What 'The Jetsons' predicted right (and wrong) about the future

What ‘The Jetsons’ predicted right (and wrong) about the future

Get ready to meet George Jetson — because he’s about to be born.

The button-pushing, flying-car-riding, iconic future man entered the galaxy on July 31, 2022, according to “The Jetsons” canon. While George is having his first birthday, the show itself is about to celebrate its 60th: it debuted on Sept. 23, 1962, a century before it’s set.

That means we’re supposed to be only 40 years away from the Jetsons’ world of Rosie the Robot, toothbrushing machines and apartment buildings high above the clouds.

So why are we still stuck on the ground waiting for our jetpacks? And why, all these years later, do we still hold a slightly corny, old-school animated sitcom up as a beacon of what could be?

“We still speak about the future in Jetsons terms,” said Jared Bahir Browsh, author of the 2021 book “Hanna-Barbera: A History.” “A show that originally ran for one season had such an impact on the way we see our culture and our lives.” (“The Jetsons” actually came out in two chunks: its original ’60s run was only 24 episodes, and then a reboot in 1985 gave it another 50.)

Read on to see what “The Jetsons” got right about the future — and what it got hilariously wrong.

On-point predictions

To 1960s audiences, the Jetsons’ videophone — a big piece of hardware whose staticky screen gives way to an image of the person trying to reach you — seemed like a dream.
Everett Collection

Despite its sci-fi setting, the show was a typical ’60s patriarchal sitcom, showing how George, his wife Jane, teenage daughter Judy and young son Elroy have their needs endlessly met by automated gadgets and ubiquitous treadmills, yet still squabble over typical work and family drama.

And yet, “The Jetsons” “stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism,” according to Smithsonian magazine.

One of the things that separates “The Jetsons” so clearly from other sci-fi, according to Danny Graydon, author of “The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic,” is that it’s neither dystopian nor utopian — definitely not “Mad Max” but not the peaceful Federation of “Star Trek” either.

“It was trying to have this forward-thinking view of where we might be a century on from when the show first aired,” Graydon said.

A woman in a video meeting.
A woman in a video meeting.
Getty Images

To 1960s audiences, the Jetsons’ videophone — a big piece of hardware whose staticky screen gives way to an image of the person trying to reach you — seemed like a dream.

By 2022, we outdid that tech without even realizing it — and we’re already sick of it. Skype came along in the early 2000s, and FaceTime followed in 2010. Thanks to the pandemic, we all have video chat trauma, even if the name “Zoom” does sound kinda Jetsons-y.

“It’s pretty amazing how accurate it was, especially in the Zoom age,” Browsh said. “We’re starting to, more and more, live that life.”

While sassy robot maids like Rosie aren’t hitting the market any time soon, we’ve had cleaning help in the form of Roombas — which are actually based on landmine technology — and other robotic vacuums for ages now.

With drone
A drone in the sky.
JCRice for NY Post
In Roomba.
In Roomba.
Corbis via Getty Images

We also have Jetsons’ flat screen TVs, cameras that can look inside your body and drones that dot the sky. In 2062, Elroy Jetson and friends watch “Flintstones” reruns in the back of class on a watch TV — something you can now do on an Apple Watch, which came out in 2015. While the wrist-wear devices can’t also make video calls like in the show, add-on accessories can accomplish the feat, and Apple is expected to add a camera to the watches very soon.

Graydon said he recently tried a workout app on his Apple Watch and it reminded him of an episode where George just watches a workout program, without actually participating.

“Technology literally takes away the urge to do anything properly,” he said.

Almost there, but you can’t use it

Judy Jetson fed her family with the push of a button.
Judy Jetson fed her family with the push of a button.
Everett Collection

Matriarch Judy Jetson had a household machine that delivered breakfast at the push of a button. That technology technically has existed since 2006 in the form of 3-D food printers, but it’s limited to exhibitions, labs and experimental uses. One startup, for instance, is using 3-D printers to make meaty steaks out of plant ingredients.

