What a cartoon from 1962 got right — and wrong — about today’s workplace 

No comments

IF YOU’RE A BABY BOOMER, there’s a good chance you remember the animated TV show The Jetsons that was originally broadcast between September 1962 and March 1963.

This popped up in a Fast Company story titled What The Jetsons got right, and very wrong, about the future of work.

As Fast Company describes it,

“The Jetsons was created by the Hanna-Barbera animation studio in Los Angeles as a futuristic version of the studio’s hit series The Flintstones, the first cartoon series to gain a prime-time slot.

But whereas The Flintstones was set in a distant, mythical stone age thousands of years in the past, The Jetsons was set in a very near future — in 2062.

Like The Flintstones, The Jetsons revolves around a nuclear family in mid-21th century industrialized society. There’s George (aged about 40), his wife Jane (about 33), their teenage daughter Judy (15), younger son Elroy, a dog named Astro, and a robot maid.

“Not a serious work of futurology”

The show was aimed at children and had a humorous take on the future, but as FC points out, It’s not a serious work of futurology.

I’m not sure what the author is trying to get at, but who expects a cartoon aimed at kids to be “a serious work of futurology? 

One fact is true, however: I was a kid who was a serious fan of The Jetsonsso much so that when my iPhone now rings, it plays the sound that The Jetsons doorbell made.

Lots of American kids my age were fans of everything about space back thenbecause as Fast Company points out, the first episode of The Jetsons was broadcast just a few weeks after U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave his famous ‘Moon speech,’ promising to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’ 

When JFK was killed in Dallas, going to the Moon became a huge priority for Americans who wanted to not only beat the Soviets there, but to also fulfill the BHAG — Big Hairy Audacious Goal — that had been spelled out by our martyred president.

Remote work? The Jetsons never saw it coming

President Lyndon Johnson embraced that notion. It was also a positive counterbalance to the Vietnam War and so many terrible things (like the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) that Americans faced throughout the 1960s.

FC adds this about The Jetsons:

“While (JFK’s) promise was motivated by fears of the Soviet Union winning the Space Race, the future depicted is mostly optimistic. Technology holds the promise of a better world.

Among the whimsical technology imagined are flying cars, robot maids, video calls, smartwatches, food printing, and space tourism. Some of this seems far-sighted. But there are big blind spots. Those flying cars, for example, still need a driver.

There are three things its creators got glaringly wrong: the place of women in the workforce, how much we will work, and where we work.”

You should read the story if you want to dig into all of that. But here’s one modern trend that The Jetsons never foresaw that Fast Company mentions – remote work.

That’s pretty funny, because not only did no one in 1962 foresee the rapid rise of remote work, neither did anyone in the years leading up to 2021 either. As Fast Company notes, with tongue firmly in cheek, Management resistance to remote work was strong up until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a cultural shift.

FC adds this final point:

The future of where and how much we work will no doubt be shaped by technology. But our perceptions and expectations about what can be achieved are just as important.

“The future is as unpredictable as people are”

Here’s my take: It’s easy to bash a children’s cartoon show from way back in 1962 for not predicting how the workplace would be today, especially since so many of us back in the distant past of 2019 couldn’t even guess how the 2023 workplace would be either. A global pandemic and lockdown will do that, you know.

But just as Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress from the 1964 World’s Fair didn’t get a lot right about the future, that’s more because real live people make decisions that form the future – and sometimes those decisions don’t make a lot of sense.

The future is as unpredictable as people are. Until we can better predict what choices people will make, we’ll always struggle trying to predict the future they will build.

As Peter Drucker, the “father of modern management,” once pointed out, Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

That’s a prediction about the future The Jetsons never saw — and one that I can get behind.

One more thing: If you are a fan of The Jetsons, you’ll enjoy this article on Snopes about when exactly George Jetson was born. Since The Jetsons were set in the year 2062, when George Jetson was 40-years-old, that means that he would have been born … last year, in 2022, near the end of the global pandemic. In other words, a toddler named George Jetson should be out there, somewhere.

Leave a Reply