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  • Observations on Work, Employment & Education

    Lorenzo Bonoli

    The limits of our ima­gi­na­ti­on of the future: men doing housework!

    It is difficult to conceive the future as something open to objective analysis. The future is inevitably intangible. There is, however, one exception: the future of the past. "Past’s futures" such as those manifested in commercials of the 1950s and 1960s reveal many interesting things, for instance the lack of imagination of social change.

    Analyses of his­to­ri­cal con­cep­ti­ons of the future can be eye-opening. On the one hand, the eagerness to imagine one’s future can be unders­tood as by-product of mortality, to micro-manage the uncer­tain­ty inherent in being, with a hidden desire to predict and control what one’s existence will be like. On the other hand, in such analyses one cannot avoid vali­da­ting the accuracy of the pre­dic­tions: sometimes the imagined futures become true, tangibly, in other cases it remains pure fantasy. When viewed retro­spec­tively, the former often leads to amazement, the latter to amusement.

    Reviewing info­mercials and adver­ti­se­ments by seemingly large tech cor­po­ra­ti­ons from the years 1950–1970, which can be found in large numbers on YouTube, one can do both, marvel and smile.

    This period, which also included the dawn of the atomic age, the space age and the computer age, was over­loa­ded with ima­gi­nings of the future. Two areas seem to be illu­mi­na­ted in such films: the world of work, where the miracle of auto­ma­ti­on and the acce­le­ra­ti­on of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on are emerging, and the domestic world, with new devices for various cleaning and cooking acti­vi­ties (see the films: Challenge of Change (1961), The Home of 1999 (1967), The 21st Century (1967) as well as the films listed in the post: ‘The old fear of the end of new work itself’).

    We can analyse these films by focusing on the inno­va­tions that entered each life over the course of time. We find, for example, the first home computers that enabled tele­wor­king (“home office”), shopping from home (“online shopping”) and distance learning (“e‑learning”). We find com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on systems that faci­li­ta­ted the exchange of infor­ma­ti­on between people, between people and machines, and also between machines (keyword: Internet of Things). In the domestic sphere, for example, we find fully-automated kitchens with microwave ovens and pre-packaged foods that conjure up a dish at the push of a button.

    At first glance, one can only marvel at the foresight and crea­ti­vi­ty of the producers, who were able to foresee a series of tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions that would later become the norm. Such imagined futures seem sur­pri­sin­gly close to our present. On closer inspec­tion, however, there is something up with these pre­dic­tions of the future: the role of women. In all these films, the person who runs the kitchen is female, similarly the office is run by only female secretaries.

    One can only wonder that the futu­ro­lo­gists of the time were unable to imagine a social change that would harmonise the sepa­ra­ti­on between male and female jobs. Could it be that it is easier to imagine tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions than social ones? Or perhaps certain social changes were unde­s­i­ra­ble in the milieus of new tech­no­lo­gies at the time? Or perhaps the audiences for which these films were made would have found such social inno­va­tions too futuristic?

    There are probably no simple answers to these questions. But the films them­sel­ves provide first clues. In the “Challenge of Change” (1961) the narrative voice reminds us of the saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” (min 11:30) and “The Home of 1999” (1967) closes with the beautiful sentence: “The world of 1999 and beyond is limited only by the bounda­ries of our ima­gi­na­ti­on today” (min 4:20).

    The statement obviously empha­si­zes the power of human ima­gi­na­ti­on. At the same time, however, it points precisely at the limits of ima­gi­na­ti­on that cons­trai­ned the futu­ro­lo­gists of the time in their con­cep­ti­on of a more ega­li­ta­ri­an future. Perhaps with a little more for­ethought, the tech­no­lo­gists of the 1950s and 1960s, could have solved ine­qua­li­ty between men and women by now.…

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Reh­ling­haus, Franziska und Ulf Teichmann (Hg.) (2020) Ver­gan­ge­ne Zukünfte von Arbeit Aus­sich­ten, Ängste und Aneig­nun­gen im 20. Jahr­hun­dert. Politik- und Gesell­schafts­ge­schich­te, Band 108, Dietz-Verlag.

    'The Home of 1999', PhilcoFord, 1967, min 4:33 

    'Challenge of Change', AT&T, 1961, min 15:44 

    'The 21st Century', 1967, min 25:05 

    'The Home of 1999', 1967, Filmstil

    'The Home of 1999', 1967, Filmstil

    Tags

    The limits of our ima­gi­na­ti­on of the future: men doing housework!

    Lorenzo Bonoli

    It is difficult to conceive the future as something open to objective analysis. The future is inevitably intangible. There is, however, one exception: the future of the past. "Past’s futures" such as those manifested in commercials of the 1950s and 1960s reveal many interesting things, for instance the lack of imagination of social change.

    Analyses of his­to­ri­cal con­cep­ti­ons of the future can be eye-opening. On the one hand, the eagerness to imagine one’s future can be unders­tood as by-product of mortality, to micro-manage the uncer­tain­ty inherent in being, with a hidden desire to predict and control what one’s existence will be like. On the other hand, in such analyses one cannot avoid vali­da­ting the accuracy of the pre­dic­tions: sometimes the imagined futures become true, tangibly, in other cases it remains pure fantasy. When viewed retro­spec­tively, the former often leads to amazement, the latter to amusement.

