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Why We Got 140 Characters Instead Of Flying Cars

For entrepreneurs aiming to solve humanity’s communication problems, here’s some free advice: give people communication skills, not another way to distribute their half-baked thoughts. We’ve got plenty of ways to send text around the internet. But communication skills – they haven’t improved much since the proliferation of the internet (if at all).

The problem is that it’s not easy to monetize someone else’s communication skills (who will fund you?). Aside, of course, from hiring them to solve some pressing communication problem. But we can’t all work in PR.

It’s easy to see how we got 140 characters. Advertising. But where are our flying cars? You can barely spend 10 minutes reading or talking about startups and technology without a reference to how we still don’t have flying cars.

We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters

I appreciate the sentiment, but the problems we really need to solve to get flying cars are economic ones. Flight uses a lot of energy. Energy is expensive. The real obstacle is the cost of flying cars – we’ve already figured out air travel – it just costs too much to be practical for day-to-day use.

I have a hard time imagining the founders of twitter thinking to themselves, “Let me go work in BP’s research division so we can eventually have flying cars.” But that’s the reality of it. That or find a way to break the laws of physics, but the prospects aren’t looking good for that. There’s a Nobel Prize waiting for you if you succeed on that front though.

Let’s focus on the hard problems.” Yes, let’s! But let’s also be honest with ourselves: the hard problems we need to solve are in energy, agriculture, and biology. And hey! What do you know‽ We, as a global society, are spending a lot of resources in those areas. The problems are just really hard.

I don’t mean to say everything is fine or that there aren’t other things to improve (as a species, I disdain nationalism), but I think the problem is overstated.

It’s great that SpaceX is trying to get us on Mars, but again, a huge factor in why there isn’t much investment in that area is cost. Before any number of people are going to go off and colonize mars, we need to reduce the cost to a level that is affordable at scale.

Musk understands this well:

Elon states that he wants to make a trip to the Red Planet affordable for an average American Family. Affordable, he later said, is “no more than half a million dollars”.

Because as long as it costs millions (billions?) of dollars – which we could otherwise spend saving lives here on earth – a mission to colonize Mars is going to be unpalatable. Same for those fancy flying machines you’re yearning for.