The Future As it Should’ve Been

More than seventy years ago, the “Futurist” predicted that our world would be awash in jet-packs, flying-cars, moving sidewalks, personal robot helpers, mile-high cities, and let us not forget the ambiguous vacation on the Moon, or better yet on Mars.

Much like a feather on a string in front of a playful kitten, the kitchen of the future with all its time and labor saving gadgets and gizmo’s, has been dangled in front of the American consumer since the 1939 New York Worlds Fair, but for me the future become a reality one very hot summer day in 1960, while I stood in line at Disneyland to see the house that would change my life forever, the house of the future…the Monsanto House.

My first impression of the future, as an eight year old boy, was that it would be cool. Ice cold air-condition air blew on my skin as I walked in from a hot and sticky Anaheim heat wave. There was the future…laid out before me like a buffet. The embodiment of every science fiction movie, TV show, book, magazine and comic book I had ever seen, all before me in glorious molded plastic, and as expected, everything was white or chrome with accents of color, it would be easy to see my life in this home of tomorrow.

And the kitchen of this brave new world was laid out as if a medical laboratory. A shiny, gleaming, pristine environment where actual food and food preparation would be banned and we would pop “food-pills” and consume “radar-ranged” freeze-dried dinners, and our personal robot helper would clean up the dishes using no water in the sonic dishwasher and we would all talk to our friends and family on a Viz-A-Phone after dinner.

Thankfully many of these visions are still the stuff of science fiction. But as we wade knee-deep into the 21st century, we find that a few of Monsanto’s visions have survived and evolved. The ubiquitous microwave oven has evolved from the radar-range in to an everyday kitchen cornerstone. The magnetic induction cook-top with its heat-free cooking is right out of the Jetson’s and the integrated dishwasher, though not sonic I am sorry to say, is a standard feature in every American home.

“Good morning Kevin” comes a disembodied voice similar to HAL, the self awarded computer from 2001. “You’re up early today…did you sleep well?” “Just fine Kitchen” I respond “I have an early morning meeting at the office…so I’m in a hurry”. “Coffee or Cappuccino?” comes the voice…”Coffee please” says I…”Cereal or eggs?” asks the Kitchen. “Just toast this morning” I answer…”CNN or Sponge Bob” as the screen on the refrigerator comes to life…and so my day begins. Science Fiction? No, just a glimpse of things to come.

Just imagine for a moment in the not so distant future when your “wi-fi” enabled home will permit your dishwasher to call you at work to let you know that it has sprang a leak…but not to worry, it has already informed the service company and they will be out between 9 and 12 on Tuesday. Or maybe you are caught in rush-hour traffic and you will be 30 minutes late…so you call your oven from your cell phone to recalibrate the cooking time on your roast to be ready at 8:30. Even better your oven will be able to connect with the manufacturer to self-diagnose it-self as well as down-load new recipes and cooking instruction.

With this new networking application your refrigerator will be able to take inventory of itself and has placed an order for all pre-programmed items to be replenished automatically with an online grocery service. It has also ordered a few additional items that will be needed for tonight’s dinner party. It may even make a few suggestions for wine.

Networked appliances will be the next big thing to hit your kitchen…with “blue-tooth” technology slowly creeping into all of our home electronics…it will be just a matter of time before the kitchen, once again becomes the central core of family life. Appliances that think and plan-out menus, re-order and re-stock are already on the assembly lines. The next wave of microwaves will have a scanner to read the package of chili or popcorn and then preset itself for operation.

The family calendar on the refrigerator will update everyone’s calendar, from Mom’s computer at work to sis’s cell phone. It will be able to download and update brother’s ipod with all of his favorites and Dad can check on the solar collectors on the roof as well as the energy consumption for the entire house…he will even be able to turn off lights from his cell. It will keep everyone informed with all of the days events and activities, including soccer practice and dental appointments…It will even remind Grandma to take her pills and Grandpa that he has a 6:30 Tee-Time.

As for the other appliances…as they are connected to the internet…they will received electronic up-grades and they can self diagnose problems and download cures. One day your kitchen will read your personal electro-magnetic field when you enter the kitchen and begin to brew your favorite beverage and up-date your portfolio, all while you wait for your bagel to be toasted.

Eventually the kitchen itself will become one huge, connected appliance that reads your lifestyle patterns, anticipates your needs for food, lighting, entertainment, and cleanup, and performs functions automatically, all without an explicit human command.

So, where is the future I was promised as a child? I had invested all that time in books and movies and I knew every nook and cranny and back road of the future and with great disappointment I woke one morning to the world as it was and lived out my days feeling a little bit cheated.