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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


    Forced labour even after death

    Forced labour even after death

    A capitalism-critical reading of the zombie film on the occasion of the release of Zombi Child (2019) by Bertrand Bonello.

    The bossy Apps

    The bossy Apps

    What remains of the great promise of the gig economy: freedom through autonomy.

    Society without connection

    Society without connection

    The new film "Please hold the line" (2020) by Pavel Cuzuioc loosely follows the work of service technicians in the telecommunications industry in the far east of Europe while actually portraying their customers more. Those who are in danger of losing their connection to society.

    Forklift-Conflicts

    Forklift-Conflicts

    In the Aisles (2018) by Thomas Stuber is the ultimate warehouse-worker feature film. There has never been so much 'workplace' featured in a movie, set in a wholesale market, with so much insight into learning the ropes of an unskilled job. On top of that, romance.

    Korea's Generation Internship 4.0

    Korea’s Genera­ti­on Internship 4.0

    The TV series "Misaeng: Incomplete Life" gives deep insights into South-Korea's working world and the difficult transition to get there.

    Still, Lazzaro is happy

    Still, Lazzaro is happy

    Alice Rohrwacher's film about the dubious liberation from a relationship of subjection

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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.