Walter Cronkite Imagines the Home of the 21st Century … Back in 1967

Living room, 2001:

In 1967, executives at CBS television made a bold move and changed the network’s long-running documentary series, The 20th Century, from a program looking back at the past to one looking ahead to the future. The 21st Century, as it was renamed, was hosted by Walter Cronkite and ran for three seasons. In one of the early episodes, “At Home, 2001,” which aired on March 12, 1967, Cronkite cites a government report predicting that by the year 2000, technology will have lowered the average American work week to 30 hours, with a one-month vacation. What will people do with all that free time? In the scene above, Cronkite makes a fairly accurate prediction of today’s state-of-the-art home entertainment systems. Although the knobs and dials look a bit archaic, the basic principle is there. But whatever happened to that 30-hour work week?

Home office, 2001:

“Now this is where a man might spend most of his time in the 21st century,” says Cronkite as he walks into the home office of the future, above. “This equipment will allow him to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home.”

In envisioning the office of the future as a masculine domain, Cronkite makes the same mistake as Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke of imagining technological change without social change. (Remember the moon shuttle stewardess in 2001: A Space Odyssey?) But he otherwise offers a fairly prescient vision of some of the home computing, Internet and telecommunications advances that have indeed come to pass.

Kitchen, 2001:

Cronkite’s powers of prediction fail him when he reaches the Rube Goldbergian “kitchen of 2001,” which mistakes gratuitous automation for convenience. As one YouTube commentator said of the clip above, the only thing that resembles the kitchen of today is the microwave oven–and microwaves already existed in 1967.

But “At Home, 2001,” is much more thought-provoking than a few “gee whiz” predictions about the gadgets of the future. Cronkite interviews the architect Philip Johnson and other leading designers of his day for a deeper discussion about the tension that exists between our deep-seated, basically agrarian expectations for a home and the realities of urban congestion and suburban sprawl. You can watch the complete 25-minute program at A/V Geeks. And to read more about it, see Matt Novak’s piece at PaleoFuture. “Can we find a compromise between our increasingly urban way of living and the pride and privacy of the individual home?” asks Cronkite at the end of the program. “It will take decisions that go beyond technology, decisions about the quality of the life we want to lead, to answer the question ‘How will we live in the 21st century?'”

via Kottke

Related Content:

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

The Internet Imagined in 1969

Marshall McLuhan: The World is a Global Village

1930s Fashion Designers Imagine How People Would Dress in the Year 2000

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  • Yes, what happened to that 30-hour work week? Here is what Bertrand Russell wrote in ‘In Praise of Idleness’ (1932). It’s a rather long text to quote in a comment, but I think it’s worth it. If you’re in a hurry read only the second paragraph.

    Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

    This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

  • Mike Springer says:

    Thanks J.C.. It’s an excellent point.

  • You’re welcome, Mike. If you’re interested in reading Russell’s essay in full, you can do so here:

  • alissa clough says:

    I loved the Thonet rocker in the living room. Since, at the time, I’d never seen one, I thought that, too, was “modernistic”. Guess classic design never ages.

  • Lisa says:

    Interesting how he hit on 3D printing on the kitchen plates.

  • Seijinvet says:

    Here is the fate of the 30 hour work week and the month long vacation:
    The population of those that parasitize the economic system has grown (facilitated by a cadre of unethical politicians whose main modus operandi is malfeasance) to where their numbers exceed those of the productive members. Now if we were to assume a 50/50 distribution then the average person would be working 30 hours (parasites 0/producers 60) and there would actually be 6 months of vacation a year (parasites 12/producers 0).

  • Brian says:

    Forget the 30-hour work week — I want to know what happened to the Woodmere Wasps and the Stony Brook Samurai!

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