June 12, 2013

The kitchen of the future

We spend a lot of time looking back at the past in an effort to understand it, but it can be just as enlightening to consider how the past viewed the future.  Does our present look anything like the future that was imagined in the past?

For example, the computers in Star Trek look laughably primitive when compared to the technology of today (which is probably one reason why the remastered versions of the series have upgraded special effects).  In fact, today's technology has far surpassed what Gene Roddenberry & company imagined - there's probably more power in an iPhone than there was running the Enterprise.  Sometimes it seems as if we're afraid to let our imaginations truly run wild and imagine the possibilities.  On the other hand, we still don't have the flying cars from The Jetsons.

Before pro football completely took over Sunday afternoons, CBS had a long-running documentary series called The 20th Century, which took a look back at the major historical events of the century.  In January 1967 the show changed both its title and focus; renamed The 21st Century, the program now looked forward to what the future might have in store.

In that light, I'm reminded of David Gelenter's book 1939: The Lost World of the Fairin which Gelenter reminds us that much of the scientific progress on display at the 1939 World's Fair was designed for one purpose: to make our lives easier.  Not that there weren't world-altering inventions on display, but we shouldn't underestimate the importance attached to such technological marvels as the washer and dryer or the refrigerator.  We may take them for granted now, but these were major accomplishments.

With that in mind, let's take a look at this episode of The 21st Century from March 1967, in which Walter Cronkite hosted this preview of the kitchen in the year 2001.  How much do you think they got right?

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