Watch a Short 1967 Film That Imagines How We’d Live in 1999: Online Learning, Electronic Shopping, Flat Screen TVs & Much More

Nobody uses the word com­put­er­ized any­more. Its dis­ap­pear­ance owes not to the end of com­put­er­i­za­tion itself, but to the process’ near-com­plete­ness. Now that we all walk around with com­put­ers in our pock­ets (see also the fate of the word portable), we expect every aspect of life to involve com­put­ers in one way or anoth­er. But in 1967, the very idea of com­put­ers got peo­ple dream­ing of the far-flung future, not least because most of them had nev­er been near one, let alone brought one into their home. But for the Shore fam­i­ly, each and every phase of the day involves a com­put­er: their “cen­tral home com­put­er, which is sec­re­tary, librar­i­an, banker, teacher, med­ical tech­ni­cian, bridge part­ner, and all-around ser­vant in this house of tomor­row.”

Tomor­row, in this case, means the year 1999. Today is 1967, when Philco-Ford (the car com­pa­ny hav­ing pur­chased the bank­rupt radio and tele­vi­sion man­u­fac­tur­er six years before) did­n’t just design and build this spec­u­la­tive “house of tomor­row,” which made its debut on a tele­vi­sion broad­cast with Wal­ter Cronkite, but pro­duced a short film to show how the fam­i­ly of tomor­row would live in it. Year 1999 AD traces a day in the life of the Shores: astro­physi­cist Michael, who com­mutes to a dis­tant lab­o­ra­to­ry to work on Mars col­o­niza­tion; “part-time home­mak­er” Karen, who spends the rest of the time at the pot­tery wheel; and eight-year-old James, who attends school only two morn­ings a week but gets the rest of his edu­ca­tion in the home “learn­ing cen­ter.”

There James watch­es footage of the moon land­ing, plau­si­ble enough mate­r­i­al for a his­to­ry les­son in 1999 until you remem­ber that the actu­al land­ing did­n’t hap­pen until 1969, two years after this film was made. The flat screens on which he and his par­ents per­form their dai­ly tasks (a tech­nol­o­gy that would also sur­face in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the fol­low­ing year) might also look strik­ing­ly famil­iar to we denizens of the 21st cen­tu­ry. (Cer­tain­ly the way James watch­es car­toons on one screen while his record­ed lec­tures play on anoth­er will look famil­iar to today’s par­ents and edu­ca­tors.) But many oth­er aspects of the Philco-Ford future won’t: even though the year 2000 is also retro now, the Shores’ clothes and decor look more late-60s than late-90s.

In this and oth­er ways, Year 1999 AD resem­bles a par­o­dy of the tech­no-opti­mistic shorts made by post­war cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca, so much so that Snopes put up a page con­firm­ing its verac­i­ty. “Many vision­ar­ies who tried to fore­cast what dai­ly life would be like for future gen­er­a­tions made the mis­take of sim­ply pro­ject­ing exist­ing tech­nolo­gies as being big­ger, faster, and more pow­er­ful,” writes Snopes’ David Mikkel­son. Still, Year 1999 AD does a decent job of pre­dict­ing the uses of tech­nol­o­gy to come in dai­ly life: “Con­cepts such as ‘fin­ger­tip shop­ping,’ an ‘elec­tron­ic cor­re­spon­dence machine,’ and oth­ers envi­sioned in this video antic­i­pate sev­er­al inno­va­tions that became com­mon­place with­in a few years of 1999: e‑commerce, web­cams, online bill pay­ment and tax fil­ing, elec­tron­ic funds trans­fers (EFT), home-based laser print­ers, and e‑mail.”

Even twen­ty years after 1999, many of these visions have yet to mate­ri­al­ize: “Split-sec­ond lunch­es, col­or-keyed dis­pos­able dish­es,” pro­nounces the nar­ra­tor as the Shores sit down to a meal, “all part of the instant soci­ety of tomor­row, a soci­ety of leisure and tak­en-for-grant­ed com­forts.” But as easy as it is to laugh at the notion that “life will be rich­er, eas­i­er, health­i­er as Space-Age dreams come true,” the fact remains that, like the Shores, we now real­ly do have com­put­er pro­grams that let us com­mu­ni­cate and do our shop­ping, but that also tell us what to eat and when to exer­cise. What would the minds behind Year 1999 AD make of my watch­ing their film on my per­son­al screen on a sub­way train, amid hun­dreds of rid­ers all sim­i­lar­ly equipped? “If the com­put­er­ized life occa­sion­al­ly extracts its pound of flesh,” says the nar­ra­tor, “it holds out some inter­est­ing rewards.” Few state­ments about 21st-cen­tu­ry have turned out to be as pre­scient.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

Did Stan­ley Kubrick Invent the iPad in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

9 Sci­ence-Fic­tion Authors Pre­dict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asi­mov, William Gib­son, Philip K. Dick & More Imag­ined the World Ahead

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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