Digital Home Offers Tame Vision

From the BBCs Technology News pages…

Go Digital presenter Tracey Logan despairs at the home of the future on show at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, where the family have become digital couch potatoes.

Back in 1960, at London’s Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, the home of the future was a blue and white striped space vehicle in orbit, modelled on the second stage of a Saturn IV rocket.

The colours were practical, designed to absorb and radiate intense solar radiation threatening future communities unshielded by the Earth’s atmosphere… And the pod’s rather cramped lounge did at least boast a TV, even if zero gravity forced the couch potato of tomorrow to hook himself up to restraining straps to avoid drifting away from the screen.

The great thing about this ideal home was its vision of a future where technology would, literally in this case, turn our lives upside down.

I suspect none of the 200,000 visitors who passed through space vehicle ever seriously imagined living in one. But it set their pulses racing and that is what homes of the future are all about.

If, by some miracle of time travel, those post-war, pre-PC couples could have seen the Space Air show house I visited at the current Ideal Home Exhibition, they may have been confused.

Why would anyone want a computer in their living room?

Media hub – Now that we are all used to the idea of computers as entertainment devices, I continue to wonder. Call me old fashioned, but if the PC is in there, why not ship in the washing machine, too?

But there is a lot that is sensible about this year’s digital home of the future.

Linda Barker adds a touch of glamour to the media home
There is Space Air’s environmental control system that keeps household air fresh and at the right temperature.

This could be handy as laws to reduce global warming encourage better home insulation and dwellings that are little more than airtight containers of household emissions.

And then there is its crowning glory: a wireless broadband digital home entertainment system, installed by Abrocour with a digital kit of parts from Microsoft and Intel, among others, and a BT broadband connection in the broom cupboard.

With this you can watch and listen or surf the web from anywhere in the house thanks to a digital media hub that feeds content to appliances in almost every room.

The piece de resistance is a giant flat screen TV/monitor on the living room wall cunningly placed at the apex of an equilateral triangle that has Linda Barker’s comfy, cream corduroy sofa as its base.

On this couch, sharing just the one remote control, an entire family would watch TV, play video games, or surf the internet together. Anyone too tired or overwhelmed to carry on doing this in the sitting room could continue in bed, without missing a scene.

On entering, I could not help wondering what a scrabble board was doing on the living room floor. In the digital future, wouldn’t that be on screen, too?

Computer technology finds its way into every room, even the kitchen
What is dreamy about the Space Air home is its absence of spaghetti tangles of cables gathering dust behind each appliance.

What is quite so not dreamy is this show home’s proximity to reality.

Indeed, anyone with a moderate stash of cash and a lust for DIY adventure could right now build themselves a digital home wireless system. See the helpful “how to” guide on Intel’s website if you don’t believe me.

And why the depressing vision of a future where all the family being digital couch potatoes together is the ultimate in having fun?

Surely, the Ideal Home Exhibition is selling itself short here? In the past it has brought us the microwave oven, the refrigerator and the far too expensive and silly, but utterly cute, solar-powered robot lawnmower.

Surely this year they could have come up with something a bit more gripping that the Space Air house?


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