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.
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?'”