Back to the Future (the view from 1943)

Working in public history, as I do, can lead in some odd directions.  Today, my reading material includes electrical utility company newsletters.  In one of them, Quentin Q. Quinn – NOT the cartoon character, but a real engineering assistant working in Waterbury – offered some thoughts about what the home of the future would be like.

A Different World – The Electronic One

The Age of Electronics is upon us.  After the war amazing stunts may be performed in our households such as controlling light switches with a wave of the hand or receiving a signal when Junior gets into the jam.  In time to come you’ll all find the electron a valuable companion.

Let us suppose that you are living in the electronic house of the future.

It is morning.  You are sleeping in a soundproof room.  Although there are no windows in the room, light enters through plastic walls, and dust-free and germ-free air circulates gently around you.  Your alarm clock is soft music that grows louder and louder until you wake and stop it with a wave of your hand.  There is no heating equipment in the room, but you are comfortable because of the heating effect of high frequency waves which warm everything they strike.

Yes, he suggested that microwaving your whole house would be a practical (and good) idea.  Not to mention that windows would become passé.

If it is still too dark, you wave your hand near the switch and the walls and ceiling take on a pleasing glow in any color combination you like.

A viewing screen shows you any room in the house or any of its surroundings.  You can check up on the children, perhaps scold them for ruining the beds or tearing the pillows.  Or you can see how the weather looks outside without moving from your bed.  You can read at will the latest news on the television screen and when you finally decide you must get up, doors open at your approach and lights go on at the wave of your hand.  This is the start of your day in an electronic world, and it is only a start, for the day holds endless wonders brought about the magic of the electron.

Well, he worked for an electrical utility, and this was before the invention of the laser.  Not to mention of personal computers.  He went on a bit about electrons and atomic structure, and then continued with imagining the future, based on the technology of the day:

The methods of using this minute particle in vacuum and gas filled tubes are what will make it possible change performances, which are now considering amazing, to routines which will be considered commonplace.  Cooking by high frequency waves will not require stoves.  Just put your roast in a coil and it will be cooked from the inside out.  Place the baby in the play pen and the photoelectric cells will watch him for you.  If he tries to get out, the cells will call you.  If you leave him outdoors you will be warned when anyone comes near him.  Whenever necessary, you will be able to look at him in your viewing screen.

You can see that he really had no idea how the “cells” would “call” anyone, or exactly how electrons would carry out any of these tasks.  (If they were confined to vacuum tubes, how could they?)  But all our computerized stuff is based on electrons moving around, when you come down to it.  Interesting, no?

On the same page, by the way, there was an announcement that a company “girl” had joined the WAVES (and two others had previously joined the WAACS), and urgings for employees to buy war bonds through payroll deductions.

Source: Spotlight, Vol. 4, No. 6 (June 1943), p. 1.

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