You Can Keep Your Jetpacks


One of my favorite elements of how Steven Johnson frames the telling of his book The Invention of Air is the historical context. Not to give too much away, but Johnson tells the history of two seminal discoveries in world history, not through the lens of the Great Man Theory, but as the timeline of events leading up to those discoveries.

“Things were moving this direction,” Johnson implies, “so this fellow interacted with the key timelines at the right time for these discoveries to unfold.”

As much as I’ve taken anything away from my reading of that book, I’ve taken away this frame for looking at discoveries and inventions. What must be true in the world and other events for this one event to occur?

Johnson also offers perspective on where those events led, showing readers what was made possible because these other things had happened.

All of this is to say my answer is reliable, publicly-available teleportation.

Hear me out.

If we get to a place where humankind all over the world has access to teleportation on a regular basis, then what else needed to happen? What other problems, much more urgent than realizing the promise of Star Trek, were likely to have been solved as well? Seeing the halting or reversing the effects of climate change and the thing itself would be grand, but we’ll likely be in an awful spot by the time we accomplish that.

So, I want to live to see the thing we most likely accomplish in our spare time after we’ve averted the majority of the impending apocalypses we’ve got cooking.

Publicly, and commonly used teleportation also means we’ve worked our way past what will undoubtably be the initial military implications of such technology. I want to see the world after we’ve figured out other folks are as likely to beam in to blow us up if we decide to do the same to them.

A world where we can teleport is also a world where we are no longer cut off from those with whom we were promised we’d be more connected because we could reach them virtually. Emailing, videoconferencing, and chatting – it turns out – don’t offer the same gateway to empathy that can be established when we are able to share the same air with another person – someone who would otherwise be foreign.

I’m not of the mindset that a world of teleporters is a utopia. It would will, I’d wager, be closer than we are today.

This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

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