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Dave Eggers: We Finally Have Jetpacks and No One Cares

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

In a recent piece for The Guardian, Dave Eggers observes that we now have actual jetpacks that actually fly, an invention that was supposed to alert humanity that The Future had finally arrived,1 and no one really cares too much about them.

We have jetpacks and we do not care. An Australian named David Mayman has invented a functioning jetpack and has flown it all over the world — once in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty — yet few people know his name. His jetpacks can be bought but no one is clamouring for one. For decades, humans have said they want jetpacks, and for thousands of years we have said we want to fly, but do we really? Look up. The sky is empty.

Eggers, an avid flyer but not pilot, decided to take a jetpack flying lesson, just to see what none of the fuss is about.

When he returns and begins pouring the fuel into the jetpack, only then does it register just how dicey this seems, and why jetpacks have been slow to be developed and adopted. Though every day we fill our cars’ tanks with highly flammable gasoline, there is — or we pretend there is — a comfortable distance between our frail flesh and this explosive fuel. But carrying this fuel on your back, in a glorified backpack of tubes and turbines, brings the reality of the internal combustion engine home. Just watching the kerosene getting poured into the pack, inches from Wesson’s face, is unsettling.

And then there’s the noise:

Jarry asks if I’m ready. I tell him I’m ready. The jets ignite. The sound is like a category 5 hurricane passing through a drainpipe. Jarry turns an invisible throttle, and I mimic his movements with the real throttle. The sound grows louder. He turns his invisible throttle more, and I turn mine. Now the sound hits a fever pitch, and I feel the thrust down the back of my calves. I step ever so slightly forward, and lock my legs together. (This is why jetpack wearers have their legs stiff like toy soldiers - any deviation is quickly punished by 800-degree jet exhaust.) Jarry mimes more throttle, I give it more throttle, and slowly I leave the earth. It is nothing like weightlessness. Instead, I feel my every pound, feel just how much thrust it takes to get me and this machine to levitate.

Jarry tells me to go higher. One foot, then two, then three. As the jets howl and the kerosene burns, I hover, thinking that this is an astounding amount of noise and trouble to float 36in off the ground. Unlike the purest kinds of flight, which harness wind and master soaring, this is just brute force. This is busting through space with heat and noise. And it’s really difficult, too.

(via clive thompson)

  1. I have had one of these t-shirts in my rotation for more than 20 years now: “they lied to us / this was supposed to be the future / where is my jetpack, where is my robotic companion, where is my dinner in pill form, where is my hydrogen fueled automobile, where is my nuclear-powered levitating house, where is my cure for this disease”.