Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Retro-Futurism 14: Electric Dreams

One of the gizmos in the Electric Dreams home: Pong, the first home video game (1977). Image Source: BBC.

Caption for the above image: Launched in 1972 as an arcade game, Pong became recognised as the first home video game when it was developed into a console that plugged into the back of a TV. A simulation of tennis, Pong saw families interacting with their TVs for the first time. The console was quickly copied with over 500 similar systems flooding the market. How many instructions did the arcade version of Pong have when first released in America? Famed for its simplicity, Pong had only two instructions: 'deposit quarter' and 'avoid missing ball for high score'.

A couple of weeks ago, a comment on this post from pblfsda (see his excellent blog on DC's Doom Patrol, here) pointed me toward a BBC 2009-2010 three-part series entitled Electric Dreams (thanks pblfsda!).  The show played on PBS in the United States in late April.  From TVRage: "Electric Dreams is a reality [TV show] which see[s] the Sullivan[-Barnes] family giving up their lifestyle and modern gadgets as their house is converted into a typical 1970's property. Each day the house is updated by a year and any new technology that was developed at the time will be available for them to use. The family will experience a different year for 30 days until they reach the end of the century."

Video Source: BBCFour via Youtube.

By making a family pass through a thirty-year period over the course of thirty-days, the BBC means to make us understand how much technology transformed our lives - and how quickly:
The Sullivan-Barnes family from Reading are a thoroughly modern family who own the latest in 21st century gadgetry. In a unique experiment they were stripped of all their modern tech and their own home was taken back in time so that they could live with the technology of earlier decades. The family lived a year per day starting in 1970 right up to the year 2000.

The experiment was designed to show just how much technology has changed the British home and the British family. How would a modern family cope with one black and white television set, one shared dial telephone in the hallway and no central heating in 1970?

Would the lack of multiple screens and technology-free bedrooms encourage them to spend more time together or just result in very bored children? How would they fare without the labour-saving domestic technology we now take for granted?

As the rate of technological change sped up during the 1980s and the 1990s the family saw first hand just how much the way we use our homes, family life and attitudes to childhood has changed.

Transition from black and white to colour TV. Video Source: BBCFour via Youtube.

The family were aided by a Tech support team who made sure that their experience of being immersed with retro-tech, year-by-year over the span of mere days, was as authentic as possible. The 1970s' era left the family "virtually free of high-tech distractions." The 1980s period sees the introduction of tech into the home:
This was the decade when computers came into the average home – early in the decade Britain led the way in the production of home computers. Microwave ovens, video recorders and compact discs were all supposed to make our lives easier. Technology began to shrink in size and was geared more toward leisure and entertainment. But prices were still high and gadgets weren’t as user-friendly as they are today.
Finally, the 1990s decade sees the advent of the World Wide Web and the exponential acceleration of technological change:
A whirlwind of technological progress and the communication revolution hit the British Home big time, Britain was introduced to a virtual world with the arrival of the World Wide Web and mobile telephones meant we stopped phoning buildings and started calling people. Electronic goods were mainly made outside the UK and ever-decreasing prices meant that gadgets and constant upgrades infiltrated every area of the home.
You can see clips from the show on Youtube here, here and here. The BBC has set up an online Time Tunnel so that visitors can look at the different gadgets used in the television show:
Take a trip through our Time Tunnel and reminisce about the 70s, 80s and 90s. Delve deep into our catalogue of nostalgia and remember the hissing Teasmades, beeping Tamagotchis and fizzing Soda Streams. Were these inventions simply flashy gimmicks or revolutions in technology? And could you imagine a world without mobile phones, home stereos or space hoppers?

End of the 1980s on Electric Dreams. Video Source: BBCFour via Youtube.

You can enter the Time Tunnel here. The series is a typical example of Millennial Retro-Futurism. It reveals how technology has accelerated our awareness of the passage of time, while also dismantling our sense of time as a sequence and erasing the autonomy of the past relative to the present.  At the same time, it also paid a lot of attention to clothing and social rituals that revolved around technological change.

See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.

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  1. Thanks for the plug! Hope you didn't lose anything in the recent Blogger freeze. I'm recommending people who blog double check their settings and recovery info.

    "Electric Dreams" wasn't entirely nostalgia for me. My elderly parents won't part with their rotary phone and trying to help them navigate various companies and services that only interact with the public through automated menus is frustrating. You can't "press 1" on a phone with no buttons.

    I had intended to watch the show for a cheap buzz of nostalgia but found myself intrigued by one of the observations of the experts. By the third decade they noticed that the new technologies were being delivered to the house more frequently. During "the 1970's" the family received a package/item per day. As real innovations gave way to endless upgrades the experts found that rather than being overwhelmed, the children behaved disappointed and anxious. When the experiment started everything was very alien to them. The closer the experiment got to the decade they'd lived most of their lives in and the technology they were already familiar with, the more they were likely to anticipate the end-result upgrades and be disappointed in the intermediate stage upgrades. When they didn't know what end was up, they were actively engaged in using it. When got something whose function and purpose they understood, they could be critical about its shortcomings.

    Because this could only be done outside of strictly controlled lab conditions it will be more valuable as entertainment than research, but an observation like that will hopefully inspire a behavioral psychologist to map that behavioral arc.

  2. Thanks for commenting, pblfsda. I got through the blogger outage without problems. Regarding the emotional and psychological responses of the children as they encountered tech with which they were familiar, I feel that many, many PhDs in Psychology and related fields in the History and Sociology will be written regarding what tech did to people in the last 20 years. I believe that we all went a little crazy in the first 15 year wave and lost perspective. Its impact was so enormous that we still have no deep understanding of how overwhelming the first wave of the Tech and Information Revolutions were.