While some futurists from decades past managed to come up with pretty good predictions for how we’d be living these days, their visions are nowhere near as fun as those centered around the flying cars, teleportation devices, and robot maids (sorry, Roomba) we still don’t have. A 1967 CBS special about the “future homes” of 2001 splits this difference, giving us both fairly accurate imaginings of what a 21st century house might look like and hilariously incorrect examples of the world we most definitely are not living in.
“The 21st Century: At Home 2001” (available in black and white or a color version) outlines the wild sci-fi houses that the people of the late ’60s believed we could end up inhabiting. An expert believes that identical suburban homes have “no future” and the show suggests we may live in pseudo-apartment buildings made up of concrete “modules.” Once we’re inside these neat housing cubes, narrator Walter Cronkite shows off what kind of cool stuff we’d use in our daily lives.
There’s a glass tube in the house’s entrance that sucks away “lint and dirt” from outside, portable plastic chairs that “[blow] up like a balloon” before use, and built-in kitchen robots that automate every aspect of cooking, eating, and cleaning up after a meal. (Cronkite’s “robits” are available to act as housecleaners, too.) Some of the stuff CBS posits exists in different forms now: A giant TV set against the wall and hidden stereo systems, microwaves, automatic blinds, and a series of gizmos that allow someone to read the news, check the weather, and even do their work from the comfort of home.
Unfortunately, none of these now-commonplace items look as cool as they do in the show. We don’t have “computer consoles” that take up half the room and allow us to print out articles by twisting a big chunky dial on a terminal. We don’t have giant orbs hanging from the walls to serve as built-in speakers. And worse, Cronkite cites a study that technology will give us all a mandated 30-hour work week and full months off work—an idea that comes off more fancifully utopian with every passing day.
Still, the special hits more than it misses, even if it fails to predict 2001 aesthetics along with some of the year’s common technology. But who can blame CBS? Surely, Nostradamus himself couldn’t have foreseen JNCO jeans and nü-metal.
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