What the Future Used to Look Like

Alec Merta Science Fiction, Writing Leave a Comment

Crystal BallEarlier this week, I tweeted a video of legendary science fiction writer (and genius) Arthur C. Clarke. In the video, Clarke describes with surprising accuracy what the future will look like from an information technology perspective. The tweet was part of my on-going #scienceforscifi campaign wherein I tweet topics that might be inspirational to science fiction writers. You can read more about #scienceforscifi here.
In the same spirit, I wanted to share some videos that feature visions of the future as imagined by people of the past. I hope the futurists of our day will enjoy seeing what the future used to look like.

Monsanto House of the Future

The first clip is a 1957 showcase of the Monsanto House of the Future that once appeared in Disneyland. Designed by MIT alums, House of the Future appeared at the park from 1957 until 1967. The concept was an extension of Walt Disney’s passion for displaying visions of a bright, productive, and largely automated future. House of the Future was a logical component in the line of exhibits that includes Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and the Innoventions Dream Home.
American plastics corporation Monsanto sponsored the exhibit, and boy does it show. Monsanto made, loved, and evidently worshiped plastics. So the house of their preferred future is damn-near 100% plastic.  And they remind you at every turn. Watching this video, I get the idea that Monsanto wanted to build a House of the Future that Mom could clean with a garden hose while Dad took a nap.
The heavy-handed Monsanto pitch for plastics is tough to get past.  If you manage to, you’ll note how many features either really came to be or are still worth developing. Polarized ceilings to let in natural light? Waterless dishwashers? These are still good ideas, and at least the ceilings might actually be worth developing.
I’ll pass on the irradiated foods.


Year 1999 A.D.

Moving on a bit to 1967, we see a view of the future that is much more sci-fi. Not only is Dad studiously avoiding his turn at cleaning the house; he’s also a research scientist.  I think he does it in his spare time. In any case “Year 1999 A.D.” was produced by Philco-Ford and gets a bit closer to accuracy while managing to still be down-right Star Trek. (Remember, this was made in 1967.)
Here we see the first inklings that the computer would become an integral part of the home. At first glance, a viewer might say the filmmakers missed the mark, but I think it’s more a question of degrees. Tone down things a bit, and you start to see glimpses of how information technology actually did end up dominating our homes and lives.
Of course the fashion is a bit too Star Trek (although I’d wear it), and the filmmakers insist that people will patiently wait for things that we can do right now with our hands (like fetching a plate out of a cabinet). But it’s a fun watch and good food for thought if you’re writing science fiction.  Enjoy.
Oh, and I refuse to accept that Karen is 43.


Beyond 2000: Wearable Computers

In honor of the this week’s Apple Watch announcement, here is a horribly wrong view of how wearable computers will look. You can thank NEC and the beloved television series Beyond 2000 for this.

Watch and wonder how much money NEC burned through to produce nothing much at all.  Where’s my over-the-shoulder CD player?


Century 21 Calling

Finally, here’s my favorite. Of course, that’s only because it’s a classic MST3K riff of “Century 21 Calling.”  Push the button, Frank.

Thoughts? Comments? Tell me what you think, or tweet to me at @alecmarta.