Some years ago, my dad bought me a book about electronics, computers and robots from a jumble sale for 10p. It was published in 1984 and probably about 15 years out of date when I received it.
Today I came across it on my bookshelf back at my parents’ house, and there’s a double-page spread in it called Television and Video in the Year 2000. It has a picture of how a house might look in the millennium year.
Of course, speaking today with a decade’s hindsight, the house looks like something from Thunderbirds, but some of its predictions have indeed come true. Let me reproduce it for you here.
When you are grown up and your children are going to school, this book may not exist. In fact, schools as you know them may not exist either, and libraries with books may be museums. All this will happen because of television and video. Television was invented during the 1920s by John Logie Baird.
Studying by Television
Let’s visit a home of the future, say in the year 2000, and see what everyone is doing. Alice is 12 years old. She is not wasting time watching television; she is at school. That’s her teacher on the screen. She manages to see Alice once a week to check her written work, but not for long. By teaching on television she could have a thousand pupils in her class at once, but she doesn’t have more than a hundred. Alice likes to ‘go to school’ in the living-room where there is a row of flat screens against the wall. She wears headphones to listen to the teacher.
Alice’s brother, Peter, likes to work by himself in his bedroom with a smaller, personal screen. He is 20 years old and, although he lives in Britain, he’s studying with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. His microcomputer and screen are linked by telephone to the local library. They are sending Peter a new article written in America. They received it overnight from the United States during the cheaper-rate computer time.
Work and Leisure
Dad has worked at home for the last five years, ever since his supermarket became fully automated. As supply manager for the supermarket, he checks the stock on the shelves every Monday morning visually through the closed-circuit television cameras. On his home screen he can also study the computer totals produced by the automatic check-out tills.
Mum is watching a live television programme. Her favourite daytime programme is the 24-hour European news station which the family receive through their satellite dish receiver on the roof.
Grandad Jones is the only member of the family who uses the video disc. At the moment he’s looking at a dahlia catalogue, and the video disc gives the best picture available on any system.
Granny Jones can hardly walk and spends her time watching the goings-on out in the street through the local closed-circuit camera system. The council originally set up the system to help stop burglaries.
I’ve also photographed the image from the book – apologies for the quality. I might even get round to scanning it one day. Click for a larger version.
So how accurate were the predictions?
Lots of the things mentioned in the picture are easily possible with today’s technology. But few people do them because they are inconvenient or expensive, or simply a bad idea.
It would be easy to set up a videoconferencing system to allow pupils like Alice to have school lessons at home – but nobody would do it because it misses out on an awful lot of face-to-face contact. Peter’s use of technology to get hold of documents is more realistic.
Likewise the father working from home – it’s possible to install cameras around Tesco and have the stock manager working from home, but it’s useless and expensive.
As for the mother watching 24-hour live news and the grandad watching what’s essentially a DVD – spot on. But how bored must the granny be to sit there watching CCTV in her own street?
It seems to me the biggest omission of this futuristic house is the use of computers and the Internet – although lots of the video systems in use seem to do computer-like tasks. Each person in the house is using specialist equipment for each task, and each piece of equipment has its own source of external connectivity.
The beauty of modern computers is that they can do a wide variety of tasks, and that the Internet can be used to carry any sort of data, whether it’s a text document or a video stream.
The most saddening thing about that house is that nobody is talking to anyone else, and nobody has any reason to go outside. I hope that doesn’t come true!