Walter Cronkite on the office of 2001, from 1967

From the March 12, 1967 episode of Walter Cronkite's CBS show "The 21st Century," a short clip illustrating the home office of tomorrow, with satellite news summaries and consoles that bring the work to us. Paleofuture has a great post about the whole episode:

This equipment here will allow [the businessman of the future] to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home.

This console provides a summary of news relayed by satellite from all over the world. Now to get a newspaper copy for permanent reference I just turn this button, and out it comes. When I’ve finished catching up on the news I might check the latest weather. This same screen can give me the latest report on the stocks I might own. The telephone is this instrument here — a mock-up of a possible future telephone, this would be the mouthpiece. Now if I want to see the people I’m talking with I just turn the button and there they are. Over here as I work on this screen I can keep in touch with other rooms of the house through a closed-circuit television system.

With equipment like this in the home of the future we may not have to go to work, the work would come to us. In the 21st century it may be that no home will be complete without a computerized communications console.

3D-TV, Automated Cooking and Robot Housemaids: Walter Cronkite Tours the Home of 2001 (via Kottke)


    1. I am mildly tempted to set up all the stuff I check in the morning to greet me with “Good morning, Mr. Nebdal”.

  1. he was kinda right. but everyone was so busy asking “could” we bring work home that no one asked “should” we bring work home!

    1. seriously, as a freelancer who works from home, technology has made this a reality, but being on call at all odd hours and weekends is not fun.

      1. You know, as a freelancer, I don’t really feel the need to work 24/7. If people want me ‘on call’ they can pay me more. My time is valuable, as is my free time. I have a set time that I take calls and respond to phone calls. I might do work at any hour I please, but business hours are for phone calls and such. My weekends are for me – not for the client to bug me with why they fucked up their website or whatever… Be your own boss! That’s why we work at home! And this boss says – fuck working on weekends.

        edit: at least, fuck answering phone calls on weekends. :)

      2. I’m a freelancer too, but I think in many ways many people that work traditional jobs have it worse- they have to go to the office and deal with all of the traditional problems AND STILL be on call, frequently even on vacations. The work day never ends. Psychologically, their brains never feel like they aren’t working, so they never really rest and restore, and their real productivity and creativity just vanishes. Talk about diminishing returns. :(

        It’s gotten so bad, I read that some employers (the story might have even been on here) are putting policies in place requiring employees to stop working- like not taking any work phone, tablet, or computer with them on vacation, having a strict policy about not taking work home, and no calls from the office to workers after hours or on their days off.

        1. I haven’t seen it enshrined in policy, but when I worked in the corporate world I certainly knew people who were directly told to leave their crackberry and laptop in the office by their boss. One of them was pretty much summarily sent to Italy for a fortnight and forbidden from making any contact with work :D

          1. Depends on the company the the executive culture. The ‘no’ contact with work when you’re ‘off the clock’ mentality is rare.

  2. Good ol’ Walter… I watched his “The 21st Century” religiously, every Sunday. (The name was a followup to his remarkable history series, “The 20th Century.”)

    One of the best parts of the series were, of all things, the commercials for a primary sponsor, Union Carbide. (For the moment, let’s set aside the mass slaughter of Indian villagers during the Bhopal tragedy, and focus on the stunning creative work of their ad agency.)

    Remember, I saw these commercials *in 1967 or 68* and I still remember them. My favorite was this:

    The commercial starts with an extreme close-up of the face of a kitten, staring directly into the camera. The shot holds for the entire :60 seconds, as the camera sloooowly pulls back. The VO is talking about UC’s research, etc., while you’re wondering “WTF? Kittehs!”

    The VO starts talking about the ablative material underneath the Apollo re-entry capsules, and the camera is now far enough back that we can see that the kitteh is sitting on a 6″ square of the stuff, less than 1/4″ thick, suspended over the flame of a bunsen burner – and has been for the entire time we’ve been listening! 

    Well, it made a big impression on me that the kitteh was OK.

        1. I am pretty sure that would have been a shuttle heat shield tile because the Apollo heat shield was basically a slab of fibreglass. It would have made a terrible mess when in operation and I am sure it would fill the air with nasty fumes.

        2. I remember getting a chemistry set that warned me to protect my hands from the heat.  With an asbestos glove.

        3. NASA was cool in the 1970s, having people go to all of the elementary schools. At least they came to mine for about four years in a row. They brought models of the Twin Rotor Plane, the V-22 Osprey, back then and other cool stuff. Even models of the proposed Space Shuttle. Amazing stuff.

      1. See also … more or less the entirety of Better off Ted.
        (“Veridian Dynamics. Developing the next generation of food and food-like products.”)

  3. I find this sad. As mentioned above it is precursor to people being on-call 24/7,when they aren’t even firefighters.  As a kid I liked and admired Walter.  But even he didn’t get the whole sexism thing.   

      1. Those mockups were just TV tuners. The images were from closed circuit cameras. 

        I have a copy of the 21st Century home of the future show where it’s pretty much the same except for including a big (square) screen TV…this screen shows your stocks, this screen has news, this screens has….They couldn’t imagine we’d have one computer screen that could do it all.

        1. No, those images were from slide projectors.  I liked the Mr. Rogers-style operation of the “printer,” too, when the guy in the box doesn’t feed the paper in a straight line.

        2. What they really couldn’t imagine was that we’d have one Star Trek Communicator, only it would be 1/4 the thickness of Spock’s Communicator, that would do it all…

          …and that we’d use it primarily to watch movies of cute kittens.

