Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jetsons

Have you ever seen the Jetsons, that ‘futuristic’ animated sitcom television show from the 1960s? The original only ran during two seasons but continued in syndication for decades. New episodes were made in the mid 1980s.

The premise included daily life of a ‘typical’ family of the future. The technology was purely imaginary at the time but many of the gadgets are now part of our daily lives, well ahead of the year in which the show was set.

A few examples, courtesy of LIFE Magazine, which is now an online-only publication:

• Videoconferencing
• Automated vacuum cleaners (Rosie the Robot then, Roomba today)
• Tanning beds
• Buildings that look like flying saucers (although the article points out that the Seattle ‘space needle’ building opened earlier in the same year the Jetsons first aired)
• Moving walkways (suspended between outer space buildings in the Jetsons, between concourses at many airports today)
• Automatic meals (in the microwave today)
• The daily newspaper on a screen instead of on paper
• The main part of a job was pushing a button (Many of today’s jobs involve pushing a button buttons on a computer)
• Jet packs (hasn’t become commercially viable … yet. But they are out there)
• Flying cars … still waiting (but they are being worked on)
• 3D TV and movies – they’re here

Writers were on the right track when it came to predicting technology, even in the context of a situation comedy, but they completely missed the mark on two societal aspects of their plot. First, George Jetson’s full time job was done in 3 hours a day, 3 days a week. Apparently the 1960s thinking was that technology would be work-saving and time-saving innovation. It does save time in many ways, but now we have the ability to get much more work done in the 40-plus hour work week that is still common.

And the Jetsons were the perfect ‘typical’ family portrayed on so many TV shows of the era: white, middle class, mid-thirties mom and dad with a boy and a girl. That was more the norm then but definitely not the whole picture. Today that model is much less typical. Star Trek was another show that predicted a future but they were more realistic in many ways, showing off a better representation of the multi-cultural society we live in today. And they predicted some cool gadgets we now have too, including smart phones and computers that respond to voice commands.

Some of what I just wrote probably makes it look like I expect television to represent reality. Not really. Just making some observations.

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And here is another technological innovation for you. Back in the 1960s, if you missed the show you had to wait for a rerun. Now you can watch episodes on demand.

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