either washing, ironing, growing vegetables, cooking, baking, shopping or cleaning. We only had one car which dad took to work, so she had to walk to the shops and back towing four kids and pulling home a cart of groceries.
With this image in mind, I can easily see why the Jetsons would have had such appeal to my parents who were – by current standards – overworked. It was a fantasy of the life they craved, but beyond that, my dad genuinely believed these innovations would come – that men would invent these things and everyone would have them.
And yet… robotics hasn’t created a culture of leisure time. And it’s not because we’re not smart enough to invent these things. We could. Instead, our society is becoming more geared towards individualism, toward wanting bespoke everything, from travel, to furniture, to clothing. The uniformity of fast food is growing passé as the Slow Food movement is gaining ground, with cooking shows and gardening shows topping the ratings. So why is it, in this age of high-tech devices that go so much further than the Jetsons ever dreamed possible, people seem to crave a genuine hands-on experience of life, rather than a sanitized, easy ride.
Just today, while I was writing this blog, a girlfriend rang to catch up. She’s just a regular single woman, working in retail (which she hates) living with a cat and making fabulous handcrafts that she sells at weekend markets. I asked about her week and she shared this picture with me of her garden. Listening to her chat about it, I was struck by how happy she sounded telling me about her lavender covered in bees, the tomatoes letting leggy and the star jasmine at the front door that smells like heaven! She actually said to me that while she was in the garden pulling weeds, she felt such an upswelling of joy it almost made her cry. Her garden made her that happy.
When I got off the phone, I couldn’t help thinking, there’s no garden at the Jetsons house…
So it that why we, as a society haven’t gone down the path of all those stainless-steel and concrete landscapes I read about in sci fi as a teenager and saw on sci fi movies from Logan’s Run to Minority Report and The Fifth Element? Is there something about being in nature that makes us happy? Something about doing simple tasks with our own hands that makes us feel satisfied? Something about the act of creativity that feels our soul?
My dad’s been dead thirty years, and I’m quite sure he’d be shocked to see that houses haven’t changed all that much since he left, we’re not driving around in space cars (or even driverless cars yet) and we still bother to hang out our own washing, make our own meals – often from scratch – and mow our own lawns.
Is that a good thing? I always thought the Jetsons were something to aspire to. Now… I’d really like some feedback from others about whether “the future” is living up to your expectations, and if it isn’t, what would you change?