While the world waits for such gadgets to become widely available, you can get a June Smart Oven, which costs round $1,000, operates over Wi-Fi and can sense what foods you’re cooking. Smart fridges, meanwhile, will let you see the contents of your fridge from your phone, but you still have to cook them yourself.

And that’s just the kitchen.

A June Smart Oven, which costs round $1,000, operates over Wi-Fi and can sense what foods you're cooking.
A June Smart Oven, which costs round $1,000, operates over Wi-Fi and can sense what foods you’re cooking.
San Francisco Chronicle via Gett

“The Jetsons” promised us a morning routine filled with automated hygiene machines that comb your hair and brush your teeth at the same time. Instead, we have some electric toothbrushes that are advertised on podcasts and still use AA batteries.

Skincare is a little more advanced — we do have masks that shoot LED light at your face and home lasers that resurface your skin. “The Jetsons” definitely underestimated how much everyone would be concerned with aging in 2022.

A machine to brush your teeth on "The Jetsons."
A machine to brush your teeth on “The Jetsons.”
ABC
Judy Jetson gets her nails done by a machine.
Judy Jetson gets her nails done by a machine.
Everett Collection

When it comes to transportation, experimental military “jetpacks” also technically exist in a clunky form, but you can’t use one. And self-driving cars might hit the market before 2062 if they can ever stop killing people on the streets.

Many fans — including Browsh and Graydon — cite flying cars as the Jetsons’ invention they most long for. But they’re also realistic about the challenges.

“[A flying car] also looks like a lot of fun,” Browsh said, “until that first accident occurs.”

A prototype of flying car that a Japanese firm tested in September 2020.
A prototype of flying car that a Japanese firm tested in September 2020.
SkyDrive/CARTIVATOR/AFP via Getty

Capitalism still exists in the future, though George Jetson only works a three-hour, three-day workweek, pushing a button at the sprockets factory. The depiction of a work day is where reality most diverges from the world of “The Jetsons,” Browsh said, at least in America, which still lags way behind European countries in working hours, work-life balance and paid family leave.

“In this era, I think many of us are working more than ever,” he said. “This idea that automation was not only going to make our lives easier has led to panic that it’s going to replace work.”

No more ‘wow’ factor

The family in their flying car.
The family in their flying car.
Everett Collection

We’ll never have a new show quite like “The Jetsons,” Graydon said, because we’ll never be that naive about the future again.

“It’s more challenging to create really starting views of the future,” he said. “Technology is moving so fast, it’s actually very challenging to achieve the ‘wow’ factor.”

By 2022, our optimism for the future has also given way to a clear-eyed view of the roadblocks: endless energy demands, supply chains, climate change, socio-economic gaps, governmental gridlock and chimerical tech billionaires with their hands on all the buttons . Our science fiction has become decidedly glum. Apple TV’s “Severance” envisions a world where the workday technically never ends, while “Westworld” is full of murderous robots.

Rosie the robot maid
While sassy robot maids like Rosie aren’t hitting the market any time soon, we’ve had cleaning help in the form of Roombas.
ABC

Now, savvy audiences would demand to know what the world looks like beyond the Jetsons’ space-age home.

“What about the people on the ground?” Browsh wondered. “Are they still living there?”

The show heavily implies the Earth was wrecked by smog, pollution and extreme weather, which makes for a bleak reality where humanity decided to live above their problems rather than make lifestyle changes to fix them.

When you think about it, all of the show’s tech advances suggest a lazier future, a possible precursor to the world of Pixar’s “WALL-E,” where clueless humans live sedentary lives, oppressed by scheming robots. In “The Jetsons,” moving walkways and automated chairs are everywhere; sky-based buildings make walking impossible anyway.

In the cartoon, everything is amazing, and yet no one is happy — but that’s how the creators planned it.

“It speaks to this idea that as human beings we’ll always have something to complain about,” Graydon said. “One of the problems with utopia, if you create a perfect world, that world might be quite boring.”

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