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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Comments (7)
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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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