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The homes of the future viewed from today

Mark Finchley reviews TV series Tomorrow’s Homes

Having just watched the whole of Channel 8’s TV series Tomorrow’s Homes, I’ve been wondering about how anyone can predict the future of domestic life. You’d imagine that if you knew what architects and technology companies were developing now to make life easier, more exciting and more beautiful, you’d have a pretty good idea of what to expect in tomorrow’s homes. In reality, it’s more complicated, and just as much about what we’ll choose to hang on to from today’s – the things that are ‘future-proof’. In the 1950s, people thought that in the twenty-first century household tasks would be done by labour-saving devices or robots – with food pills for dinner. Yet people still wash up and cook, even though the technology exists that makes neither of these tasks necessary.

Tomorrow’s Homes, however, dared to make predictions which it turned into reality using an average home belonging to a family called the Forseys. Four miles of cable were installed in the house so that all the electrics, from lights to the fridge, could be controlled via the internet, and various other devices and gadgets were introduced in addition to this. The family were then filmed as they got used to their new home life. Programme presenter Harry Thwaites is also a consultant who spends his work life imagining the
future, so testing out his ideas for the programme was a fascinating experiment for him. His approach was to use technology that was not totally brand new, but had only
recently become more affordable. CCTV cameras for security have been around for years, for example, but they are no longer only an option for the mega-rich.

The Forsey family consists of a husband and wife with four children and two grandchildren. They appear to be very natural and ordinary on the programme, and it was always interesting to see how they reacted to the technology they were testing. One example that sticks in the mind is when Janine, the mother, enters her reconstructed, all-white home (after successfully unlocking her new front door by using her thumb print as a key), and she immediately bursts into tears – quite understandably it has to be said. A short while later, her husband Ben gets locked out because the skin on his thumb is too rough. As the series progresses, however, they slowly come to accept the technology, and even start to believe it could have some value in their lives.

I was keen to see during the show if anything emerged as potentially future-proof, and there were some great examples. To help Janine deal with various worries, she was provided with a mind-controlled relaxation tool. This was a kind of headband connected to a DVD, which, incredibly, she could control with her thoughts. When
she relaxed mentally, she made an image of the sun go down, as it would at night, on the DVD. When she had tried the gadget and achieved the sun set, she
was asked how effective the gadget had been. Janine commented, ‘Nothing can compare to a nice cup of tea and a good soap opera!’