    Reviewing info­mercials and adver­ti­se­ments by seemingly large tech cor­po­ra­ti­ons from the years 1950–1970, which can be found in large numbers on YouTube, one can do both, marvel and smile.

    This period, which also included the dawn of the atomic age, the space age and the computer age, was over­loa­ded with ima­gi­nings of the future. Two areas seem to be illu­mi­na­ted in such films: the world of work, where the miracle of auto­ma­ti­on and the acce­le­ra­ti­on of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on are emerging, and the domestic world, with new devices for various cleaning and cooking acti­vi­ties (see the films: Challenge of Change (1961), The Home of 1999 (1967), The 21st Century (1967) as well as the films listed in the post: ‘The old fear of the end of new work itself’).

    We can analyse these films by focusing on the inno­va­tions that entered each life over the course of time. We find, for example, the first home computers that enabled tele­wor­king (“home office”), shopping from home (“online shopping”) and distance learning (“e‑learning”). We find com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on systems that faci­li­ta­ted the exchange of infor­ma­ti­on between people, between people and machines, and also between machines (keyword: Internet of Things). In the domestic sphere, for example, we find fully-automated kitchens with microwave ovens and pre-packaged foods that conjure up a dish at the push of a button.

    At first glance, one can only marvel at the foresight and crea­ti­vi­ty of the producers, who were able to foresee a series of tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions that would later become the norm. Such imagined futures seem sur­pri­sin­gly close to our present. On closer inspec­tion, however, there is something up with these pre­dic­tions of the future: the role of women. In all these films, the person who runs the kitchen is female, similarly the office is run by only female secretaries.

    One can only wonder that the futu­ro­lo­gists of the time were unable to imagine a social change that would harmonise the sepa­ra­ti­on between male and female jobs. Could it be that it is easier to imagine tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions than social ones? Or perhaps certain social changes were unde­s­i­ra­ble in the milieus of new tech­no­lo­gies at the time? Or perhaps the audiences for which these films were made would have found such social inno­va­tions too futuristic?

    There are probably no simple answers to these questions. But the films them­sel­ves provide first clues. In the “Challenge of Change” (1961) the narrative voice reminds us of the saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” (min 11:30) and “The Home of 1999” (1967) closes with the beautiful sentence: “The world of 1999 and beyond is limited only by the bounda­ries of our ima­gi­na­ti­on today” (min 4:20).

    The statement obviously empha­si­zes the power of human ima­gi­na­ti­on. At the same time, however, it points precisely at the limits of ima­gi­na­ti­on that cons­trai­ned the futu­ro­lo­gists of the time in their con­cep­ti­on of a more ega­li­ta­ri­an future. Perhaps with a little more for­ethought, the tech­no­lo­gists of the 1950s and 1960s, could have solved ine­qua­li­ty between men and women by now.…

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Reh­ling­haus, Franziska und Ulf Teichmann (Hg.) (2020) Ver­gan­ge­ne Zukünfte von Arbeit Aus­sich­ten, Ängste und Aneig­nun­gen im 20. Jahr­hun­dert. Politik- und Gesell­schafts­ge­schich­te, Band 108, Dietz-Verlag.

    'The Home of 1999', PhilcoFord, 1967, min 4:33

    'Challenge of Change', AT&T, 1961, min 15:44

    'The 21st Century', 1967, min 25:05

    'The Home of 1999', 1967, Filmstil

    'The Home of 1999', 1967, Filmstil

    Tags


    Erwin and Elvira, the butcher

    Erwin and Elvira, the butcher

    Fassbinder's outstanding melodrama "In a Year of 13 Moons" (1978) is a consistently topical contribution to today's identity politics debate and a forceful exclamation mark for anti-stereotypical professions.

    The old fear of the end of new work itself

    The old fear of the end of new work itself

    We all look forward to the end of the working day, but not the end of work itself. The fear of automation and the end of work is an old topos, as evidenced by industrial films from the 1950s.

    Superpowers on the job

    Super­powers on the job

    What to do with superhuman abilities on the job? Superheroes don't give much information on this. A troll in one of the most extraordinary Swedish films of recent years (Border, 2018), on the other hand does.

    When pictures of economy went into motion

    When pictures of economy went into motion

    A new book introduces us to the important epistemologist Michael Polanyi as a didactician of economics and recalls his educational film "Unemployment and Money" (1940), which is still worth seeing today.

    Adolf Hennecke - Hero of the Battle of Production

    Adolf Hennecke — Hero of the Battle of Production

    Where labour and the heroic merge: the glorification of labour in real socialism.

    Finding and Cultivating the Self in Hair: On the Wizardry of Hairdressers

    Finding and Cul­ti­vat­ing the Self in Hair: On the Wizardry of Hairdressers

    The key to successfully creating a hairstyle is, of course, the hairdresser's skill. But the art of hair is not limited to instrumental skills, it also includes the 'culturality' of hair. A contemporary critique of a traditional profession.

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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.