  4. The analogue age is already five years in the past and even now I have to struggle to explain to kids on reddit how TV or telephones worked. Its almost as if it never happened.

    1. Recently I forgot my phone at home and had to make a phone call using my dad’s old landline. Holding the handset felt weird, not a rectangular shape but a handle with a cup-shape at each end. The cord was completely snarled from long use so I had to tug at it to lift the handset to my ear. No ability to pick a number from a contact list so I had to stop and think until I remembered it. Then finally, wow did it feel weird to dial a number. Pulling the disc with your finger in a numbered hole until the stop at the bottom, then release and watch the disc return to it’s original position. Rinse and repeat. And it was so noisy when it spun back and forth. It felt like some steampunk contraption.

      1. I have a similar experience with an iPhone. It’s not a phone, it’s a mobile computer. It’s a cold hard slab of flat metal and glass. It’s the monolith in 2001. It doesn’t fit your ear or mouth or hand. In contrast, old phones are warm and sensuous. They model their form on human bodies. The handle is vaguely feminine. It fits in your hand. It is warm to the touch. It rests in a ‘cradle.’ You could use it in the bath.

        1. I always use a headset with my iPhone but I see more and more people using the speakerphone and talking into their phone like some sort of Star Trek communicator or using Facetime or other video calling where you don’t have to hold something up to your ear. I think holding a device to your ear is on the way out.

        2. There’s a basic incompatibility between the imperatives to ergonomically cradle your face and to slip into a pocket without ruining the line of your suit. Thus the Bluetooth earbud, which don’t now look as incredibly stupid as when they first came out but still make you look like a crazy person talking to yourself.

          (Thinkgeek, btw, sells an old-timey handset with Bluetooth connectivity, but it doesn’t have the requisite heft. I haven’t tried gluing some lead weights into it but that’s because it only just now occurred to me.)

          1. I’m with you – let me know if you come up with a good way to add weight to the thinkgeek handset!

  5. Dials, so analogue. There is a struggle here between what was likely and what they had to do (or thought they did) to help the audience understand. Special purpose hard switches to print seems more demonstrative than practical. It is funny that the design is based on stereo and radio design, familiar electronics in the home then. I don’t remember business machines looking like that. It also reminds me of an automobile dashboard and windshield. He looks at the paper print out like, “Why would I want his?” and slips it onto the table. Even then we could read whole books of tiny print without much trouble. A huge sheet with only a few lines doesn’t make sense even from the perspective of what the audience needs to be able to get it. The whole look of the set and props reminds me how simple TV used to be visually. I suppose that is down to the fact that TVs and signal quality varied quite a bit and image fidelity was iffy. We all watched the moon landings through some kind of camera obscura, strange blurry shadows and patches of blasted white..

    1. The presence of five different machines, each with its own display, to perform functions we would put in three browser tabs and two applications, highlights the key insight they missed about what it means when you can represent and manipulate any kind of data as bits.  The fact that the only machine without a display is the typewriter highlights this even more.  

      I imagine the documents produced by mr. home executive were supposed to travel to the office via messenger, or (to go really high tech) be dictated to the steno pool via videophone.  

    2. This was a Philco-Ford prop set, so of course it looked like consumer electronics. They were a large manufacturer of TV sets and radios at that time.

      Admit it, you’d love a computer monitor with chrome trim around the edges and a little chrome script nameplate, wouldn’t you?

    3. It reminded me of an old 1950s cartoon drawing of life in the future. It had dad sitting in his recliner after just printing out his newspaper from a wall sized unit of some type. The problem of ‘future’ thinking is that we’re trapped by our own experiences. Oh, there will be newspapers — but they arrive when we want them to!! I doubt that if you were to travel back in time you’d get anyone to grasp the idea of the Internet. You’d be lucky to be able to clue them in on the old dial-up bulletin board systems of the 1980s.

      Sadly, the same will happen with us in some 40 years. Our grandchildren will be wringing their hands that we don’t understand the basic features of our retinal control devices. “Seriously, just teach them how to turn it on & off and to adjust volume. They’ can’t handle anything more than that,” they will say.

  6. All his consoles are the same – it’s a domestic version of the Interociter from “Forbidden Planet.” 

      1. Oh you’re right.  It also pops in some music videos and such including “Dare To Be Stupid” 

  7. It’s funny how much it resembles iOS :-) Instead of having an app for each task, we have a computer for each task. Which surprisingly misunderstands the whole point about the computer: it is a machine that can simulate any other machine. A single device can be a darkroom and a film editor and a gene splicer – even at the same time. 

    “I use this iPhone for Instagram. And this one for taking phone calls. This third iPhone I use for the weather…. And the 48th iPhone is used for playing an electronic game called “Angry Birds” for entertaining guests.”

    1. I have three monitors, though not all on all the time, screen acreage equals productivity. They are not using them efficiently though.

  8. You could replace that whole setup with an iPad (and a printer if you want some of those quaint hard copies.)

  9. If you watch “2001, A Space Odyssey”  there is a long scene in the space shuttle cockpit with has CRT screens and some wire frame graphics. It’s boring now, but at the time your mind would have been totally blown to see a cockpit that was not full of twitching analog gauges. 

    In Cronkites version, it’s clear that the newsfeed is envisioned as something like an analog teletype printout. They could not imagine that online content would look a lot like a print magazine. And of course the basic concepts of navigation and hyperlinking did not exist.

  10. Now, instead of getting their news from Walter Cronkite, people can simply access World Net Daily!  Such an improvement.

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